In 2017, Newland Chase published hundreds of client and public updates on significant changes to immigration policy impacting international business on dozens of countries via newsletters, white papers, client briefs, industry articles, and social media. The world of 2017 was one replete with change, especially in the field of global mobility. The trends toward globalization and nationalism continued to compete for prominence in immigration policy in countries around the world, and the topic of immigration was at the top of the list for public debate and governmental action. Technology continued to transform global mobility, simultaneously making international travel more accessible and convenient, and more challenging.
While it would be near impossible to summarize in one document all of last years’ changes in immigration policy from around the world, below is a brief overview of what Newland Chase considers to be among the most significant developments in corporate immigration from around the world, grouped by region and country.
A decidedly pro-business trend of reforms in Nigeria has potential to boost its economy and desirability to international business. The new Immigration Regulations 2017, implemented in March, are touted to bring the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) “in line with best international practices”.
The NIS began offering visas-on-arrival to foreign frequent business travelers and executives of multinational companies and somewhat loosened the standards on business activities permissible under its business visa and visa-on-arrival scheme. There have been numerous improvements to the existing work and residence authorization process and clarification of the rules for residence permits and registration. A new Temporary Work Permit (TWP) was introduced for short-term work assignments for foreign nationals with application processing in as fast as five to ten business days – a major improvement from the previous average of 30 to 35 days.
Two additional requirements applicable to working foreign nationals were introduced in 2017. The NIS gave foreign nationals until January 1, 2018 to obtain their National Identity Number (NIN) cards. Foreign nationals in the country will be unable to obtain or renew work and residence permits in 2018 until they have received their NINs. Foreign nationals practicing licensed professions are now required to show registration with their profession’s applicable regulatory body in Nigeria.
However, with the modernization and improvement of the immigration system in other respects, enforcement of requirements and penalties for non-complying foreign nationals and employers is expected to increase.
Immigration policy in South Africa is certainly in a state of flux with a challenging economy and controversy surrounding immigration (both legal and illegal) from neighboring nations. Authorities have stepped-up enforcement of existing laws against employing undocumented foreign workers with increased workplace inspections and penalties against companies. However, the promised “sweeping changes” in immigration policy proposed by a government white paper have yet to materialize in concrete legislative action.
In perhaps the most significant positive development for foreign nationals in the country, the DHA implemented an automated police clearance system for obtaining South African Police Clearance Certificates (SA PCCs). The new system promises to trim months off the processing time for renewing and changing visas and obtaining residence permits through the in-country Visa Application Centers (VACs)
Argentina’s recent pro-business reforms and efforts to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED) resulted a new resolution authorizing visa-free entry of citizens of 35 OECD nations. Citizens of the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Canada, most European countries, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea are now eligible to enter Argentina visa-free for stays of up to 90-days to engage in business activities.
Canada continues to actively embrace globalization, and numerous immigration changes in 2017 made it an even more attractive destination for international business. Perhaps the most positive development was the introduction of the new Global Talent Stream in June. This new streamlined visa route provides work permits in just ten business days compared to the normal several months for many applicants. This stream is open to highly skilled foreign talent and certain in-demand skills working for high-growth companies. In addition, the new Global Talent Stream offers work permit exemptions for certain managers, professionals, and researchers.
Two rounds of amendments to the Citizenship Act also brought positive changes to the path from permanent residence to Canadian citizenship for foreign nationals. The changes shortened the overall residency time required before applying and removed other hurdles.
Canada’s adoption of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the various nations of the European Union brought new mobility opportunities for EU citizens to Canada. Visa exemptions for business stays of up to 90-days, intra-company transfer permits, new service provider work permits exempt from labor market testing, and new investors visas were included.
Finally, Brazilian, Bulgarian, and Romanian nationals received visa-free entry privileges for short stays (normally up to six months). Numerous other changes to requirements for sponsorship of dependent family members, improvements to the Express Entry System, and expanded opportunities through the various provincial immigration streams were also implemented in 2017.
In June, a major piece of legislation bringing a wholescale rewrite of Brazil’s immigration laws was finally enacted, after several months of a difficult legislative process. However, much of the changes have yet to be fully realized, as the final Normative Resolutions waited until December to be published.
