Virginia, US

Feb 28 2019

Weekly Immigration Update: February 22-28, 2019

Cyprus, European Union, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Malaysia, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, United States

In immigration news this week:

  • United States: A final regulation expected to make changes to the EB-5 immigrant investor program is in the last step of the regulatory process before the rule is published and implemented. Also in the United States, USCIS conducted a lottery for H-2B petitions filed on February 19, the day the agency received enough petitions to exhaust the FY 2019 H-2B cap.
  • India/Pakistan: Amid growing political tension, there has been widespread disruption to air travel in the affected regions. The Crisis Management Team at Fragomen continues to support our clients with international assignees who have immediate plans to travel into or out of affected areas and who are potentially impacted by the situation.
  • India: The Ministry of Home Affairs will be implementing longer electronic visa validity periods for tourists and business travelers.
  • Lithuania: A change in tax rules further increased the minimum monthly salary for foreign workers by 38.8 percent from the 2018 salary level instead of the initially-planned increase of 7.5 percent.

In Brexit news this week:

  • United Kingdom: The announcement of a series of parliament votes on Brexit indicates that the UK government would postpone Brexit if it does not appear that the UK and EU can reach a Withdrawal Agreement by March 29.

These items and other news from Cyprus, the European Union, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Norway, Portugal, Russia, and South Africa follow in this edition of the Fragomen Immigration Update.


Important Updates in Immigration This Week

India/Pakistan, February 28, 2019

Immigration Impacts of Airspace Closure

Amid the current political tension between India and Pakistan, several airports in Pakistan are reporting closures and delays, and air travel to parts of the northern region of India may be delayed, causing widespread disruption to air travel. Employers should ensure their affected employees are aware of the situation and are prepared to make alternative travel plans if needed.

To view entire article, click here.


Lithuania, February 26, 2019

Tax Change Increases Minimum Salary Level

  • Effective January 1, 2019, a change in tax rules further increased the minimum monthly salary for foreign workers in Lithuania to EUR 555 gross per month, an increase of 38.8 percent from the 2018 salary level instead of the initially-planned increase of 7.5 percent.
  • The current change results from the tax authorities implementing a major tax overhaul simultaneously with the standard annual salary level indexation.
  • Despite the high percentage increase, foreign workers typically receive salaries well above this threshold since their salaries must also be in line with the local average for the position, which is typically higher than the minimum salary level.

To view entire article, click here.


United States, February 25, 2019

Employers See More RFEs and Denials, USCIS Data Confirm

  • Between FY 2015 and FY 2018, the rate of approvals fell and the rate of requests for evidence rose for H-1B, L-1, TN and O petitions filed at USCIS Service Centers.
  • H-1B employers in the IT consulting industry saw higher than average denial rates, consistent with increasingly stringent policies at USCIS.
  • Though the rate of RFEs and denials has been increasing for several immigration categories since the Obama Administration, there was a significant uptick in the wake of the Trump Administration’s Buy American, Hire American executive order.

To view entire article, click here.


United States, February 25, 2019

EB-5 Modernization Rule Moves Closer to Completion

  • A final regulation expected to make changes to the EB-5 immigrant investor program is now under review at the Office of Management and Budget, the last step in the regulatory process before the rule is published and implemented.
  • The Department of Homeland Security is seeking to increase EB-5 investment thresholds and limit the types of development projects that qualify for the program. As originally proposed, the rule would increase the minimum standard EB-5 investment to $1.8 million and the minimum Targeted Employment Area (TEA) investment to $1.35 million. Current minimums are $1 million and $500,000.
  • The final rule will remain confidential until released for publication, which is expected to occur in the coming months. Until then, the EB-5 program will remain subject to current rules, including investment thresholds.

To view entire article, click here.


United States, February 25, 2019

FY 2019 H-2B Cap Is Reached

  • On February 19, 2019, USCIS received enough H-2B petitions to exhaust the FY 2019 cap. The agency conducted a lottery for petitions received on that date.
  • USCIS will reject H-2B petitions not selected in the lottery and H-2B petitions requesting a start date before October 1, 2019 and received after February 19, 2019, unless the petition is exempt from the H-2B cap.
  • It is not yet known whether DHS and DOL will exercise the limited H-2B cap relief authorized by the recently passed DHS FY 2019 appropriations bill.

To view entire article, click here.


India, February 22, 2019

Electronic Visa Rules for Tourists and Business Visitors to be Relaxed

The Ministry of Home Affairs will be implementing longer validity periods for tourists and business travelers as follows:

  • E-Tourist Visas will be granted for up to one year (up from 60 days); multiple entries will be allowed under the visa (up from two allowable entries) and the visa will be available for use multiple times in a calendar year (up from three times in a calendar year).
  • The e-Business visa’s consecutive stay period will be expanded to 180 days (up from 60 days) and the visa will be available for use multiple times in a calendar year (up from three times in a calendar year).
  • Visitors under both sub-categories will save time, costs and resources associated with obtaining their visas.

