In brief

Mainland China continues to ease entry requirements for foreign nationals. Effective June 6, 2022, local foreign affairs offices in China announced they would lift the PU Letter requirement for foreign nationals who work in China and their dependent family members. Accordingly, Chinese embassies and consulates overseas also started to adjust their requirements to ease the visa application for such foreign nationals. They also started processing student visas for qualified foreign students. Nevertheless, a PU Letter is still required for business visa applicants.

Key takeaways

According to the new policy, foreign nationals who meet one of the following conditions no longer need a PU letter to apply for entry visas:

  • Foreign nationals who will work in China and have successfully applied for a Notification Letter of Foreigner's Work Permit (WPNL).
  • Foreign nationals who hold a valid China Work Permit ("WP").
  • Dependent family members of the above-mentioned foreign nationals, including spouses and children under 18 years old.

Below we summarize the current commonly available entry visa categories and corresponding PU Letter requirements. Visa applicants should confirm with the relevant Chinese embassies and consulates their specific requirements prior to the application.

Visa Category   Purpose Requirement
M visa  Commercial and trade - PU Letter for business is required. 
F visa Exchange and visits - PU Letter for business is required. 
Z visa Work - PU Letter is NOT required. - WPNL or WP is required.
S1/S2 visa Family visit  - PU Letter is NOT required.  - Relationship certificate is required.
Q1/Q2 visa Reunion  - PU Letter is NOT required.  - Relationship certificate is required.
X1/X2 visa Study - PU Letter is NOT required.  - JW201/JW202 form is required.
R visa Talent - PU Letter is NOT required.  - Confirmation Letter for High-Level Foreign Talent  is required.
Following the visa facilitation policy implemented in mid-March 2021 for applicants who are fully inoculated with Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccines, the partial lifting of the PU Letter requirement is another big step towards reopening the border, though tourist visas, transition visas and visa-exemption policies continue to be suspended until further notice.

Hong Kong | The Hong Kong government announces further measures to reopen borders for international travelers

In brief

In an announcement on April 22, 2022, the Hong Kong government indicated that, starting May 1, 2022, non-Hong Kong residents will be allowed to enter Hong Kong from overseas. The rationale for the decision takes into account the recent volume of inbound passenger flow and the number of imported cases of COVID-19.

In more detail

From May 1, 2022, non-residents who have stayed in places overseas in the past 14 days will be allowed to enter Hong Kong subject to the same boarding, quarantine and testing arrangements as Hong Kong residents. This includes being fully vaccinated, undergoing a predeparture nucleic acid test with a negative result and booking a predesignated quarantine hotel for a period of at least seven days (certain conditions to be met).

The triggering thresholds for route-specific flight suspension will also be lowered with effect from May.

These changes may help to facilitate business travel and business visits to Hong Kong. Employers should ensure that any staff members making business visits to the region are fully aware of all quarantine measures and requirements. In addition, it is essential that any business activities undertaken during a business visit to Hong Kong fall within the Hong Kong Immigration Department's list of permissible activities as a business visitor. There is often a fine line between business visit activity and substantive and productive work, for which an employment visa would be required.

Hong Kong | The Immigration Department announces new extension of visa facilitation measure (effective April 8, 2022)

In brief

In view of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Hong Kong Immigration Department (HKID) issued a new facilitation measure effective April 8, 2022, as the HKID seeks to aid non-permanent residents who are unable to return to Hong Kong to renew their visas.

In more detail

Previously, a temporary measure was used at the discretion of the HKID to enable individuals to submit visa extension applications from overseas rather than being physically present in Hong Kong. Individuals were issued with a visa requiring them to enter Hong Kong within six months of the issue date to activate the renewed visa.

Under the new measure, which is expected to remain in force until December 31, 2022 (while the government assesses the impact of the fifth wave of the epidemic), eligible non-permanent residents who are outside of Hong Kong may submit extension applications either through their representatives or online if the validity of their stay is due to expire within four weeks or if the visa has expired within the last 12 months. The main departure or change from the old temporary measure is that applicants are no longer required to return to Hong Kong to activate the renewed visa.

Under the new measure, the e-visa extension may be activated outside of Hong Kong.

Transitional measures are in place for those seeking to change their application from the old measure for consideration under the new one.

 

Hong Kong | Immigration update

In brief

We set out below a summary of recent changes to immigration policy in Hong Kong:

1. Hong Kong government to lift flight suspension on nine countries from April 1, 2022; and

In more detail

1. Hong Kong government to lift flight suspension on nine countries from April 1, 2022

In a recent positive move in relation to Hong Kong's measures to combat COVID-19, the government announced that it will lift the current suspension on flights from nine countries, including the US and the UK, from April 1, 2022.