Once fully implemented, the new law will streamline Brazil’s oft-confusing scheme of multiple visa categories into five major categories, with the categories entitled Visit Visas and Temporary Visas being most applicable to business travelers and foreign nationals working in the country. Visit Visas will include the visas issued for business purposes, and Temporary Visas will apply to all employment-based immigration. These major changes will obviously bring substantial changes to the application process and requirements. Newland Chase’s Immigration Specialists in Brazil will continue to communicate with the local immigration authorities to establish clear application expectations.
For foreign nationals intending to work in Brazil long-term, a new Residence Permit will be available with an in-country application process. The new law provides numerous rights and protections for foreign nationals residing in the country, including protection of local labor laws and access to social security. Expect frequent changes and processing delays over the coming months as the new system takes shape. Close communication between companies, foreign employees, and their Newland Chase Immigration Specialists will be critical to success in international assignments in Brazil.
Also a sign of improvement to its immigration and visa system, Brazil introduced a new electronic visa system in November which issues electronic e-visas for business travelers within 72 hours of application. The new e-visas were initially introduced for citizens of Australia, but citizens of Canada, the United States, and Japan are being added in January 2018.
Ecuador underwent a major overhaul of its immigration system in 2017. Changes included a restructuring of visa categories, new rules for foreign nationals traveling both within and outside the country, conditions on residency, and revised application procedures. The previous myriad of visas has been simplified to two primary categories: Temporary Residence and Permanent Residence. A new “exceptional tourist visa” is being implemented which appears to authorize certain traditional business activity under this long-term multiple-entry visa. Clearer rules governing residency applications and requirements have been implemented, including the requirement that foreign nationals enroll in Ecuadorian Social Security.
The immigration development that generated the most headlines in the United States in 2017 started with the imposition by executive order of the controversial “travel ban” of foreign nationals from seven nations of Africa and the Middle East. Through court challenges and additional executive orders, a slightly revised version of the “travel ban” remains in effect for citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela. Also, provisions of the executive order calling for more rigorous vetting of visa applicants remains in effect.
A temporary suspension of premium processing H-1B visa petitions was imposed, has since run its course and processing has resumed. Various minor changes to the H1-B were implemented, but have been more routine than controversial. On the whole, the changes to the H1-B program have improved its operation for both U.S. companies and their foreign employees. However, companies employing foreign nationals in the U.S. continue to keep an anxious eye toward the rhetoric and any signs of coming changes in U.S. immigration policy from the current administration. A slight tightening of rules for green card applications and adjudication of non-immigrant visas has occurred.
Souring diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Russia and the U.S. and Turkey brought complications to corporate immigration and business travel between the countries in 2017. At present, U.S. consulates in Russia have resumed limited operation of non-immigrant visa services after a three-month partial suspension. Similarly, the U.S. embassy in Turkey has resumed limited operations of non-immigration visa services, and the government of Turkey has resumed limited processing of non-immigrant visas for U.S. citizens.
Last year saw a mix of loosening and tightening of immigration laws in Panama. Numerous changes in visa policy impacted business travelers and foreign nationals working in the country. Business visas – previously sometimes issued for stays of up to 180 days – have now been capped at a strict maximum of 90 days. A new law enacted in January extended visa-free entry for 30-day stays to foreign nationals (including business travelers) holding multiple-entry visas issued by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, or Australia, but eliminated a similar option for foreign nationals holding visas issued by European Union and Schengen area countries. Also, Chinese citizens may now enter Panama with a consular Stamped Visa and are no longer required to obtain an Authorized Visa, shortening the processing time from 60 days to under one week.
For foreign nationals working in Panama, a new rule now requires applicants for work permits under the Friendly Nations and Professional Foreigner categories to be placed on local employment contract and local payroll of the Panamanian host company. The Ministry of Labor (MOL) is more strictly scrutinizing various documents submitted in support of all work and residence permits and now requiring in-person appointments for biometric collection and registration.
Peru underwent a substantial reorganization of its immigration policy in 2017 in an effort to make its system for business-friendly. The new law simplifies its migrant categories into Temporary and Resident streams and clarifies the conditions and requirements for existing visas and creates a new visa training visa. Numerous other positive provisions for dependent family members of working foreign nationals were added, chief among them are authorization for spouses and adult children to engage in employment and higher education studies.
