Coronavirus Outbreak Restrictions

Coronavirus related travel restrictions and quarantine measures continue to affect immigration around the world. Many jurisdictions have implemented extension policies and concessions and almost all jurisdictions have implemented restrictions on travel or entry for people who are travelling from places where the virus has been widespread. Health officials for many countries have advised against non-essential international travel generally or to specific places where the outbreak is said to be severe. Individuals are advised to check the respective government websites for the latest official information on closures of visa application centres as well as entry restrictions ahead of their travel.

Europe

EUROPEAN UNION

13 EU Member States Are Issuing Digital COVID Certificates

EU Member States should accept Digital COVID Certificates starting July 1, but have a six-week phasing-in period starting July 1 to issue Digital COVID Certificates.

Current issuing countries: (updated July 15): Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden (vaccination only) and Switzerland are now issuing certificates through the system. San Marino and Vatican City have successfully tested the digital infrastructure and are likely to begin issuing the certificates shortly. A country tracker is available here.

The EU Digital COVID Certificate is currently issued to individuals vaccinated, tested, or recovered in the European Union only. It confirms details on whether a traveller has received recent negative COVID-19 tests, vaccines, or has recovered from COVID-19 in order to standardise recognition of this medical information from country to country.

For applicable travellers, the certificate streamlines travel to EU countries that recognise the certificate. However, entry restrictions will continue to be regulated on a national level, so travellers should check individual country rules prior to traveling.

Acceptable vaccines: EU Member States must accept vaccination certificates for European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines, which currently include Comirnaty (Pfizer BioNtech), Moderna, Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca) and Janssen, and may opt to accept additional vaccines.

Certificate details: The certificate can be issued digitally and/or in paper format, with a QR code, based on a common design to facilitate recognition. Digital certificates can be stored on a mobile device and have a digital signature to confirm authenticity. The certificate is issued free of charge in the national language and in English.

Issuance process: Each EU Member State will designate national authorities qualified to issue these certificates, including through test centres, health authorities, or automated issuance via an eHealth portal.

IRELAND

Employment and Family Visa Processing resumes

Irish authorities have resumed long-stay visa processing for eligible Employment Permit holders, long–stay “Join Family” for all permit types, including for family of Employment holders. Processing of Pre-clearance applications by de facto partners of Employment Permit holders, Irish nationals and non-European Economic Area family members of UK nationals has also resumed.

Employers and foreign nationals will benefit from being able to travel to Ireland once again, once visas are obtained.

The general suspension of visa processing, including for short-term visas; the suspension of visa-free travel for a number of nationalities; and hotel quarantine for a significant number of travellers; remains in place.

Certain Healthcare Occupations Now Eligible for Employment Permits

The following healthcare occupations have been removed from the Ineligible Categories of Employment List, making them eligible for Employment Permits:

  • Health Care Assistant (earning over EUR 27,000 and with a new requirement to complete specified education while undertaking the role);
  • Social Worker;
  • Occupational Therapist;
  • Physiotherapist; and
  • Speech and Language Therapist.

Additionally, the Dietician occupation has been added to the Critical Skills Occupations List, making applicants earning less than EUR 64,000 in this role eligible for a Critical Skills Employment Permit.

MALTA

New temporary stay permit without the need for sponsorship

Malta now offers a one-year Digital Nomad Residence Permit for foreign nationals seeking to reside in Malta while:

  • working for an employer registered abroad with whom they have an employment contract;
  • conducting business activities for a company registered abroad, of which they are partners or shareholders; or
  • offering freelance or consulting services to foreign clients with whom the applicant has a contract.

Applicants must generate EUR 2,700 gross monthly income, with additional funds for accompanying dependants.

SLOVENIA

Stricter Immigration Rules and Adoption of Students and Researchers Directive Forthcoming

The Slovenian parliament approved updated legislation to address several pending immigration process-related issues. The legislation takes effect on 26 2021, and includes the following key changes:

  • A requirement for foreign nationals seeking to sponsor family members to reside in Slovenia for two years;
  • Proof of funds required for renewal, change of status or permanent residence permit applications;
  • Language requirements for renewal applicants and family members; and
  • Creation of new permit types for students, researchers and trainees. 

North America

USA

The Secretary of Homeland Security has designated Burma (Myanmar) for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months, from 25 May 2021 to 25 November 2022. 

According to a Federal Register notice, the designation will permit eligible Burmese nationals and those who last habitually resided in Burma to file for TPS status and for related employment authorisation documents (EADs) and travel permission. According to DHS, the designation is due to the severe political unrest, increase in human rights violations and growing humanitarian crisis following a February 2021 military coup over the country’s democratically elected government.

Relatedly, Secretary Mayorkas also announced today that DHS is suspending certain employment authorisation rules for Burmese citizens in F-1 status who are experiencing severe economic hardship due to the current crisis in Burma. 

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement is extending its remote I-9 document inspection policy to 31 August 2021.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is extending until August 31, 2021 its relaxed enforcement of the normal requirement to physically inspect the original documents presented by new hires during the I-9 process and thus allow eligible employers to continue to implement remote I-9 verification in certain circumstances during the COVID-19 emergency.  

