Connecticut, US

Feb 21 2019

Weekly Immigration Update: February 15-21, 2019

Albania, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, European Union, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Netherlands, Poland, Republic of the Philippines, Romania, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, United States, Uruguay

In immigration news this week:

  • United States: The Department of Homeland Security is seeking federal review of a long-awaited proposal to rescind the H-4 spousal work authorization program. Also in the United States, USCIS has resumed premium processing services for all pending H-1B petitions filed on or before December 21, 2018.
  • Colombia: A restrictive immigration law, which has been released for public comment, would create stricter rules for the Visitor Visa, Migrant Visa and Residence Visa categories, among other items. Fragomen will report on the final version of the law after the public comment period and publication are complete.
  • Canada: Relaxed guidelines have been implemented for the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program and apply to all applications received on or after February 14. A bill proposed in Quebec’s National Assembly would overhaul the province’s Regular Skilled Worker Program if passed.
  • Ghana: Oil and gas sector companies must submit the details of their succession and training plans by February 28, or face fines.
  • Singapore: Plans have been announced to reduce the services sector foreign worker quota in the next two years.
  • Philippines: Additional guidelines imposing new requirements and restrictions related to the issuance of Special Work Permits and Provisional Work Permits have been released.
  • Croatia: The newly issued 2019 work authorization quota offers almost twice as many spots as from 2018.

In Brexit news this week:

  • France: Plans have been published on the treatment of UK nationals after March 29, 2019 in case of a no-deal Brexit.

These items and other news from Albania, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, the European Union, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, and Uruguay follow in this edition of the Fragomen Immigration Update.


Important Updates in Immigration This Week

United States, February 21, 2019

Proposed H-4 EAD Rescission Under Federal Review

  • The Department of Homeland Security has submitted a proposal to rescind the H-4 spousal work authorization regulation to the Office of Management and Budget for review.
  • Once OMB clears the proposed rule, it will be published in the Federal Register for public comments. The proposal will not take effect until finalized by DHS, a process that typically takes several months.
  • Eligible H-4 spouses can still apply for new or renewed employment authorization under current rules until further notice.

To view entire article, click here.


Singapore, February 21, 2019

Foreign Worker Quota to be Reduced in Services Sector

  • The government of Singapore has announced plans to reduce the quotas for S Pass and Work Permit holders in the services sector in the next two years. 
  • To do this, the Ministry of Manpower will reduce the Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC) and S Pass sub-DRC for this sector, thereby effectively limiting the number of foreign workers that affected companies may hire.
  • A lower DRC and S Pass sub-DRC will mean that companies in the services sector will be further limited in the number of foreign nationals under S Pass and Work Permits they can hire. Companies that exceed their S Pass quota due to the lower DRC will need to either hire more locals or reduce the number of their S Pass holders.

To view entire article, click here.


Croatia, February 20, 2019

2019 Quotas Available

The Croatian government has released the 2019 work authorization quota numbers. The quota offers almost twice as many spots as from 2018.

To view entire article, click here.


United States, February 20, 2019

Travel Tips for Foreign Students on OPT or Planning a Change of Status to H-1B

  • If you are an F-1 student who has applied for or is working on optional practical training (OPT) or who will be the beneficiary of a petition to change status to H-1B in this year's H-1B cap filing season, make sure you understand the risks and requirements of international travel.
  • Traveling abroad could affect your F-1 status, your ability to change status and your ability to reenter the United States.

To view entire article, click here.


Ghana, February 20, 2019

Companies Must Submit Succession and Training Plans by February 28

The Petroleum Commission in Ghana requires oil and gas sector companies to submit the details of their succession and training plans by February 28, 2019. Companies that fail to submit their plans by this date will be fined until they comply with the requirement.

To view entire article, click here.


Colombia, February 15, 2019

Restrictive Immigration Law Forthcoming

A new immigration law has been released for public comment that would:

  • Limit Migrant Worker Visa eligibility to foreign nationals with a university degree;
  • Require foreign nationals who are currently eligible for a Migrant Visa to obtain a Visitor Visa, affecting their ability to accumulate time needed to obtain a Resident Visa;
  • Add documentary requirements for Mercosur Visa applicants and their employers, which could significantly lengthen the time required for document gathering; and
  • Prolong processing times for most visa applications and disallow urgent visa applications, among other changes.

