Oct 19 2018

Weekly Immigration Update: October 12 - 18, 2018

Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Germany, Guatemala, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela

In United States immigration news this week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is moving forward with a proposal to require H-1B employers to pre-register for the H-1B cap selection system. The draft regulation is under review at the Office of Management and Budget – the first step toward a possible change in H-1B cap filing procedures.

Also in the United States, DHS is moving forward with plans to terminate the H-4 employment authorization program, with a proposed rule expected in November 2018, according to its regulatory plan for fall 2018, and a final regulation that could be published by mid-2019.

Despite cannabis legalization in Canada and several U.S. states, the possession, sale, distribution and production of marijuana are still illegal under U.S. federal law. Foreign nationals who use or possess marijuana could be found inadmissible to the United States, as could those who work in, invest in, or provide services to the cannabis industry whose purpose for travel relates to that industry.

In Germany, the minimum annual salary for non-European Economic Area nationals applying for work authorization under the EU Blue Card program will increase effective January 1, 2019.

The United Kingdom has confirmed that it will double the Immigration Health Surcharge in December 2018. The surcharge applies to non-EU/European Economic Area nationals applying for a visa to work, study or join family in the United Kingdom for six months or more.

In Thailand, stricter documentary requirements will be implemented for Indian nationals applying for long-term visa renewals starting November 1. 

In Guatemala, a new decree has increased government fees and created new types of fees for immigration processes.

These items and other news from Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Venezuela and the United States follow in this edition of the Fragomen Immigration Update.


Important Updates in Immigration This Week

United States, October 18, 2018

USCIS Plans a Pre-Registration System for H-1B Cap Filings

  • A proposal to require H-1B employers to register online prior to submission of an H-1B filing is now under review at the Office of Management and Budget – the first step toward a possible change in the H-1B cap petition process.
  • The proposal seeks to streamline the H-1B petition process by requiring a full petition to be submitted only after a case is selected in the H-1B cap lottery.
  • Though USCIS is aiming to have the new system in place for the FY 2020 cap filing season, which begins April 1, 2019, it is not yet known whether the proposal can clear federal review in time.

To view entire article, click here.


United States, October 17, 2018

Federal Immigration Agencies Release Fall 2018 Regulatory Agendas

  • According to its regulatory plan for fall 2018, DHS is moving forward with plans to terminate the H-4 employment authorization program, with a proposed rule expected in November 2018.
  • DHS also plans to publish a proposal this month establishing an H-1B cap pre-registration system, which would permit the filing of only pre-selected H-1B petitions, and to be implemented potentially as early as the spring 2019 cap season.

To view entire article, click here.


United States, October 17, 2018

Canada’s New Cannabis Legalization Law:  Impact on Travel to the United States

  • Despite legalization in Canada and several U.S. states, the possession, sale, distribution and production of marijuana are still illegal under U.S. federal law.
  • Foreign nationals who use or possess marijuana may be found inadmissible to the United States.
  • Foreign nationals who work in, invest in, or provide services to the cannabis industry in Canada are not admissible to the United States if the purpose of their travel is related to that industry. 

To view entire article, click here.


United States, October 12, 2018

November Visa Bulletin Update - USCIS to Honor Employment-Based Filing Dates Next Month

  • In November, USCIS will accept employment-based adjustment applications from foreign nationals with a priority date that is earlier than the "Dates for Filing" listed in the State Department's November Visa Bulletin.
  • The USCIS decision to honor the Dates for Filing chart means that some foreign nationals with priority dates that are technically backlogged may still submit green card applications in November. 

To view entire article, click here.


Argentina, October 18, 2018

Visa appointments Suspended Ahead of Online System Launch

The upcoming introduction of a new online visa application system in Argentina has caused the Argentinian immigration authorities to suspend express visa appointments for Mercosur and non-Mercosur residence visa applications. This will delay, and in some cases, result in an inability to submit these applications until the new online application system is operational. Though there are alternatives that may allow foreign nationals to submit visa applications during the suspension, these may involve delays, travel and extra costs.

