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The Lifting of Travel Restrictions in the EU: A Roadmap to Business Remobilisation
| Christine Sullivan | Andreia Ghimis

The Lifting of Travel Restrictions in the EU: A Roadmap to Business Remobilisation

As cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in many parts of the United States and a second wave of cases is emerging in Beijing, those in Europe enter the summer with positive signs of recovery, lifted restrictions, and the beginning of a cautious and coordinated exit strategy. 

For employers, a critical component of this recovery is the easing of border restrictions that have brought mobilisation of foreign staff to a grinding halt. But there is now a light at end of the tunnel: the European Commission has published a roadmap for the easing of border restrictions in Europe. We are delighted that the proposal explicitly includes the recommendation from Fragomen that highly skilled travellers are included in the category of essential persons who should be exempt from travel restrictions.

This and the call for visa processing to resume in an orderly fashion are the signals that businesses have been waiting for. Is the situation still variable across Europe? Certainly. Is it time to implement a remobilisation strategy in Europe? Absolutely.

The Current Situation

Just as in all other areas around the globe, the COVID-19 crisis has drastically impacted travel to and within the European Union (EU). However, unique to the European region, COVID-19 border closures impact both the external Schengen border and the internal national borders simultaneously. This has been tremendously challenging for European companies who suddenly were confronted not only with barriers to the movement of critical talent from outside the EU, but also with a limited capacity to mobilise employees within the EU’s Single Market.

Although EU countries had some exemptions in place for essential, frontier and posted workers, these were implemented in a limited and uncoordinated way. Unlike the external border restriction, internal limitations applied even to EU nationals. Such limits on freedom of movement are extraordinary and unprecedented.

Fortunately, the health situation across Europe is improving, to the extent that the European Commission (EC) announced on 11 June 2020 that it strongly encourages EU countries to phase out travel restrictions, first at internal borders and, subsequently, at external borders (as from 30 June). This will have to be done in a coordinated and gradual manner, with open communication that will facilitate remobilisation of business in the EU. The EC calls for free movement within the EU+ area to resume as from 15 June. This includes EU countries and Schengen Associated Countries (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein). This will be a tremendous relief for residents and businesses in the EU, who have, in nearly all cases, been unable to move around the EU.

Remobilisation to Europe

Fragomen has been in close dialogue with the European Commission throughout the COVID-19 crisis period to highlight difficulties employers are facing on the ground and provide recommendations on how to alleviate these. We are delighted that our recommendation to consider highly skilled non-EU workers as essential workers has been included in the guidelines published on 11 June 2020.

Highly skilled migrants should, therefore, be allowed to enter the EU even if they are coming from a country which is still facing restrictions (a list of countries with no restrictions is expected to be published soon). This will be possible if their employment is necessary from an economic perspective and the work cannot be postponed or performed abroad. We have already seen some cases of successful travel and encourage companies to work with Fragomen professionals to evaluate if travel for business critical staff can already begin, even while external border restrictions remain in place. 

External border restrictions have nevertheless been extended until 30 June 2020, at the earliest, but in addition to the critical recommendation that some highly skilled travellers are added to the list of essential travellers, the EC has urged other process facilitations to re-ignite travel to Europe. Notably, the EC has advised that visa processing should resume wherever possible, and that there should be clear communication about re-openings. The resumption of visa processing even while borders are closed is a practical approach to preparing business travellers to be able to travel at the first possible moment. Fragomen is keeping an attentive eye on consular re-openings.

More flexibility will be implemented for travellers entering the EU from July. EU countries must agree upon a list of third countries whose residents should no longer face restrictions, so we expect “greenlists” of countries from which employees (and tourists) may travel, determined by the health situations in these other countries.

Business Continuity in Europe

Several EU Member States, for example, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Greece, had anticipated the EC’s announcement and already lifted internal border restrictions for EU nationals and resident travellers within the Schengen Area. We can expect the remaining countries to do the same in the coming days, which is a major development.

How does the UK fit into this? The UK is no longer part of the EU since the Brexit withdrawal earlier this year. Thus, the decision whether to allow UK residents to enter will be made by countries individually. Currently, some have lifted restrictions on entry for UK residents, including Belgium, Italy and France, but others are still not allowing UK nationals to enter, including Poland and Romania.

It is important to note that, even while national borders reopen, different approaches still exist amongst countries. For example, some countries may keep restrictions on the movement of non-EU nationals if they do not hold a long-term entry visa to begin residence on their territory or cannot prove residence in another EU country. Despite this, it is safe to say that business trips, assignments within the EU and sending employees to client sites are starting to resume, although with certain limitations.

Companies can already take advantage of these changes, and remobilisation of EU-based workforce is now possible. Critically, strategic remobilisation of this workforce can assist companies to rebound while we wait for the external Schengen border to reopen by setting a strategy of movement through the EU by skilled staff already in country, to compensate for the labour force still restricted from entering the EU.

Next steps

Fragomen recommends that employers follow the lead of the European Commission, and start remobilisation plans now. Some practical tips:

  • File applications as soon as possible, to minimise the impact of backlogs at consular and in-country appointments
  • Map staff already in the EU (including non-EU nationals with EU-wide permits) for cross-border moves in Europe, particularly for urgent client projects
  • Explore routing urgent assignments to the EU through countries with limited restrictions and use EU-wide permits (EU ICT permit)
  • Plan around extraordinary travel exemptions for key staff in some locations
  • Comply with Posted Worker Notification requirements: These are important for checks at borders and especially for cross-border moves

 

Fragomen can help with remobilisation planning. Affected employers and foreign nationals should contact Christine Sullivan, at [email protected]; Andreia Ghimis, at [email protected] or your Fragomen immigration professional, for remobilisation strategy assistance and to ensure compliance with entry regulations.

This blog was released on 25 June 2020 and, due to the circumstances, there are frequent changes. To keep up to date with all the latest updates on global immigration, please visit our COVID-19 microsite and subscribe to our alerts. You may also follow our LinkedIn account.