Fragomen will report on the final version of the law after the public comment period and publication are complete.

To view entire article, click here.


Canada, February 15, 2019

Post-Graduation Work Permit Program Guidelines Relaxed

  • Relaxed guidelines have been implemented for the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program that apply to all applications received on or after February 14, 2019. Notably, graduates will have a longer period in which they are able to apply under the program following their studies.
  • The previous guidelines will continue to apply to applications received prior to this date.
  • Eligible students who had their applications denied under the old guidelines may submit a new application under the new guidelines.

To view entire article, click here.


United States, February 15, 2019

Premium Processing to Resume for All H-1B Petitions Filed on or Before December 21, 2018

  • Beginning Tuesday, February 19, 2019, employers can request premium processing services for all pending H-1B petitions filed on or before December 21, 2018.
  • Until further notice, premium processing will remain unavailable for most H-1B filings submitted on or after December 22, 2018.
  • USCIS has not yet announced whether premium processing will be available for the upcoming H-1B cap season.

To view entire article, click here.


United States, February 15, 2019

March 2019 Visa Bulletin: Slower Overall Advancement Than Projected, Including EB-1; USCIS to Honor Final Action Dates

  • EB-1 will advance by one month for most countries, to January 1, 2018; China and India will advance by two weeks, to February 22, 2017.
  • EB-2 will advance by three months for China, to January 1, 2016, and by three days for India, to April 9, 2009. All other countries will remain current.
  • The EB-3 subcategory for Professionals and Skilled Workers will remain current for most countries, though China will advance by one week to July 8, 2015, and India will advance by one month to May 22, 2009.
  • In March, USCIS will accept employment-based adjustment applications from foreign nationals with a priority date that is earlier than the Final Action dates listed in the State Department’s March Visa Bulletin.

To view entire article, click here.


Canada, February 15, 2019

Proposed Legislation Introduced to Overhaul Regular Skilled Worker Program in Quebec

  • A bill was proposed in Quebec’s National Assembly that would overhaul the province’s Regular Skilled Worker Program. The stated goals of the bill are to better align applicants with current job market requirements in the province of Quebec; to reduce processing times; and to emphasize French language abilities to support the integration of new immigrants into Quebec.
  • The government intends to abandon the processing of all Certificates of Selection (the first application in the Regular Skilled Worker Program process) submitted before August 2, 2018. Foreign nationals who submitted applications before this date will have to re-apply through the online Arrima system.
  • There is no impact on those already granted a Certificate of Selection through the Regular Skilled Worker Program and no impact to applicants who applied under the Quebec Experience Program.

To view entire article, click here.


Philippines, February 15, 2019

Special Work Permits and Provisional Work Permit Restrictions Implemented

  • The Bureau of Immigration in the Philippines has published additional guidelines imposing new requirements and restrictions related to the issuance of Special Work Permits (SWP) and Provisional Work Permits (PWP).
  • The guidelines practically mean that foreign nationals will be strictly monitored to ensure compliance with the maximum validity period of six months in a 12-month period, manual workers are no longer eligible for SWPs or PWPs, and regulated professionals are subject to more administrative steps in the work authorization process.

To view entire article, click here.


United States, February 15, 2019

Congress Passes FY 2019 Spending Bill Reauthorizing Key Immigration Programs, Limited H-2B Cap Relief

  • The bill funds the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and other agencies through FY 2019.
  • The bill reauthorizes E-Verify, the EB-5 Regional Center program and other expiring immigration programs through September 30, 2019. It also provides limited cap relief for the H-2B program.
  • The President is expected to sign the bill, but plans to declare a national emergency in order to fund a border wall.

To view entire article, click here.