To view entire article, click here.


France, February 22, 2019

In-Country Visa Validation Process Simplified

Many categories of long-term visa holders can now validate their visa online rather than having to visit a regional Migration Office. The process change saves eligible applicants the time involved in waiting for an appointment and significantly streamlines the in-country validation process.

To view entire article, click here.


Brexit News and Related News Briefs This Week

United Kingdom, February 26, 2019

Government May Postpone Brexit to Avoid No-Deal

The UK government has announced a series of parliament votes on Brexit:

  • No later than March 12, 2019, parliament will vote on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement including any changes agreed with the European Union at that date;
  • On March 13, 2019, if the Withdrawal Agreement is not approved, parliament will vote on proceeding with a no-deal Brexit;
  • On March 14, 2019, if parliament does not wish to proceed with a no-deal Brexit, parliament will vote on postponing Brexit day beyond March 29, 2019 until the end of June at the latest.

It is not yet clear what the next steps will be if the UK parliament does not choose to postpone Brexit day. Fragomen will report on relevant developments.

To view entire article, click here.


European Union: Coordinated National Brexit Information Website – The European Commission has published a website tracking national information websites on Brexit. While the website consolidates the EU Member States' Brexit sites, some of the listed sites offer limited information that is limited to, for example, customs issues or nationals residing in the United Kingdom.

Greece: Brexit Website Created – The Greek government has created a Brexit website to provide information on the government's preparations for Brexit. Through this website, users can submit Brexit-related questions to which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would respond. In connection with the government's no-deal plans, the government is still preparing the draft legislation. Fragomen will provide an update when the legislation is finalized, which is expected to occur at the beginning of March.

Ireland: No-Deal Brexit Bill Passed; Not Focused on Immigration – Ireland has passed a bill that would apply in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The bill is aimed at protecting the status quo between the United Kingdom and Ireland in terms of individual rights, business and job support, healthcare, transportation, education and energy issues. Importantly, immigration issues are not covered in the bill as UK nationals can reside and work in Ireland independently of the United Kingdom's membership in the European Union. Reciprocal provisions exist in the United Kingdom for Irish nationals. Once the government completes the legislative process, Fragomen will report on any relevant immigration-related information, if included. Currently, Brexit will not have any effect on the residency and work rights of UK nationals living in Ireland or vice versa, though it might have implications for their non-European Economic Area family members - contact your immigration professional for specific guidance.

United Kingdom: Government Considers Protecting Citizens’ Rights in a No-Deal Brexit – In a change of policy, the UK parliament has requested the UK government to seek to safeguard EU citizens’ rights in a no-deal Brexit. The UK government was not previously willing to safeguard EU citizens’ rights as set out within the Withdrawal Agreement without a full withdrawal deal being agreed. This move by parliament is a welcome reassurance of intention for EU nationals in the United Kingdom, but has no legal impact unless and until the European Union formally agrees.


Other Weekly News Briefs

Cyprus: Minimum Salary Bracket Increases – According to a change in practice (not a legislative change), Fragomen advises employers to use an increased minimum monthly salary bracket for Combined Permit applications in Cyprus of EUR 2,000 per month and upwards, up one percent from last year. As before, benefits and allowances may not be included in the minimum salary calculation. The change in best practice guidance reflects price inflation and wage indexation since the salary bracket was first introduced in 2012. Since foreign workers must continue to meet the market salary rate for the position, which is typically much higher than the above bracket, employers are not expected to be much affected by the change.

European Union: Progress in Creating Entry-Exit System – The European Commission has adopted a number of measures to develop an entry-exit system, a new database (planned to be operational by 2020) that would track entries and exits; key information listed on travel documents; and fingerprints and pictures of all non-EU nationals staying in the Schengen area for less than 90 days. The current measures detail what type of data would be entered in the database; who would be allowed to access the data and for what purposes; what data storage checks would be performed; and that data stored can be re-used for future trips. Fragomen will continue to monitor the development of the entry-exit system and will report on relevant developments as they occur.

Germany: Study Signals Need for Migrant Labour – A recent German study signals a need for 260,000 foreign workers per year until 2060 to meet current and projected labor market demands in Germany. The study projected that in an ideal scenario, an expected 114,000 of these workers could come from EU countries; the remaining 146,000 would need to be recruited from non-EU countries. The high number of foreign workers needed would compensate projected demographic decline and a growing economy. The study already factored in an increased birth rate, increased female labor participation and higher pension age. The study validates the German government’s current plans to reform labor migration and ease medium-skilled migration.

