Coronavirus Outbreak Restrictions
Travel restrictions and quarantine measures continue to be in place around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many jurisdictions have increased the restrictive measures in place, and many have also introduced extension policies and other concessions in an attempt to ease the on-going travel restrictions.
European union (eu)
Registration by the end of the transition period
Belgium and the Netherlands have introduced new exemptions for certain business travellers with consular permission. We may see other countries in Europe introduce similar exemptions to allow for limited business travel in the coming weeks.
Registration by the end of the transition period
UK nationals residing in EU countries need to complete the national registration requirements in their country of residence to protect their post-Brexit work rights, and ensure they can legally stay in the country. This must be done by 31 December 2020 when the transition period ends. In countries where in-person appointments are required, UK nationals should factor in long queues due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brexit Residence Permit Applications System now open
For UK nationals living in France, the long-awaited Brexit Residence Permit Applications System is now open. The opening of the system was previously delayed due to government closures caused by the pandemic. With this new system, UK nationals can register for French residence permits via the online portal. To be eligible to apply for a Brexit Residence Permit, all UK nationals planning to enter and reside in France must have done so before the date of their application. The deadline to apply for a Brexit Residence Permit is 1 July 2021. From 1 October 2021, all UK nationals residing in France, and their family members, will be required to hold a Permit.
Widening of Posted Worker Directive
France implemented the Revised Posted Worker Directive on 30 July 2020, reducing the period a posted worker can remain in France to 12 months, or 18 months with an extension declaration. In doing so, the directive can now be used for all types of secondments regardless of the home country of the posted worker. Employers should review the length of employment for these workers to ensure they can apply to extend the application of labour laws of particular home countries, if needed.
Increase of minimum annual salary for foreign workers in Flanders and Brussels regions
The Flanders and Brussels regions are increasing the minimum annual salary for foreign workers in Flanders and Brussels Regions from 1 January 2021. The salary increase applies to both existing and new workers, and employers must notify authorities of any salary increases relevant to pending applications.
In the Flanders region, the minimum annual salary will increase by 1.94%. For executives, including managers under the upcoming EU Intra-Company Transferee (ICT) permit, the minimum annual salary will increase to €69,638. For EU Blue Card applicants in this region the minimum annual salary will increase to €52,229. For specialists and trainees under the EU ICT, and highly-skilled permit applicants in this region, the minimum annual salary will increase to €43,524. For locally hired staff under 30 years old, the minimum annual salary will increase to €34,819.20.
In the Brussels region, the minimum annual salary for foreign workers will increase by 1.23%. For executives, the increase will be to €72,399. For applicants of the EU Blue Card and managers under the EU ICT permit the minimum annual salary will be €56,111, and for specialists it will be €44,889. For trainees under the EU ICT permit the increase will be to €28,056 and for highly skilled applicants it will be to €43,395.
The incoming EU ICT permit and new immigration restrictions
Foreign nationals residing in Belgium are expected to now be able to apply for the new EU Intracompany Transferee (ICT) permit, which applies to managers, specialists and trainees sent from a company based outside the EU to a company of the same group in Belgium. The work post must be for more than 90 days. However, the EU ICT permit in Belgium is subject to additional legislation which delays the ability of workers to be able to work in other jurisdictions in the EU (if they meet certain requirements). Belgium has also introduced restrictions on applications made in-country for unlimited residency and single permits.
In response to the processing delays and closures resulting from COVID-19, the government in Ireland is now automatically renewing all immigration permissions due to expire between 20 September 2020 and 19 January 2021. This includes Irish Residence Permit (IRP) cards, previously extended permissions and passport stamps. The government will be renewing the permissions on the same basis as the existing permission. In the meantime, individuals resident in Dublin should renew their IRP cards through the new online system. All other residents in Ireland should keep trying to book in-person appointments with the registration office in their area.
A remote working visa has launched in Georgia. The visa enables eligible foreign nationals to apply to work for a company based outside Georgia for a minimum of 180 days. To be eligible for this visa, foreign nationals must have a salary of at least $2,000 per month. Upon entering Georgia, foreign nationals are required to quarantine for eight days at a hotel in Georgia and take a COVID-19 PCR test. Foreign nationals are required to pay for this quarantine period themselves. Only foreign nationals with a negative COVID-19 test result will be allowed to stay in Georgia.
Asia - Pacific
Streamlining measures have been introduced in Shanghai for Work Permit applications. Notification Letters can now be submitted online, and in-person appointments are no longer required. This applies to Work Permit applications, as well as work permit extensions and cancellations in Shanghai. The standard government processing time has also been reduced by two business days for Category A, B and C Work Permit applications, extensions and cancellations. For Category A Work Permits, the maximum validity period increased to 5 years, and Category B Work Permits have increased from one year to 2 years. Shanghai has also reduced the level of documentary evidence required for change of employer and ICT applications.
Border restrictions extended
Border restrictions at the US-Mexico and US-Canada borders that allow only essential travel are to be extended to 21 November 2020. Air travel is not affected by these restrictions. Included in the essential travel exemption is travel into the US for work-related reasons by US citizens, foreign nationals and lawful permanent residents. It is thought that Visa Waiver holders and others travelling for business reasons might be subjected to further inspection at the border. Travel for tourism or recreational reasons are considered “non-essential travel” and are prohibited, among other forms of travel.
Increase in USCIS premium processing fees from 19 October 2020
For premium process petitions filed on Forms I-140 and I-129, the fees increased from $1,440 to $2,500 on 19 October 2020. This was introduced by a temporary financial measure that received legal standing on 30 September 2020. The increase is only applicable to matters that are currently eligible for premium processing, for example, H and L petitions and particular EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 petitions. The temporary financial measure also expanded the premium processing program, making it applicable to other types of matters and requests of benefits, however, USCIS has not yet announced when this expansion is to take place.