As part of wider plans to start reducing quarantine and social distancing measures across Hong Kong from April 21, 2022, the flight suspension currently applying to Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, the UK and the US will be lifted from April 1st to enable entry from those countries. The rationale put forward is that these countries no longer pose a high risk to Hong Kong in terms of number of cases and status of vaccination programmes.

The rationale also takes account of the impact that stringent measures were having on the city's business environment. As a result, quarantine requirements for entry into Hong Kong for Hong Kong residents who are fully vaccinated will be reduced to just seven nights in a designated quarantine hotel (DQH) on entry to Hong Kong.

There will be clearly defined steps to the process for entry into Hong Kong and government requirements that remain in place, but the move is a positive one for returning residents and for companies seeking to transfer staff to Hong Kong under General Employment Visa arrangements.

2. Temporary exceptional policy for visa renewal/extension

The Hong Kong Immigration Department continues to offer a temporary exceptional process for renewal of a work permit from outside of Hong Kong where an individual and their dependents are unable to return to Hong Kong before the expiry of their current visa. The process is discretionary and requires an individual to satisfy the Immigration Officer handling the application that there are sufficient mitigating reasons for applying the exceptional process. With that in mind, an individual would be required to provide explanatory reasons for their inability to enter Hong Kong before the expiry of their current visa (for example, because of illness, flight changes or restrictions due to COVID-19).

The Immigration Department will consider applications from individuals whose visas are due to expire within four weeks or have expired within the last 12 months and who are unable to return to Hong Kong due to COVID-19. In such circumstances, the Immigration Department will accept applications for renewal of visas submitted while applicants are physically outside of Hong Kong. In successful cases, applicants will be issued with reinstatement visas to enable them to return to Hong Kong within six months on the same basis. The main takeaway here is that businesses can benefit from this exceptional process in handling logistical challenges for staff.

Italy | Lacks manpower - A new decree with quotas will be imminently issued to address lack of manpower

Italy lacks manpower, especially seasonal workers, and a need to welcome more foreign workers is clear. After the previous decree launched last December, which established a quota of 69,700 entries of non-EU workers in Italy, a second one will soon arrive. This was announced by the deputy-secretary of the Ministry of Interiors of Italy. The issuance of the decree is necessary "to respond promptly to the requests coming from the productive world."

Every year the Italian Government approves a decree indicating a "quota," i.e. a defined number of non-EU workers that can enter in Italy to reinforce and support the local workforce. Such number is defined on the basis of how many foreigners are already present and working in the country, the needs of the employers, the trends in employment, unemployment rates, the number of foreigners registered in the unemployment lists, and so on.

The expectation for this new decree is for a quota of additional 70,000 entries of non-EU workers in Italy. We will confirm this figure once it is announced by the Government. .

Singapore | Minister for Manpower introduces points-based rubric for EP applicants

In brief

To achieve a higher quality foreign workforce with specialized skills, networks and expertise to complement our local workforce, the Minister for Manpower announced the introduction of the Complementarity Assessment Framework (COMPASS), a points-based rubric that assesses both individual and employer-related attributes towards scoring applications for an Employment Pass (EP).

To ensure that the EP application for foreign candidates meet the quality requirement of specialized skills, networks and expertise to complement our local workforce, both the candidate and the employer must:

• Meet the qualifying salary (from September 1, 2022, or from 1 September 2023 for renewal applications); and • Score sufficient points under COMPASS (from September 1, 2023, or from September 1, 2024 for renewal applications).

We summarize below the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) guidance on COMPASS, including working with the methodology of COMPASS, points for each criteria, and exempted candidates.

Background

Following the extensive debate on the issue of foreign manpower in September 2021 (see our alert: Policies announced to support the Singapore workforce, deter nationality discrimination), MOM intends to achieve the following goals:

• Bring in a higher quality foreign workforce with specialized skills, networks and expertise to complement our local workforce

MOM has introduced COMPASS, aimed at strengthening the complementarity of the foreign workforce, after consultation with tripartite partners, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation.

In more detail

Effective September 1, 2023, MOM will score a new EP application on four foundational criteria, unless exempt, requiring each application to aggregate a minimum of 40 points, based on both the foreign candidate's and the employer's attributes. Applicants that initially fail to meet this minimum may nonetheless qualify for bonus points under two more candidate and employer criteria that warrant special attention.