For business travelers, the scope of permissible business activities which can be performed under the standard 183-day business visa were expanded to include “short-term technical assistance”. Also, Indian nationals were granted visa-free entry for business stays up to a cumulative 180 days each year if they hold permanent residence or long-term visas for the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, or a Schengen area nation.
Immigration was major news in Australia in 2017. In April, the government announced a major overhaul of the country’s employment-based visa scheme. The changes, scheduled in four rounds, culminate in the eventual termination of the 457 Visa stream and its replacement with a new Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) Visa in March 2018. The first three rounds of changes have now been implemented and resulted in numerous process and requirements changes – with the chief among them being the significant reduction in the number of occupations eligible for employment-based visas, the bifurcating of the current 457 Visa into 4-year and 2-year streams based on the new occupations lists, and some refinements to the sponsoring company obligations.
March of 2018 will see the end of the 457 Visa and implementation of the new TSS Visa – the details of which have yet to be released. Also coming in March, a new Skilling Australians Fund levy on companies employing foreign nationals will replace the current “training benchmarks”, but likely increase the cost of employing foreign workers for most companies. Newland Chase is continuing to closely monitor events in Australia as we approach the implementation date for these significant changes to corporate immigration in this key business destination.
Finally, a months-long suspension of citizenship application processing and attempts to amend the standards for Australian citizenship ended in October with no changes to the current process or requirements for foreign nationals seeking Australian citizenship. Application processing has resumed under the current rules, but a renewed attempt at reform is likely to be introduced in Parliament early in 2018.
Immigration news in China in 2017 was dominated by much-anticipated but rocky roll-out of China’s new nationwide electronic work permits processing system and the corresponding challenges to the applications process and changes in document requirements. In pilot phase in several provinces since November 2016, the new system went nationwide in March, but technical glitches kept application processing a hybrid mixture of old and new processes throughout much of the year. Continual refinements to the system have corrected some of the issues; however, the promised streamlining of processing has yet to fully materialize and many work permit cases are taking several weeks longer than previously.
Also included in the new system is a new category and points evaluation system to work permits designed to increase the migration of higher-talent foreign nationals to China while limiting opportunities for the less skilled. The extent is which this aspect has been successfully implemented is yet hard to determine as officials continue to receive training and refine interpretation of the stated criteria.
While the new work permits system took center stage, it also prompted changes in related processes, including Chinese overseas consulates and the application for the necessary entry visas. Throughout the changes in 2017, Shanghai was often at the forefront. In October, Shanghai introduced an innovative option allowing in-country application for work permits by foreign nationals already in Shanghai on business or tourist visas. As one of the major economies and influencers in world trade, Newland Chase continues to closely monitor develops in China and expects to frequently report changes in 2018 as well.
Like China, India is on a rapidly growing economic trajectory, and immigration authorities are attempting to revise immigration policy to support business. India greatly expanded and improved its business visa system in 2017. In the 94 Indian overseas consular posts and visa processing centers that already have biometric collection capability, officials have begun offering traditional Business (B) Visas with five-year validity and multiple entries. Use of India’s new e-Business Visa has now expanded to included foreign nationals of 161 countries in its eligibility.
The efforts at modernizing the immigration system have also led to changes for foreign nationals in-country as well. The Foreigners Regional Registration Offices (FRROs) have increasingly implemented use of biometric collection for residence registration. FRROs have also stepped-up enforcement of Form C registration requirements by requiring companies in many cases to present proof in-person at FRROs that the foreign employee and his landlord/apartment manager have complied.
In a somewhat confusing issue for foreign nationals, the Ministry of Finance has finally clarified that foreign nationals residing in India for more than 183 days do need to obtain Aadhaar national ID cards. The requirement was originally announced in April, with the government then reversing its stance in May. However, it now seems to be settled that Aadhaar Cards will be required in order for foreign nationals to file required personal income tax returns and use Indian banking services. Foreign nationals in India now have until March 31, 2018 to obtain their Aadhaar cards and have them linked to their bank accounts, mobile SIM cards, PAN cards, and insurance policies.
Japan accelerated its pathway to permanent residency for highly skilled foreign professionals, making some foreign nationals holding work visas eligible for permanent residency in just one-year. Also in 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced several measures making it easier for Indian and Ukrainian nationals to obtain long-term multiple entry visas for business purposes in Japan.