Hong Kong: Visa Exemption for Nationals of Panama and Armenia – Hong Kong’s Immigration Department has announced that a reciprocal visa agreement is now in effect between Hong Kong and Panama that grants Panamanian nationals visa-exempt entry to Hong Kong for up to 30 days per visit, and vice versa. Similarly, a visa agreement starting March 3, 2019 will allow nationals of Armenia visa-exempt entry to Hong Kong for 30 days per visit. These visa exemptions apply to both business travel and tourism, but not for entries related to work, study or residence in Hong Kong. The arrangements are intended to boost tourism, make travel more convenient and strengthen cultural and economic ties between Hong Kong and these countries. Thus far, 165 countries and territories have granted visa-exempt or visa-on-arrival entry to Hong Kong passport holders, including Panama.

Italy: Residence Permit Delays May Affect Schengen Travel – Residence permit processing in Florence, Milan and Rome is delayed by up to two months in each city. Affected foreign nationals can still work and reside in Italy while their residence permit is pending, but they cannot travel in the Schengen area (even layovers), until their residence permit is processed. This may affect foreign nationals whose Schengen visa is expired and are seeking to travel within the Schengen area during the processing of their residence permit renewal application, since their residence permit would be their only valid proof of ability to travel in the Schengen area.

Malaysia: Maximum Age Limit Set for Dependent Children Applying for Long-Term Social Visit Pass – With immediate effect, the Immigration Department of Malaysia has set a maximum age limit of 25 for dependent children applying for a Long-Term Social Visit Pass (LTSVP). There was no maximum age specified previously, and even adult unmarried children at least 18 years old, who could prove their dependency to the principal Employment Pass holder, could qualify. With this change, only dependent children between 18 to 25 years old and dependent children with disabilities (regardless of age) can apply for an LTSVP. Moreover, a letter certified by the Commissioner of Oaths (stating that the applicant is single, unemployed and under custodian of the Employment Pass holder) is required for submission with initial or renewal applications. Currently, the maximum age limit only applies to applications filed with the MYXpats Centre of the Expatriate Services Division. Although the change seems to indicate the Immigration Department’s desire to limit the issuance of LTSVPs to dependents of a certain age range, there has not been confirmation that this restriction will apply to applications filed with the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC).

Norway: Intern Rules Amended – ​The Norwegian government has amended the rules for interns in Norway as follows:

  • Interns must be between 18 and 30 years old;
  • Interns must be studying towards a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree program in Norway;
  • The intern must submit detailed information showing why it is important for their education that they work as an intern; 
  • The applicant cannot previously have finished another higher education degree at the same level;
  • The applicant cannot previously have been an intern in Norway, or have worked in the same field; and
  • The permit limit is six months and the term is not renewable.

These rules did not previously exist in the related legislation. Interested intern permit applicants should consult their immigration provider for case-by-case advice.

Portugal: Appointment Waiting Times Decrease, Further Improvements Pending – Process improvements introduced in October 2018 have reduced waiting times for in-country residence card appointments to approximately four months from the date of entry, down from eight months. Note, however, that this decrease is mostly due to applicants travelling significant distances to file an application outside their region of residence. Waiting times at central migration departments such as Lisbon still commonly reach up to seven months. Additionally, appointment waiting times at scheduled appointments still commonly reach up to five hours. Separately, in-country appointments are not yet automatically scheduled by the immigration authorities when granting a residence visa, as was announced in October. Instead, applicants must still schedule appointments upon arrival, unchanged from the previous policy. Finally, there is no estimated completion date yet for developing an online platform to file initial permit applications electronically, as announced in October. Fragomen will continue to monitor the situation and will report on relevant developments as they occur.

Russia: Visa Fees Now Globally Standardized – Effective February 3, 2019, Russian consular visa fees are standardized globally, removing prior regional variations. Visa fees are now USD 80 for a single-entry visa, USD 128 for double-entry or USD 240 for multiple-entry. For urgent processing in three business days, fees are USD 160 for a single-entry visa, USD 256 for double-entry or USD 480 for multiple-entry. Fees for EU, Swiss and Japanese nationals, among others, are lower based on international agreements. Fees for U.S. citizens may be higher to match fees for Russian nationals seeking U.S. visas.

South Africa: Draft Regulations on Employment of Foreign Nationals Submitted for Public Comment – In January 2019, the Department of Labour submitted new draft regulations on the employment of foreign nationals in South Africa for public comment. The draft regulations could affect processes including work visas, corporate visas, and the submission of skills transfer plans, though initial review suggests there are no substantial changes at this stage. Fragomen has responded to the Department of Labour's comment request with detailed feedback seeking clarifications on the impact of the proposed changes. The Department of Home Affairs also issued draft regulations in December 2018 regarding rules for traveling minors and certain visa types, which are also under public consultation. Fragomen will report on developments with both regulations once the Departments respond to the public comments.

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