Brexit News and Related News Briefs This Week

France, February 19, 2019

No-Deal Brexit Plans for UK Nationals Published

The French government has published a decree outlining the treatment of UK nationals residing in France, to take effect after March 29, 2019 in case of a no-deal Brexit scenario. Central details of the plan include:

  • There will be a grace period, which will be between three and 12 months (a specific timeline would be defined later) after which UK nationals in France will have to apply for a residence permit.
  • UK nationals residing in France for less than five years on March 29, 2019 would be eligible for various available statuses depending on the purpose of their stay in France (for example, there would be a student status, contractor status, and self-employed status, among others).
  • UK nationals who do not fall in one of the above categories would be eligible for “visitor” status as long as they have sufficient resources (amount to be determined later) and are covered by medical insurance. Visitor status does not allow work in France.
  • UK nationals residing in France for more than five years on March 29, 2019 would need to apply for a long-term residence permit, valid for 10 years.

The plans are dependent on the United Kingdom granting reciprocal rights to French nationals in the United Kingdom.

To view entire article, click here.


Belgium: Draft Legislation Proposes UK Nationals’ Work Rights in No-Deal Brexit – Updated draft legislation published in Belgium confirms that UK nationals and their family members residing in Belgium on March 29, 2019 would be allowed to continue working in Belgium during the 21-month grace period until December 31, 2020. Prior draft legislation did not yet specify labor market access rights during this grace period. Final comprehensive legislation as part of contingency planning in case of a no-deal Brexit has yet to be published. Fragomen will provide updates on the situation as they become available.

Greece: Government Announces No-Deal Brexit Plans – The Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that in case of a no-deal Brexit, UK national residents and their non-EU family members can continue to stay and work in Greece. The government stated that it plans to ensure continued social security and health care benefits as well, subject to reciprocity and a unified approach at the EU level. The government announced that fast-track legislation detailing the rights of UK national residents is being drafted and scheduled for a vote before March 29, 2019. The draft legislation will address the rights of UK nationals who arrive after March 29, 2019.

Netherlands: Government Launches Brexit Website – The Dutch government has launched a Brexit website to help businesses assess the potential impact of Brexit on their organizations, prepare contingency plans, and monitor developments. Affected foreign nationals can still use the dedicated immigration authority website, launched in May 2018, to learn about information that pertains to non-business issues.

Romania: Diplomatic Sources Confirm No-Deal Brexit Plans – According to diplomatic sources, the Romanian government plans to guarantee continued residence and work authorization for UK national residents and their non-EU family members in case of a no-deal Brexit. The government would introduce a nine-month grace period, during which affected residents would be able to apply for a national permit. The government is preparing draft legislation and practical measures to ensure implementation of this policy. Fragomen expects the plans to be formally announced before the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union.


Other Weekly News Briefs

Albania: Residence Permit Processing Delay Resolved – The processing delay at the Albanian Border and Migration Police, reported in November, has been resolved. Applicants are no longer facing travel restrictions due to lengthy processing times.

Argentina: Electronic Visa Application System Update – The Argentine Immigration Authority's electronic application system, called RADEX, is now in pilot status and although it is operational, users are facing system failures and delays. Residence permit applicants can obtain an appointment within five business days of uploading a complete set of application documents on the system, providing a faster way to obtain an appointment over the previous method that required a personal appearance to submit documents at the Immigration Authority. Applicants and their employers should now be ready to attend an appointment at short notice. As far as use of the system for visa renewals, there are still issues with the planned integration of visa renewal and identification card renewal processes. Although the system was supposed to reduce the personal appearance requirement to one appointment, two appearances are still required. Additionally, Mercosur visas still cannot be processed on the system due to technical issues. Fragomen will report on relevant developments.

Austria: D Visa Required for All Intracompany Transferee (EU ICT Permit) Applicants – In a change of policy, Austrian immigration authorities now require typically visa-exempt EU ICT Permit applicants to collect a D Visa abroad as part of the application process. This adds five to 25 calendar days to the overall processing time, during which time, travel is restricted given that the consular post must retain the applicant’s passport to affix the D Visa sticker. Additionally, applicants must visit the consular post in person twice (once to submit the visa application and passport, and another to collect the visa and passport once available) where this was not required for former visa-exempt nationals under the previous policy. Formerly visa-exempt nationals and Schengen C visa holders can still enter Austria for personal trips while their application is processed. Notably, despite the above process changes for formerly visa-exempt nationals, the initial EU ICT Permit application can still be filed by an authorized representative in Austria; the policy change does not require them to file an application from abroad. Fragomen will monitor the situation and will report on any relevant developments.