To view entire article, click here.


Brazil, October 18, 2018

New Guidelines Implemented for Technical Visas

The Ministry of Labor in Brazil has published a new resolution that requires foreign nationals applying for a Short-Term Technical Visa to prove that their situation requires urgent entry into Brazil, with urgency undefined and based only on an undetermined standard. The government will process the applications of those who qualify under this category in five business days, while those who do not qualify for this category will see 30-45 day processing times. Previously, the applications of technical workers seeking to stay in Brazil for up to 180 days were processed in five business days without the need to prove urgency. This will effectively make the application process longer for many technical employees seeking to work in Brazil for up to 180 days.

To view entire article, click here.


United Kingdom, October 18, 2018

New Service Centres to Streamline In-Country Visa Process

A new streamlined service model for UK in-country visa processing will open in November that will result in the closure of the current Premium Service Centres and the opening of new service centres in the United Kingdom. The goal of the new service is to streamline the visa application process by returning supporting documents, including passports, back to applicants immediately, which will allow some applicants to travel while their application is processing. This is part of a wider effort in the United Kingdom to digitise and streamline immigration application processing.

To view entire article, click here.


Kazakhstan, October 18, 2018

Relocation of Processing Hub to Delay Work and Residence Permit Processing

Processing of work and residence permit applications in the former South Kazakhstan region will likely be delayed due to the relocation of the immigration processing hub from Shymkent to Turkestan. Employers and foreign nationals will likely need to appear in person at immigration authorities' offices more often, and will likely face longer permit processing times and stricter document requirements. These delays and increased administrative burdens are expected to last for several months. Employers and foreign nationals should plan for additional time for each work permit processing step.

To view entire article, click here.


Guatemala, October 17, 2018

New Immigration Fees Published

The Guatemalan Immigration Department published new fees for all immigration processes, including new government filing fees and a penalty for not submitting complete documentation at the time of filing. Foreign nationals and employers should be prepared to pay higher fees for certain immigration processes and make sure that all required documents are ready prior to filing.

To view entire article, click here.


Venezuela, October 16, 2018

Passport Issuance and Renewal Update

The Venezuelan government recently announced new passport issuance fees, a development suggesting that the passport issuance suspension that started in November 2017 might be coming to an end. However, Venezuelans remain unable to apply for passports at this time because the government has yet to provide new passport application guidelines. In addition, the availability of passport extensions for Venezuelans abroad varies considerably across consular posts. Venezuelan nationals and their employers should be aware of these ongoing passport issues and should work with their immigration services providers on mitigation strategies to determine how the issues impact their travel readiness and other immigration processes.

To view entire article, click here.


United Kingdom, October 15, 2018

Reminder - Immigration Health Surcharge to Double in December

The UK government has confirmed that it will double the Immigration Health Surcharge to GBP 400 (or GBP 300 under the discounted rate) in December 2018. The surcharge pertains to non-EU/European Economic Area nationals applying for a visa to work, study or join family in the United Kingdom for six months or more. Sponsoring employers may pay the charge on behalf of foreign workers. For employers sponsoring foreign workers, the added surcharge cost will likely reduce the overall attractiveness of the United Kingdom as a target destination for foreign talent.

To view entire article, click here.


Thailand, October 15, 2018

Stricter Documentary Requirements Implemented for Indian Nationals

The Immigration Department at the One Stop Service Center in Thailand has announced that starting November 1, 2018, Indian nationals will need to provide documents evidencing payment of the last three months' tax and social security contributions to support their long-term visa renewal applications. As a result, document gathering times may increase, particularly for those documents that require certification by a government authority. This stricter requirement does not apply to employees of companies registered with the Board of Investment.

To view entire article, click here.