Foundational criteria Attributes Points
  C1: candidate's salary   ≥ 90th percentile relative to local Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMET) earning at least SGD 3,000 per month in their respective sectors by age 20  
  65th to 90th percentile 10  
  < 65th percentile 0  
  C2: candidate's qualifications   Top 100 universities (based on international rankings and reputation, Singapore's autonomous universities and highly recognized vocational institutions) 20  
  Degree-equivalent qualification 10  
  No degree-equivalent qualification 0  
  C3: employer's nationality diversity and whether the candidate improves it   Share of candidate's nationality among employer's PMET < 5% 20  
  5% to 25% 10  
  ≥ 25% 0  
  C4: employer's support for local employment compared to their industry peers   ≥ 50th percentile 20  
  20th to 50th percentile 10  
  < 20th percentile 0  
               
Bonus criteria Attributes Points
  C5: Singapore does not have sufficient local employees possessing the candidate's skills   Job on the Shortage Occupation List +20  
  Share of candidate's nationality among the firm's PMETs is one-third or higher +10  
  C6: employer meets specific strategic economic assessment criteria   Employer is undertaking ambitious innovation, hub or internationalization activities in partnership with government +10

All the criteria are tradeable; and none are dispositive. Applications that score at least 10 points on all C1 to C4 foundational criteria will pass COMPASS; otherwise, applications that score less than 10 points on one criterion can make up the required points by exceeding expectations on another criterion or by scoring bonus points C5 and C6.

For C1: Do note that from September 1, 2022, and for renewal applications from 1 September 2023, MOM will revise the EP minimum qualifying salary:

• From SGD 4,500 to SGD 5,000 per month • From SGD 5,000 to SGD 5,500 for the financial services sector • Qualifying salary to also rise with age

Please see our alert, Budget 2022 employment updates - work pass qualifying salaries to increase, for a summary of coming increases in EP minimum qualifying salaries and, additionally, for S Pass applicants, changes in levy rates and quotas.

For C3: So as not to penalize employers in subsectors that have a relatively high share of local PMET employees (where the local PMET share is at least 70% pegged to the 20th percentile of employers economy-wide), the application will earn at least 10 points.

For C3 and C4: These employer-related attributes are already part of MOM's Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) Watchlist and COMPASS applies these considerations upstream, at the point of EP application.

Aligned with exemptions to the FCF job advertisements, a foreign EP candidate is exempted from COMPASS if they:

• Earn at least SGD 20,000 fixed monthly salary • Are applying as an overseas intra-corporate transferee under the World Trade Organization's General Agreement on Trade in Services or an applicable Free Trade Agreement • Are filling a role for one month or less

MOM has provided the following assurances for the implementation of COMPASS:

• COMPASS is not designed to make it harder for businesses to obtain an EP, the design of the points-based rubrics is transparent to provide employers with clarity and predictability for workforce planning.

• Employers with less than 25 PMETs will automatically be scored as 'meeting expectations' for C3 and C4, and MOM will repurpose the FCF Watchlist so MOM will assist employers scoring poorly on the employers' attributes with strengthening their workforce profile and adjusting to the new framework.

We will keep you informed on developments on this front. In the meantime, if you have any concerns arising from the COMPASS rubric or on any related employment matter, please feel free to contact us.

View Japanese Version (日本語版).

 

Singapore | Minister for Manpower introduces points-based rubric for EP applicants

In brief

On May 17, 2022, a foreign journalist pleaded guilty to an offense under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act 1990 ("EFMA") for carrying out freelance work for a news agency and an online publisher without a valid work pass. As a result, the foreign journalist, the news agency and an individual who introduced the foreigner to the online publisher were fined.

Key takeaways

• Regardless of the nature of the employment relationship, the intended activities or the duration of work, employers should always ensure that foreigners who carry out work for the company hold a valid work pass.

• It is an offence for companies to employ foreigners without a valid work pass and the company may be subject to penalties, if convicted.

In more detail

The foreigner, Stuart Calum Arthur Alistair, was on a long-term pass in Singapore from 2015 to 2019, when he carried out freelance work in Singapore without a valid work pass between 2015 and 2016.

In August 2015, Stuart took up a job offer with a news agency with a salary of SGD 4,500 a month, but did not sign an employment contract. The company applied for an Employment Pass on his behalf in August 2015, but it was rejected by the Ministry of Manpower in September 2015. The company then applied for a Letter of Consent, which would allow him to work in Singapore, but this was also rejected in December 2015. While waiting for the Letter of Consent application to be approved, the news agency offered him a freelance job, which he took up for approximately six months from November 2015 to July 2016.

Stuart also worked as a freelance writer for an online publisher between June 2015 and August 2015, a job he obtained through an individual. While Stuart informed the individual that he did not have a valid work pass in Singapore, the individual still offered him the job. Stuart took up the job and signed an employment agreement with the online publisher.

Stuart was fined SGD 6,500 for providing freelance work without a valid work pass. It is noteworthy that the news agency was also fined SGD 5,000 for employing Stuart despite knowing that he did not have a valid work pass, and the individual was fined SGD 4,000 for his role in abetting Stuart to take up employment without a work pass.

