Australia - COVID-19 Disruptions; Special Visa Category Available
As of this writing, immigration offices in Australia remain operational, though processing times and visa application procedures remain impacted by COVID-19 related restrictions. Visa-related services, such as translation, language testing, and document authentication, are increasingly being interrupted worldwide, and as a result applicants may not be able to file visa applications. Further information and updates are available at the Home Affairs Office's immigration website.
Additionally, a special category of the Subclass 408 Work Visa has been created for temporary residents employed in critical sectors such as healthcare, elderly care, or agriculture, who are unable to return to their home countries, and who have no other visa options. This category was created to provide relief for workers in essential industries who may be required to continue to work in Australia throughout the pandemic.
France - Automatic Extension of Certain Permits
Ordinance No. 2020-460 of April 22, 2020 on various measures taken to deal with the COVID-19 epidemic was published in the official journal and entered into force on April 23, 2020.
The extension of the below-listed permit types, initially fixed at 3 months, is extended to 6 months modifying the order of March 25, 2020 taken in application of article 16 of the emergency law to deal with the epidemic of COVID-19. It has the following terms:
"The period of validity of the following residence documents, whether issued on the basis of the code for the entry and stay of foreigners and the right of asylum or a bilateral agreement, expired between 16 March and May 15, 2020, is extended by 180 days:
- Long-stay visas;
- Residence permits, with the exception of those issued to foreign diplomatic and consular staff;
- Provisional residence permits;
- Receipts for requests for residence permits.
The extension of the period of validity of these documents is therefore now set at 180 days from their expiration date (provided that the document has expired between March 16 and May 15, 2020).
Germany - Risk to Abandon Residence Status and New Employer Notification Requirement
Work/Residence Permit holders who may not be able to return to Germany within six months due to travel restrictions can request an extension of the allowed absence from Germany so that they do not risk to abandon the German work/residence permit status. The request should be filed with the responsible alien department (triggered by the place of residence). We are happy to assist.
Effective March 1, 2020 German employers are required to notify the responsible alien department within four weeks of termination of a work permit holder's employment. The authorities currently take a lenient approach if the notification is filed with a delay due to the current COVID-19 situation.
Hong Kong - Travel Restrictions and Health Declaration Form Measures Extended
The government of Hong Kong announced quarantine measures for incoming travelers will be extended until June 7, 2020. The requirement to submit a health declaration form upon arrival has also been extended until August 31, 2020. In general, entry and transit remains suspended for all visitors (all but Hong Kong residents and citizens) until further notice.
Japan - Immigration Procedures Related to COVID-19
The Immigration Bureau in Japan continues to accept applications for Certificates of Eligibility (COE), as well as applications for extensions and changes of status. Additionally, the Bureau has extended the validity of all Certificates of Eligibility for an additional 90 days, rather than the typical three month validity, to accommodate for COVID-19 related delays. As a result, all COEs will be valid for six months from the date of issuance. If applicants submit entry visa applications to Japanese consulates abroad more than three months after the issuance of the COE they must submit an additional explanatory letter from the Japanese sponsoring company.
Russia - Amendments to Federal Law regarding Russian Citizenship
On April 24, 2020 the Russian President signed a Federal Law which further simplifies procedures for applications for Russian citizenship for multiple categories of foreign nationals and stateless persons. Based on these changes, foreign citizens are no longer required to renounce their current foreign citizenship in order to receive a Russian passport. Additionally, those applying using the new simplified procedure may now receive Russian citizenship even faster. The review procedure time has been shortened from 6 months to 3 months for applications reviewed by the Internal Affairs Ministry.
Further policy changes include eligibility for Belorussian and Ukrainian citizens to receive certificates that they are "native speakers of Russian language" without passing a language proficiency exam, a new dual-citizenship notification form, and amendments to submission procedures.
South Korea - Additional Travel Restrictions and Suspension of Visa-Free Entry
South Korea suspended visa-free entry and visa waiver programs for nationals of 90 countries effective April 13, 2020. This suspension is based on reciprocal travel restrictions for South Korean citizens in these countries:
Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Macau, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Swiss, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, and New Zealand.
The government announced that it will also suspend the validity of all short-term visas of up to 90 days that were issued before April 5, 2020. Foreign nationals who hold short-term visas must apply for new ones.
The Foreign and Justice ministries said of the 151 countries and territories currently imposing entry restrictions on Korean nationals, South Korea will temporarily suspend visa exemptions for 90 of them. Travelers carrying passports of these countries must now have a visa issued from a local Korean missions office in order to come to South Korea. Exceptions apply in some cases including for diplomats, flight attendants, and C-4 visa holders who are sponsored by local firms for their specialized skills. Foreigners who have already entered South Korea for a short-term stay are also allowed to stay until their existing visa expires.
Spain - Processing of Work Permit and Social Security Number Applications
Spanish immigration authorities accept filing of work/residence permit applications and process the same in about twenty working days. Fingerprinting does not take place and is postponed until further notice. Social security numbers which are required to start to work are processed. The in-person filing process has changed to an online process during the COVID-19 situation. Social security numbers are currently issued in one day. It is not clear whether the system will change back to in-person filing in the future.
Switzerland - Schengen Visa Services Remain Suspended
The Swiss Federal Council continues to prohibit entry at the Schengen external borders with few exceptions. VFS Global, the Swiss visa provider and visa center agency, announced that Switzerland has suspended the issuance of all Schengen visitor visas until June 15, 2020. National visas will also only be issued in exceptional cases, for example to family members of Swiss citizens with a right of presence in Switzerland who require a visa and to specialists from the health sector. Additional information and related updates are available on the Swiss Federal Council's designated COVID-19 website.