Germany, October 12, 2018

EU Blue Card Minimum Salary to Increase

Effective January 1, 2019, the minimum annual salary for non-European Economic Area nationals applying for work authorization under the EU Blue Card program in Germany will increase to EUR 53,600 per year, up approximately 3 percent from last year, or to EUR 41,808 per year if the applicant will work in a shortage occupation, up approximately 3 percent from last year. Employers of foreign nationals seeking to obtain or renew an EU Blue Card on or after January 1, 2019, and those with pending EU Blue Card applications as of that date must increase the foreign national's minimum salary to comply with the new rule.

To view entire article, click here.


Thailand, October 12, 2018

Copies of All Passport Pages Now Required for Pre-Work Permit Approval

Effective immediately, Work Permit applicants whose employers are not registered with the Board of Investment must submit copies of all passport pages when filing their Pre-Work Permit approval application with the Employment Department, a prerequisite process to obtaining a Work Permit. The stricter requirement is intended to ensure that the foreign employee is outside Thailand when the PWPA application is submitted. Companies that fail to comply with the stricter requirement may have their application turned away, which may delay the entire application process.

To view entire article, click here.


Weekly News Briefs

United States: Starting November 1, USCIS Policy Change on Medical Exam ValidityEffective November 1, 2018, USCIS will extend the validity of the medical exam required of all adjustment of status applicants to two years, from one year under the current policy. Under past policy, because of green card backlogs, many adjustment applicants were obligated to update their Form I-693 medical exam reports after one year, at a meaningful financial cost and burden to them, before their green card applications can be approved.

Under USCIS’s new policy, medical exams will be valid for two years from the date of the examining physician’s signature as long as the medical exam was not completed more than 60 days before an adjustment application is filed. As in the past, applicants will have the option to submit a medical examination form with their adjustment application or later on, in response to a USCIS request for evidence or at an in-person adjustment interview.

Belgium: Single Permit to Become Effective January 1, 2019 – Fragomen has received confirmation from government officials that the Single Permit is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2019. Employers are advised to initiate cases early, and prepare transfers of staff with work start dates after January 1 according to the Single Permit document requirements. Fragomen will hold a seminar on the changes on November 29, 2018, at which Fragomen professionals and government officials will be able to provide detailed insights on the upcoming changes.

Costa Rica: Housekeeping Workers Restricted in Costa Rica – The Ministry of Labor published an updated list of restricted occupations – which now includes housekeeping workers – for the period between September 2018 to September 2019. This list is published annually by the Ministry of Labor as a recommendation, but it is ultimately at the discretion of the Costa Rican Immigration Department to accept and approve all visa applications. Foreign nationals moving to Costa Rica who wish to sponsor a housekeeping worker should contact their immigration provider for guidance on how to proceed under this new rule.

Czech Republic/Serbia: Serbian Nationals Eligible for Earlier Consular Appointments – The Czech Ministry of Industry and Trade now allows Serbian nationals hired locally by eligible Czech companies to schedule their consular appointments approximately one month or more before other applicants. This is followed by a standard 60-70 day consular processing period. To qualify for this benefit, the sponsoring Czech company must have conducted business in the Czech Republic for at least two years, must have at least 10 employees and must submit proof of financial stability, among other documents. Once their documents are approved, companies are eligible to use this benefit on behalf of Serbian nationals for one year. This effort is related to the program allowing Indian nationals earlier consular appointments, implemented earlier in September.

Iraq: New Mandatory Accompaniment Rule for Some Foreign Nationals Entering Iraqi Kurdistan – Effective immediately, foreign nationals of select nationalities traveling as visitors to Iraqi Kurdistan must be accompanied by an Iraqi-Kurdish national upon arrival, according to an announcement by the Ministry of Interior of the Kurdistan Regional Government. This new requirement was implemented as a security measure. At this time, no specific list of affected nationalities has been issued, but it is expected that visitors of African, Middle Eastern and Asian nationalities, including Indian nationals, are affected by this new requirement. Certain foreign nationals are exempt, including foreign nationals holding residence permits in Iraqi Kurdistan as well as citizens of Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Employers should ensure that their employees who hold passports from the affected countries are met by an Iraqi-Kurdish national upon arrival.