Malaysia made numerous technical changes to the process for employment passes for foreign nationals in efforts to improve its employment-based immigration system. Several processes benefitted by increased reliance on online applications and submissions and faster processing times. Some minor application document requirement changes accompanied the process changes. In a further positive development, authorities clarified that the Malaysian e-visa is available for business activities: including site visits, contract discussions, account auditing, and meetings and seminars.
In New Zealand, The Essential Skills Visa (ESV) (the primary temporary work authorization route for foreign nationals) and the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) were revised and are now subject to “skills bands” based on remuneration. The new bands set minimum salary thresholds for various skill levels, and link visa eligibility and eligibility to sponsor accompanying dependents on the band into which the applicant falls. The overall intent is to maintain the current level of migration for higher-skilled foreign nationals while reducing migration of the lower-skilled.
New guidance issued by the Ministry of justice clarified the permissible activities allowed on a business visa. Installation, repair, maintenance, inspection, and training related to equipment sold is no longer permitted on a business visa.
Already at the forefront of the use of technology in immigration, Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) converted its corporate access to its Employment Pass and Work Permit online application systems from the popular SingPass digital identity system to a new CorpPass digital identity, requiring companies to establish accounts in the new system. A new online permanent residence application system was introduced by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority. The introduction of new “smart” Work Pass cards began and is expected to be completed by March 2018.
Substantive changes to the work authorization process for foreign nationals were relatively routine but do indicate a greater emphasis on companies making efforts to employ local workers before resorting to recruiting foreign labor and seeking work authorization through the MOM.
Taiwan greatly expanded its visa-free and e-visa offerings to include more nations as part of a government-wide plan to court international trade and commerce. In a welcome development for foreign nationals working in the country, a new work permit for spouses of highly skilled foreign nationals was introduced which allows the foreign spouse to work without having to obtain independent work authorization.
While yet to be fully implemented, the legislature enacted a new Foreign Recruitment Law in October. The new law promises extensive benefits and privileges for many foreign nationals working in Taiwan: including longer maximum renewals of Alien Residence Cards, tax deductions, and access to health insurance and pension systems.
A new online work permit and visa application system is currently in the process over being launched in Thailand. Starting in October and continuing until October 2018, the roll-out of the new system will take place in stages. While long-term improvements are expected, in the short-term, companies and foreign employees should watch for potential delays and technical challenges until new system is fully in operation. Also, over the coming year, application requirements may be subject to frequent changes as authorities convert.
Similarly, Vietnam’s Ministry of Labor is in the process of transitioning to a new online work permit system. It is already being used in MOL offices in some cities, and the implementation is bringing minor but frequent changes in application and document requirements. Eventually, use of the new system will be mandatory nationwide.
Additional guidance and clarification on 2016’s expansive Decree 11 changes to the immigration system was released in 2017. These helped clarify the oft-confusing interpretation of the rules for intra-company transfers. For business travelers, a new 30-day e-visa was introduced in February for citizens of 40 countries: including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and much of Europe.
European Union member nations continued to implement various EU directives into their national laws impacting companies and their foreign employees.
Intra-Corporate Transfer Directive
The EU Intra-Corporate Transfer Directive (2014/66/EU) continued to gain in 2017. This standard EU-wide scheme for intra-company transfer of foreign employees is designed to increase intra-EU mobility by allowing foreign employees to more easily be assigned in multiple branches of multinational companies. Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovakia all implemented the Intra-Company Transfer Directive in 2017.
Posted Workers Enforcement Directive
The EU Posted Workers Enforcement Directive (2014/67/EU) continued to become more widely applied across EU member nations. The Directive’s provisions place duties on companies sending and hosting foreign workers for short-term assignments, including a notification to the applicable labor authority. Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, Greece, Portugal, Romania, and Spain all implemented the Posted Worker Enforcement Directive in 2017.
A broad piece of legislation enacted in 2017 brought numerous changes to the Czech Republic’s Act on Stay of Foreigners. In addition to adopting the EU directives on intra-company transfers and seasonal workers, a new investors visa was introduced and numerous refinements the application process and requirements for residency permits.
Two new laws enacted by the Danish Parliament brought significant changes to work and residence permits in Denmark in 2017. New tougher criteria now apply to foreign nationals seeking permanent residence, including an eight-year temporary residence before becoming eligible for permanent residency. The minimum salary thresholds for the Pay Limit and Fast Track work permits schemes increased significantly, and a new Danish language requirement was introduced for accompanying dependent family members.