Employers who are eligible for and elect to use the remote I-9 policy will be able to inspect Section 2 documents remotely, by video, fax or email, and must retain copies of the documents. The ordinary timelines for I-9 completion remain in effect. Section 1 of the I-9 must be completed by the employee’s start date and Section 2 must be completed within three business days of the start date. Employers taking advantage of these relaxed procedures must provide written documentation of their remote on boarding and telework policy to each employee. 

Employers may however also continue to follow standard Form I-9 procedures, including the use of third-party agents to complete verification on the employer’s behalf.

USCIS is extending its 60-day deadline extension policy to 30 September 2021

In its on-going response to the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS is further extending its 60-day deadline extension policy for responses to various agency actions to 30 September 2021. The accommodation will continue to be available to stakeholders responding to or filing the following: 

  • Requests for Evidence (RFE);
  • Notices of Intent to Deny (NOID);
  • Notices of Intent to Revoke (NOIR);
  • Notices of Intent to Terminate EB-5 Regional Investment Centers (NOIT), as well as Notices of Intent to Rescind;
  • Form I-290B appeal/motion filing requirements to reopen an adverse USCIS decision; and
  • Form N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings filing date requirements.

As a reminder, this accommodation does not affect applications for extensions of stay or employment authorisation. These applications must continue to be timely filed.

The accommodations, which were initially announced in March 2020 as a means of minimising negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, were originally set to end in September 2020 and have been extended several times.

PANAMA

The Panamanian government has introduced a new remote work visa, called the “Short-Term Visa as Remote Worker”. The visa allows foreign nationals who are employed with a company outside Panama or who own a company operating outside of Panama to reside in and work remotely from Panama for up to nine months without requiring an additional work permit. However, foreign nationals should be aware that the visa does not allow them to work for a local employer in Panama.

Eligible applicants must have a minimum annual income of USD 36,000 from sources outside of Panama, but do not require company sponsorship.

Although the visa has been officially implemented, the government may take a few days to begin processing these applications.

Asia-Pacific

SINGAPORE

Work Requirements for Dependent’s Pass Holders Clarified

The Ministry of Manpower has clarified the following requirements for Dependant’s Pass (DP) holders under the new DP work requirements that took effect on 1 May 2021:

  • Relaxed requirements for DP holders.  DP holders applying for Work Permits do not have to submit medical examination results every six months or obtain security bonds and females will not have to adhere to pregnancy restrictions.
  • Quota. As a reminder, the DP holder’s Work Permit will count towards the employer’s quota which varies by sector. Employment Pass holders are not subject to quotas.
  • Cancellation of DP Pass. DP holders who obtain an Employment Pass or S Pass must cancel their DP to proceed with issuance of these passes. However, DP holders who obtain a Work Permit do not need to cancel their DP and the Work Permit’s validity is tied to the DP.
  • Converting from a DP- Letter of Consent to DP- Work Permit. Employers with foreign nationals currently working as Dependant Pass holders using a Letter of Consent should ensure that the DP renewal process is started early since there must be a minimum validity of four months on the DP in order to apply for the Work Permit that is tied to the DP.

NEW ZEALAND

New Accredited Employer Work Visa Process to be Introduced

Effective 1 November 2021, New Zealand will be introducing a new Accredited Employer Work Visa process to replace certain existing temporary work visa processes (not including the Specific Purpose Work Visa).

The visas concerned are:

  • Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa;
  • Essential Skills Work Visa;
  • Essential Skills Work Visa – Approved in Principle;
  • Long Term Skill Shortage List (LTSSL) Work Visa;
  • Silver Fern Job Search Visa; and
  • Silver Fern Practical Experience Visa.

Employers will benefit from a simplified visa application process and the streamlining of labour market tests, which will likely result in simpler requirements and faster processing times. Immigration New Zealand is expected to release further details ahead of the launch in November.

The change is in line with the New Zealand government’s aim to decrease reliance on lower-paid temporary workers, increase productivity, address infrastructure challenges and ultimately increase the skill levels of foreign nationals migrating to New Zealand..

Middle East

SAUDI ARABIA

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development published further changes to the Nitaqat program, effective 1 December 2021

Details of the published changes are as follows:

  • Saudization plan. A fixed three-year Saudization plan will be introduced to increase the Saudization rates gradually on a yearly basis.
  • Consolidation of categories. Select small economic activities (based on the business sector in which the company operates) will be combined to create one larger economic activity, which will result in 32 economic activity categories. For example, pharmacies, laboratories, health services and medicine agents will become “health services”. 
  • New company classification system. A new system will be introduced to classify employers based on a proportional relationship between the company’s headcount and the required Saudization ratio. The color-coded tier level that classifies which companies are compliant with Saudization ratios (i.e., red, low-green, medium-green, high-green and platinum) and grants benefits within the immigration system based on these levels, will remain in place.

UAE

Temporary Suspension of Issuance of Emirates Identity Cards

The Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (FAIC) has suspended the issuance of physical Emirates Identity Cards because of the on-going work on a new, advanced version of the card.

Applicants who currently require a new Emirates Identity Card or who require a card to renew their residency status can instead obtain a digital version of the document until the new cards are issued.

It is not yet known when the FAIC will begin issuing the new version of the card.