Cyprus: Stricter Eligibility Criteria and Funding Rules for Cyprus Investor Program – The Cypriot government has proposed changes to its Investment Program that, if approved, would be implemented in May 2019. These measures seek to restrict eligibility criteria (including by requiring investments to be maintained for five years - up from three years, and by removing government bonds as an allowed investment); introduce new investment options (including in the shipping industry and in Alternative Investment Organizations); require donations of EUR 75,000 to the Research Promotion Foundation and of the same amount to the Cyprus Land Development Corporation (with some exemptions); improve background checks (by enlisting an independent agency for background checks of applicants and by rejecting applications from those whose applications for citizenship have been rejected in other EU countries); and increase transparency (by enhancing reporting on the Program to include the number and nationalities of applicants and the sectors in which they have invested); among other changes. For applicants who have invested in real estate, an additional requirement has been imposed in cases where that real estate will be re-used by a second applicant.  In such cases, the total value of the investments in real estate, including the applicant's permanent residency, must be at least EUR 2.5 million (previously EUR 2 million). In addition, applicants will be required to hold a Schengen visa prior to making an application. Following changes introduced in 2018, applicants are now required to either hold permanent residence at the time of application, or if applying for permanent residence and citizenship simultaneously, they must hold that permanent residence for six months before citizenship can be granted. The proposals follow critical reports on golden visa programs across Europe by the European Commission. The changes must still be approved by the Cypriot parliament before they can take effect. Fragomen will monitor the situation and will report on any relevant developments as they occur.

European Union: Asylum Applications Return to Pre-Crisis Levels – A recent study signals that the number of asylum applications in the European Union over 2018 has returned to levels reported before the ‘refugee crisis’, where large numbers of refugees travelled to the European Union to seek protected status in 2015 and after. Immigration authorities in many EU countries reallocated resources to support processing related immigration applications, resulting in longer waiting times and higher workloads for other types of applications. With the current reduced numbers of asylum applications, Fragomen expects that workload division and processing times at immigration authority offices will start returning to pre-2015 levels towards the end of 2019. Separately, the study signals an increasing number of asylum applications from visa-exempt Latin American and West Balkan countries, with more asylum applications from visa-exempt nationals than Syrian and Iraqi applicants combined.

European Union: Progress on Establishing European Labour Authority – The presidency of the European Council and the European Parliament have reached a provisional agreement on the proposal to establish a European Labour Authority (ELA). The new EU agency would improve access to relevant information on labour mobility and social security coordination, consolidate access to services through translation and administrative support, enhance exchange of information through seconded national experts, assist national authorities in organising joint inspections and provide a forum for mediation and dispute resolution. An important element of this agreement is that EU countries’ participation in most of the ELA activities would be voluntary, thus allowing countries to opt out. The proposal must be formally approved by the Council of Ministers and European Parliament before it can take effect, which is expected to occur in the upcoming months without further significant changes to the proposal. Further practical information on the setup and operation of the ELA is expected only after the approval of the legislative text. The Commission aims for the ELA to start up in 2019 and be fully operational in 2023. Fragomen will monitor this topic and will report on relevant developments as they occur. For questions, please email [email protected].

European Union: Progress on Visa Code Changes – The EU Council of Ministers and European Parliament representatives have approved a proposal to reform the EU Visa Code, seeking to remove administrative burdens and facilitate entry of visitors into Schengen countries while enhancing security. The full European Parliament must also approve the proposal before it can take effect, which is expected to occur shortly. The proposal would simplify the short-term Schengen visa application process by reducing processing times from 15 to 10 days; enabling visa application submission up to six months in advance; allowing foreign nationals to complete and sign their visa applications online; allowing trusted regular travelers to obtain short-term visas granted for up to five years; allowing EU countries to issue single-entry and country-specific seven-day visas-on-arrival under strict conditions; and raising business visa fees from EUR 60 to EUR 80 to reinforce and invest in security checks. Fragomen will monitor the situation and will report on any relevant developments.