Fiscal Year 2020 Diversity Visa lottery registration now open
The State Department is now accepting online registrations for the Fiscal Year 2020 Diversity Visa lottery. The deadline to register for foreign nationals interested in entering the lottery is 10 November 2020 at 12pm EST. There are strict State Department requirements that applicants must adhere to.
Department of Labour permanently adopts electronic PERM labour certifications due to COVID-19
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Labour has announced that it will permanently issue electronic certificates for permanent labour certification. These electronic certifications will then be sent via email to employers and representatives.
ICE extends COVID-19 protections for form I-9 compliance
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has announced that, due to COVID-19, the protections it introduced for form I-9 compliance will be extended up to 19 November 2020. This means that ICE will continue its policy of remote inspection of I-9 documents until the expiry date. Certain eligible employers are also exempt from the requirement to review I-9 identity and employment authorisation documents in the employee’s physical presence. This exemption only applies to employers regarding their employees that are working remotely due to COVID-19. This exemption for employers will continue until the expiry of these protections, or until three days after the end of the COVID-19 emergency, whichever date is earlier.
Extension of USCIS COVID-19 accommodations
USCIS has announced that, due to the on-going pandemic, it will extend its current 60-day deadline policy until 1 January 2021. This policy will apply to FREs, NOIDs, appeals and other responses. Both petitioners and applicants will be granted an additional 60 days to respond to requests for evidence, notices of intent to terminate EB-5 regional investment centres, notices of intent to deny or revoke and certain other notices dated between 1 March 2020 and 1 January 2021. This policy also grants an additional 60 days to foreign nationals, increased from their previous 30 days, to file appeals or motions to reopen any UCIS decisions given between 1 March 2020 and 1 January 2021.
Airport restriction lifted by DHS for travellers exempt from COVID-19 travel bans
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) lifted the airport travel restriction as of 14 September 2020 for air travellers who are either exempt or have an exception to the COVID-19 travel bans on travel from the listed countries. The countries listed in the travel bans are Brazil, China, Iran, Ireland, the European Schengen Area and the United Kingdom. Holders of an exemption or exception to the bans on travel from the listed countries are now able to fly into any US international airport. This is a change from the previous requirement that these exempt travellers had to enter the US via one of the 15 selected airports. Still, the travel restrictions continue to apply to individuals physically present in any of the listed countries within 14 days prior to their attempted entry to the US.
Parents and Grandparents Program open in Canada
The Parents and Grandparents Program opened in Canada on 13 September 2020, and remained open for a period of 3 weeks. The program was introduced by Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. It enables parents and grandparents of Canadian nationals and permanent residents to be sponsored by their Canadian national/permanent resident family members in order to obtain permanent residence in Canada themselves. To be eligible to be a sponsor, interested individuals must confirm that their income meets the income threshold and must complete and submit an interest to sponsor form. Interested individuals should complete these initial eligibility requirements as soon as possible to have the best chance of receiving an invitation to apply for the program.
Mandatory registration for those employing foreign nationals in British Columbia
A law requiring employers of foreign national workers to register by 15 December 2020 was introduced by the government of British Columbia. All employers that hire foreign nationals through federal programs must adhere to the new registration law. The federal programs include the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the Home Child-care Provider Pilot and the Home Support Worker Pilot. The aim of this law is to safeguard workers’ rights. It enables the government of British Colombia to track employers caught by the law, inspect them and sanction any employers that failed to register.
An electronic platform for immigration applications was launched by the General Immigration Directorate (DGME). The platform enables foreign nationals in Costa Rica to file their immigration applications remotely, as well as electronic copies of their supporting documents, and reduces the need for in-person applications. It is also expected to speed up the overall application process. The platform is being rolled out by the DGME in phases, meaning only a limited number of applicants will be eligible to use it.
From 1 December 2020, the Special Regime for the Establishment and Operation of Multinational Companies Providing Manufacturing Related Services (EMMA) will take effect for multinational companies in Panama that provide services relating to manufacturing. The regime will provide eligible companies with favourable terms including new visa categories for their foreign national workers and shorter processing times for applications.
Brazil has introduced reforms to its offshore visa/residence permit. The reforms include a relaxation of the visa eligibility criteria. The criteria, which previously allowed only full-time crew members to apply, now allows any professional working on board a foreign flagged vessel or platform to apply for the visa. Clearer quota guidance was also introduced by the Brazilian government for companies operating international vessels or platforms in Brazil, and work authorisation waivers are now available for eligible foreign nationals working for up to 90 days offshore.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
AVirtual Working Program for foreign nationals looking to work remotely is to be launched in Dubai, and will represent the first remote work visa in the Middle East. The program will enable foreign nationals to work in Dubai without the need to have a local employment contract in place. Foreign workers will be eligible if they earn a monthly salary of at least $5,000, alongside other program requirements.
THE COMMONWEALTH OF Australia
A new Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL) has been introduced by the Australian government. The PMSOL gives particular eligible critical workers priority processing of Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa applications. PMSOL sponsored visa applicants will be processed ahead of all other TSS, Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (subclass 494), Employer Nomination Scheme (subclass 186) and Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (subclass 187) visa applicants. The sectors these eligible critical workers are in include the health care, construction and information technology sectors.
The Australian government also introduced an additional Labour Market Testing requirement for particular visa applicants. This additional test, introduced on 1 October 2020, applies to applicants nominated for TSS or subclass 494 Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visas. The test also requires employers to advertise their vacancy on a government website.
Please note that all immigration rules are subject to change and while correct at the time of publication, they should not be relied on as legal advice or a statement of accuracy at a later date.
For more information please do not hesitate to contact a member of the immigration team.