Iraq: Update on Mandatory Security Deposit for Foreign Workers – Subcontractors conducting business with companies that have contracts with the Iraqi government are subject to a refundable security deposit of IQD 1,000,000 for employing foreign workers, according to a clarification letter issued by the Ministry of Interior (MOI) in Baghdad. The initial regulations did not specifically mention this subgroup, therefore the clarification letter was issued.

Kazakhstan: Atyrau Region to Start Accepting Online Work Permit Applications – Employers can apply for work permits online at the Atyrau Labor Department starting November 1, 2018, provided that they have an electronic digital signature and have registered on the e-license portal. Employers and foreign nationals should benefit from reduced administrative burden when applying online, since scanned supporting documents are generally sufficient where currently original documents are required. Authorities may, however, request originals when reviewing the application. Efforts to expand use of the online filing system have been ongoing since 2013. Other Kazakh regions, such as Astana, have been accepting online applications since early 2018. All state services must transition to the e-license portal by January 1, 2019. Employers should obtain an electronic digital signature as soon as possible, and should grant Fragomen access to their e-license account to support with online applications.

Morocco: New Criteria Announced for Labour Market Testing Exemption - The National Agency for the Promotion of Employment and Skills (ANAPEC) has restricted the regulations for the issuance of a pre-approval certificate, which is required for the processing of work permit applications at the Ministry of Labour and Professional Integration. According to the new rule, only employers meeting specific criteria can obtain the ANAPEC certificate for their work permit applicants without having to conduct the mandatory labor market test. Exemptions from the labor market test are available for employers who recruit foreign nationals in executive positions if the employer has a minimum of MAD 1,000,000 in investment capital in Morocco or if they hire at least 50 employees. Previously, all categories of employers could benefit from the expedited process for the recruitment of foreign nationals by obtaining the ANAPEC certificate for workers in executive positions without conducting a labor market test.

Netherlands: Stricter Policy on Working Holiday Travelers and Other Permit Documents – Dutch immigration and labour authorities have clarified recent policy guidelines, resulting in a stricter policy for the working holiday program and supporting documents for other immigration applications. Working holiday permit holders cannot work for the same employer for more than 12 consecutive weeks. Previously, this requirement was not strictly monitored. For longer work periods, the employer must now obtain separate work authorization. The working holiday permit offers a streamlined permit option aimed at cultural exchange to nationals of Argentina, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Korea between 18 and 30 years old. For all work authorization categories, authorities will now check whether the foreign worker’s work hours are stated in their assignment letters and employment contracts, where this was not strictly reviewed before.

Netherlands: Process and Dual Nationality Improvements Forthcoming – The Dutch government announced plans to streamline the application process for highly-skilled migrants – foreign workers sponsored by locally-registered sponsor companies – and start-up companies. These plans are scheduled to be implemented in 2019, though the exact planned measures are not yet known. Additionally, the government plans to allow first generation immigrants and Dutch nationals who moved abroad to hold dual nationality, where dual nationality was strictly limited before. This change seeks to facilitate dual UK / other nationality in light of Brexit. 

Papua New Guinea: Visa-on-Arrival Temporarily Suspended for One Month – Government authorities have announced a one-month suspension of visa-on-arrival (VOA) services at Papua New Guinea (PNG) immigration entry points from October 30 to November 30 as part of increased security measures for the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings and Leaders’ Summit. Business travellers and applicants for short-term work visas from visa-exempt countries will need to obtain their visas from PNG consular posts and will not be able to enter without a consular visa during this time. Depending on location, it can take up to four weeks to obtain a consular visa. PNG has VOA arrangements with 71 countries whose nationals will be affected by the temporary suspension.