In recent times, we have observed the Singapore authorities taking an increasingly strong stance against breaches of the EFMA against both individuals and employers.

In particular, it is an offence under the EFMA (among others) for:

a. Foreigners to work in Singapore without a valid work pass. Persons who are found guilty of the offence may be liable to a fine of up to SGD 20,000 and/or two years' imprisonment.

b. Employers to employ a foreigner without a valid work pass. Employers who are found guilty may be liable to a fine of at least SGD 5,000 up to SGD 30,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 12 months. Enhanced penalties will also be imposed for reoffenders — individuals may be liable to a fine of at least SGD 10,000 up to SGD 30,000 and/or imprisonment of at least one month up to 12 months; and entities may be subject to a fine of at least SGD 20,000 up to SGD 60,000.

c. Persons to abet the commission of an offence under the EFMA. Such persons may be liable to be punished with the penalties provided for that offence, if found guilty.

In addition to the penalties that can be imposed for offenses under the EFMA, the Controller of Work Passes has wide powers to debar any person from applying for or being issued with a work pass for any fixed period of time.

Accordingly, employers should err on the side of caution and ensure that any foreigner that it engages to carry out work has a valid work pass in Singapore, regardless of the nature of the employment relationship, the intended activities and the duration of work. This would avoid potential sanctions and the risks of the employer not being able to apply for new work passes — a sanction that could be extremely damaging to the business.

 

South Africa | The Draft National Labour Migration Policy and Employment Services Amendment Bill

In brief

The Minister of Employment and Labour in South Africa ("Minister") has recently published the Draft National Labour Migration Policy and Employment Services Amendment Bill. The Draft Bill is currently open for public comment and aims to amend the Employment Services Act. Proposed changes include quotas to the employment of foreign nationals. See below for more details.

In more detail

The Draft National Labour Migration Policy and Employment Services Amendment Bill ("Draft Bill")

The Draft Bill is currently open for public comment and aims to amend the Employment Services Act, as set out below.

Employment of foreign nationals

The main thrust of the proposed changes includes the Minister's right to set maximum quotas for the employment of foreign nationals as employees or workers in any sector. The Minister may set a quota to apply by sector, occupation, region or nationally. An employer will only be entitled to exceed this maximum quota if they have applied for and been granted an exemption, or if the foreign national fills a position for which critical skills are required.

The Draft Bill entitles the Minister to make regulations regulating the employment of foreign nationals, including:

• Measures employers must take to confirm that there are no suitable persons for the role within South Africa • Requirements for employers to use a public employment service or private employment agency to assist employees to recruit suitable candidates • Requirements for the preparation of a skills transfer plan • The criteria and procedure to apply for an exemption from the Minister; and • The records employers must keep in respect of foreign nationals

Introduction of digital labour platforms and workers

The legislature has proposed a new section to make provision for work or service provided to digital labour platforms. A digital labour platform is defined as "an electronic entity that enables the provision of work or services to any other person in the Republic". A platform which meets this definition is considered an employer of the person who performs the services or work, for the purpose of the Draft Bill. The person performing the services is classified as a worker, which is defined as "any person who works for another and who receives, or is entitled to receive, any payment for that work, whether in money or in kind".

A digital labour platform will be considered to be the employer of the workers if (1) the digital labour platform determines the payment and/or terms and conditions of the work or services provided; and (2) the digital labour platform remunerates the worker. The definition of worker will apply only in the context set out in the Draft Bill. The result of the inclusive nature of this definition is that the Minister may set the maximum quotas for the engagement of foreign nationals as platform workers.

United Kingdom: Coronavirus (COVID-19) update to international travel rules

In brief

Effective at 4 am on Friday, March 18, 2022, all travellers coming to England will no longer be required to complete the passenger locator form and will not be required to take any COVID-19 travel tests before or after arrival. This applies to all travellers, whether vaccinated or not vaccinated.

Travellers will not be required to quarantine once they arrive in England.

Travellers arriving in England before 4 am on March 18, 2022

Travellers arriving in England before 4 am on Friday, March 18, must still follow the existing guidelines as indicated below:

Vaccinated travellers must:

  • Complete a passenger locator form within the three days before arrival in England.
  • Travellers do not need to take any COVID-19 test before travelling to England or after arrival.
  • Travellers do not need to quarantine after arrival.

Unvaccinated travellers must:

  • Take a COVID-19 test – to be taken in the two days before traveling to England.
  • Book and pay for a COVID-19 PCR test – to be taken after arrival in England. PCR test booking reference number will need to be added to the passenger locator form.
  • Complete a passenger locator form within the three days before arrival in England.