European Union: Reminder: Requirement to Legalize EU Documents to be AbolishedAs a reminder, as of February 16, 2019, documents issued in the European Union for use in the European Union including birth, marriage and police clearance certificates, among others, no longer need to be apostilled or legalized based on EU rules. Additionally, if required, translations can be obtained through a multilingual standard form and attached to the relevant document. Separately, 17 EU countries are currently party to the Convention on the Issue of Multilingual Extracts from Civil Status Records, which allows for birth and marriage certificates, among others, to be issued in a standardized multilingual format. This convention will continue to apply in the contracting EU countries, in addition to the new rules waiving apostille or legalization requirements.

Germany: Change in Renewal Document Requirements – In a change of policy, EU Blue Card renewal applicants must now submit payslips for their first two and most recent two months of stay with their renewal application. The salary listed on the payslip should match the compensation details declared in the initial application and other renewal support documents. Previously, applicants had to submit payslips for the most recent three months of stay. The change also applies to Specialist Local Hire and Best Friends renewals but does not affect other permit types such as EU Intracompany Transferee (ICT) Permits (locally called ICT Card) or standard Local Hire Work & Residence Permits. Employers are advised to review the compensation details of foreign workers with permits that are close to expiring to ensure timely correction where needed.

Poland: Audits to Chart Scope and Impact of Processing Delays – The Polish Supreme Audit Office (NIK) has launched a broad audit of immigration and labor offices throughout Poland to review whether immigration applications are being processed correctly based on Polish law, with a particular focus on processing times. NIK will audit eight regional immigration offices (responsible for processing stay and work permit applications), eight regional labor offices (responsible for labor market testing), the Ministry of Internal Affairs (responsible for relations between the central government and local governments, and law enforcement); the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Policies (responsible for policy and oversight of the regional labor offices) and the central Office for Foreigners (responsible for policy and oversight of the regional immigration offices). Separately, the audit seeks to assess the cost of immigration processing delays on the national budget, as numerous immigration offices were recently ordered to pay damages (amounting to several hundreds of dollars per case) due to processing delays. By way of background, due to economic growth and a shortage of local workers, Poland has seen an influx of foreign workers and an exponential increase of work and residence permit applications over 2017 and 2018 (with some regions experiencing a 450% increase in applications with no increase in staff), causing processing delays at each process step. End-to-end government processing times now average between seven and 23 months (including appointment waiting time at several stages), whereas legally, applications must be processed in several months. Although Fragomen welcomes the audits as a positive step to addressing these long-standing problems, a solution to these workload and staffing-related issues is not expected at short notice. 

Spain: Non-Specialist Roles Eligible for Intracompany Transferee Permit Again – In a change of policy, Spanish authorities once again allow applications for non-specialist positions under the national Intracompany Transferee (ICT) Permit. Such positions were excluded from this permit type in October 2018. Applicants still have to demonstrate more generally-high qualifications, and employers must still explain why they cannot hire a qualified local worker for the position (though this policy may change in the near future, as immigration authorities are reviewing the criteria for highly-qualified and specialist roles). Fragomen will report on relevant developments.

Sweden: Border Controls Extended – Sweden has extended its border controls for an additional three months, from February 11, 2019 until May 11, 2019, due to continued security concerns, per an announcement on the European Commission website. These border controls require tourists and business travelers to show travel documents upon entry, which is an exception to the general rule allowing travel within the Schengen area without the need to show travel documents. As a reminder, similar border controls are currently in place in Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway and Poland.

Ukraine/Uruguay: Update on 90-Day Visa Waiver – The 90-day visa exemption for Uruguayan nationals travelling to Ukraine for up to 90 days in a 180-day period for business and tourism, announced in October, is now in effect. Uruguayan nationals are advised to contact the Uruguayan consular post in Ukraine if they experience any issues upon entry. Fragomen is monitoring implementation of the visa waiver agreement on the Uruguayan side and will report on any relevant developments as they occur.

This alert is for informational purposes only. If you have any questions, please contact the global immigration professional with whom you work at Fragomen.