The Netherlands introduced two innovative to its employment-based immigration scheme in 2017. The Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (MSAE) implemented the International Commercial Trade Regulations (ICTR) program, allowing eligible companies to bring non-EU foreign workers in to work on approved large-scale construction projects without needing to first obtain work permits.
Also, the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) adopted a new policy that allows highly-skilled foreign nationals already in-country on work permits to engage in self-employment and start their own businesses in their free time alongside their primary work.
In June, Ukrainian citizens finally received visa-free entry into the European Union and Schengen area nations for stays of up to 90 days. A privilege Ukraine had been working with the EU to obtain since 2014. Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers also adopted a number of pro-business immigration changes: including a new online visa application process which is leading to faster processing times, a new visa-on-arrival system applicable for business stays of up to 15 days, increased validity for long-term visas to 90 days, and streamlined application document requirements.
In March, the United Kingdom formally invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and started the two-year process of negotiating with the European Union for its Brexit from the Union. With the Article 50 now officially triggered, the expected date of the UK exiting the EU is set for March 2019. However, few final decisions have been made on the future of the UK’s immigration system and the status of EU nationals in the country.
In April, the next previously scheduled round of changes to the UK’s popular employment-based Tier 2 visa scheme took place. A new Immigration Skills Charge imposed a new levy on companies employing foreign workers of a one-time GBP 1,000 per employee plus GBP 364 per year for each year of employment with the company. Applicants in certain health, education, and service occupations now have a new criminal record clearance requirement. “High value businesses” and those with significant new investment in the UK also have received a potential exemption from the typical Tier 2 requirement of a resident labor market test (RLMT).
In December, the Home Office published a Statement of Changes covering a number of additional refinements: including the doubling of the available Tier 1 (exceptional talent) visas to 2,000 per year, additional flexibility in the Tier 2 program for foreign students desiring to convert their visas after completing their studies, stricter standards on absences from the UK for application for Indefinite Leave to Remain, and a trial program of an electronic entry/exit system.
The dominant development in Qatar in 2017 was obviously the still-ongoing diplomatic and trade boycott by 16 of its Persian Gulf and Middle eastern neighboring nations, which began in June. Qatari nationals are now barred from travel to many of the boycotting nations, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt. Similarly, those nations all called on their citizens residing in Qatar to exit the country. The crisis continues to snarl transportation and trade in the Persian Gulf, and there are no visible signs of the dispute resolving soon.
Despite the boycott, or possibly because of it, Qatar continues to present itself as an attractive destination to international business. Qatar continues to introduce new more convenient options for foreign business travelers to the country. Visa-free entry for citizens of 80 nations was announced in August, and a new single-entry electronic travel authorization (ETA) was introduced for additional nations shortly thereafter. Qatar also became the first Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nation to officially adopt a process for foreign nationals to become permanent residents.
Immigration policy changes in Saudi Arabia over the last year have been influenced primarily by two competing interests: the desire to increase employment of local Saudi nationals and the need to attract new business and raise revenue for their cooling economy. In an attempt to increase local employment, tougher labor market testing and increased “Saudization” levels were introduced in order for companies to be eligible for foreign work block visas, along with a reduction in validity length of block visas. A new Expat Levy was introduced in July that brings new monthly fees for both foreign workers and their dependent family members, greatly increasing the cost of employing foreign workers.
United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates continued to refine its immigration system in 2017 in line with its reputation of one of the world’s most business-friendly destinations. New online systems were introduced to help speed processing of visa applications and renewals. Indian nationals were given eligibility in the UAE’s popular visa-on-arrival scheme; but limited to those Indian citizens holding U.S. visas and green cards or holding residency permits for the UK or a European Union member nation.
There were other more minor refinements in procedures among the various UAE immigration processes. However, there does seem to be a trend toward encouraging local hiring over recruiting talent from abroad. A new Tawteen Program was introduced to provide incentives to companies that increase their numbers of local UAE national employees.
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Warning to Reader
This white paper was prepared by the Knowledge Management team of Newland Chase. It is informational only and is not intended to substitute for legal advice based on the specific circumstances of a matter. Readers are reminded that immigration laws are fluid and can change at a moment’s notice without warning or notice. Please reach out to your Newland Chase Immigration Specialist should you require any additional clarification or guidance.
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