United Kingdom - Immigration Policy and Procedure Updates
License priority requests
UKVI have launched a new Tier 2 sponsor priority e-mail request to replace the previously used phone line. The new service will accept up to 60 requests per day. These requests relate to the management of the Sponsor License - for example, requests for additional Certificates of Sponsorship, Appointment of a new Level 1 user etc. UKVI charge £200 per request.
The new service should be much smoother than the old system, which used a single phone line that was often engaged. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak all License priority requests options are suspended.
This means that, for example, it is not possible to ask for an urgent additional Certificate of Sponsorship at this time. Please let us know if you have an upcoming need for a Certificate (for example, for a new hire who will be submitting the application inside the UK). We are hopeful that the Priority request line will be reinstated as soon as the UK lockdown restrictions are partially eased.
COVID-19: Updates to the Right to Work check regime - applicable to all employees
In recognition of the increase in home working and social distancing during this COVID-19 outbreak, UKVI have introduced a temporary relaxation of the Right to Work checks that must take place for employees.UKVI have conceded that the usual right to work check procedure, which requires the checker to hold the new employee's original documents in their possession, is inappropriate at this time. Employers are able to conduct the checks electronically by receiving a scan or photo of the right to work documentation via email, and then verifying the likeness of the employee using a video link.
The employer should record the date they made the check and mark it as "adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19".
Once lockdown restrictions have been lifted and employees have returned to work locations, a follow up check must be undertaken under the original procedures within 8 weeks of the COVID-19 measures ending.
COVID-19 Updates to Tier 2 workers
UKVI have also confirmed some temporary changes to the Tier 2 rules during this period.
A Tier 2 sponsor does not need to report employee absences related to Coronavirus. This can include absences due to illness, their need to isolate, or inability to travel due to travel restrictions. Usually a Tier 2 employee can only have a period of up to 4 weeks per year absent without pay - during this period, extended absences due to coronavirus do not need to be notified and Tier 2 sponsorship will not be cancelled. Note that this exemption does not apply to those on unpaid leave due to a furlough period - see below.
Working from home
There is no need to update the Tier 2 employees' Certificate of Sponsorship to confirm they are working from home.
Temporary salary reductions/furlough
UKVI have confirmed that employers can temporarily reduce the pay of their sponsored employees to 80% of their salary or £2,500 per month, whichever is the lower. Any reductions must be part of a company-wide policy to avoid redundancies and in which all workers are treated the same. These reductions must be temporary, and the employee's pay must return to at least previous levels once these arrangements have ended. We recommend that a notification is added on to the employees' Certificate of Sponsorship via the Sponsor Management System.
New employees - Tier 2 applications made inside the UK
During this period, a new employee can begin to work as soon as the Certificate of Sponsorship has been assigned and the Tier 2 visa application has been submitted - the employee does not need to wait for the application to be approved. This applies only if the employee submitted the visa application before the current visa expired, and the role they start to perform is the same as that listed on their Certificate of Sponsorship.
The employer's reporting responsibilities for an employee will start from the date the employer has assigned the a Certificate, not from the date that the application is granted. If the employee's application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused the employer must terminate the employment.
New employees - Applications made outside the UK
Visa application centers outside of the UK are closed, but the employee is still able to submit the online Tier 2 visa application form. If a Certificate of Sponsorship has been assigned but the visa processing is delayed, UKVI may still accept a Certificate of Sponsorship that is invalid (a Certificate normally expires after 3 months). This will be looked at on a case by case basis.
Visa application process
As stated above, all UK visa centers, both inside and outside the UK, are currently shut. As all applications are submitted online, applicants should continue to submit their applications, but will then need to wait for the visa centers to re-open before submitting their biometric information.
It is especially important for individuals in the UK who are intending to renew their visa to submit the renewal application before their current visa expires, as this will protect their status and ensure that they remain legally in the UK.
The Priority and Super Priority routes have also been suspended - any applications that are being processed will be subject to longer timeframes (varying from 8 weeks to 6 months).
Extensions for migrants unable to leave the UK
For individuals whose visas expire between January 24, 2020 and May 31, 2020 and have no intention of renewing their visa, but are unable to leave the UK due to travel restrictions or illness, UKVI have developed a short term scheme allowing an extension of permission to remain in the UK. An application must be made online.
Switching status inside the UK
UKVI will also exceptionally allow individuals whose visas are expiring and are unable to travel to switch their status inside the UK - for example from PBS Dependent to Tier 2 (General). The individuals must still meet all of the other criteria for the visa category.
New UK immigration system for 2021
Amidst this outbreak, UKVI have published further guidance on the new Points Based Immigration system which will take effect from January 1, 2021. This will also apply to EU citizens who are not already resident in the UK before December 31, 2020.
The Tier 2 visa route will be expanded and encompass lower skilled roles than previously. For skilled workers with a job offer, a total of 70 points will be required to be eligible to apply. Applicants, including EU nationals, must demonstrate that they have a job offer from an approved sponsor for a role at the required skill level and can speak English.
While the application process will remain the same for non-EU nationals, European citizens should benefit from a streamlined visa process which will allow most EU applicants to submit an application without the need for fingerprinting.
Originally published 4 May, 2020
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.