Qatar: Effective Date for Abolishment of Exit Permit Requirement Announced – The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA) announced that the exit permit requirement for foreign nationals’ departure from Qatar will be abolished on October 28, 2018. The MADLSA also called upon employers to submit lists of individuals who, based on the nature of their work, should continue to obtain their sponsor’s pre-approval before exiting Qatar. The number of such workers must not exceed five percent of the total headcount of the company.

Saudi Arabia/United Kingdom: Longer Visa Validity Available in Saudi Arabia – UK nationals travelling to Saudi Arabia will soon be eligible for visitor visas with a validity of up to five years, as a result of a Memorandum of Understanding that aims to facilitate travel between the two countries. This extended validity will come into force once all necessary legal procedures have been completed. Visitor visas to Saudi Arabia are typically issued with a validity of six, 12 or 24 months, at the discretion of the visa issuing authority, and are for single or multiple entries. Since Saudi Arabia does not offer tourist visas, visitors to Saudi Arabia usually obtain commercial visit and work visit visas that allow them to conduct business and short-term work, respectively.

Serbia/Iran: Visa Waiver Cancelled – Effective October 17, 2018, Iranian nationals seeking to travel to Serbia for short business or tourist trips are subject to a visa requirement. Previously, they were visa exempt for trips up to 30 days per year. The decision reportedly follows concerns over misuse of visa-free entry and numerous asylum applications. By way of background, Serbia has introduced seven visa waivers over 2018 in an effort to align its visa policy with the European Union in light of Serbia’s EU membership candidacy.

United Arab Emirates: New Worker’s Insurance Scheme Details Clarified – As previously announced, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE) began implementing the worker’s insurance scheme and has clarified that purchasing the insurance policy is optional and that employers can instead submit the traditional bank guarantee if they choose. The new insurance policy costs AED 120 for a two-year work permit and can be purchased by employers upon submission of a work permit application through Tas’heel Service Centers or electronically through the MOHRE’s online portal.

United Arab Emirates: Implementation of New Regulations for Residence and Visitor Visas Forthcoming – The Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship announced that it will start implementing select decisions of the Cabinet of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) regarding residence permits and visitor visas. It is expected that the following regulations will come into effect on October 21, 2018:

  • Residence permits for widowed or divorced women. A one-year residence permit will be available to women and their children residing in the UAE without a sponsor due to a divorce or death of their husband under certain conditions.
  • Residence permits for students under parents’ sponsorship. A one-year renewable residence permit will be available to university and high school graduates sponsored by their parents, after completion of their education or when they reach the age of 18.
  • In-country visit visa renewal. Foreign nationals traveling on select categories of pre-approved visit visas will be eligible to renew their entry permits in country, without needing to exit and re-enter the UAE, as is required for other visa types. The visit visa can be renewed twice for up to 30 days each time. Foreign nationals failing to renew their visa within 10 days from the expiration date will face a fine of AED 100 per day.​

United Kingdom: Pre-Brexit Registration Service for EU Nationals – The UK Immigration Authority (UKVI) will launch a second pilot program from November 1, 2018 to December 21, 2018 that will allow EU nationals in the higher education, health and social care industries to register their stay on the EU Settlement Scheme. This registration system is expected to be in effect in March 2019 based on UKVI's requirement for EU nationals to register to remain in the United Kingdom legally after Brexit. The first pilot allowed a group of health and university staff to register on the system. The aim of these pilot programs is to ensure that the registration system will operate effectively when fully open in March 2019. Pilot applicants benefit from early registration, avoiding the anticipated surge in applications after March 2019. Foreign nationals affected by Brexit can access Fragomen's dedicated Brexit page for more information.


Global Immigration News Links

  • The U.S. Department of Justice said that it will ask the Supreme Court to intervene if an appellate court has not ruled by the end of the month on whether the Trump administration can end protections for Dreamers who entered the country unlawfully as children, Reuters reports.
  • While the U.S. continues to generate the largest amount of startup and venture capital activity, its share of the global total has fallen significantly, according to a report from the Center for American Entrepreneurship.
  • The European Commission reports that significant progress has been made to reduce travel document fraud in the European Union.​

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