For over eight years, I have had the pleasure of helping individuals and their families move from their place of residence to the UK. Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to be asked by Fragomen to head up our Qatar Practice—meaning I was now on the receiving end of an international move.
What struck me the most was the sheer amount of information thrown my way that I had to read, digest and comprehend before being required to make life-changing decisions. Tax, housing, pensions, shipments, new job, old job, contracts, schooling and, of course, immigration considerations were all vying for my attention.
What should take priority?
Being an immigration lawyer by trade, I appreciate the critical importance of immigration in the global mobility process. Without the appropriate visa, nothing else is possible or indeed will matter. You can kiss goodbye to your immediate dreams of living overseas if you cannot obtain approval to enter the country.
Since immigration is so vital, here are some tips I would share with anyone looking to move abroad.
1. Visa type
It is vital to understand the visa category that has been proposed and the terms and conditions that apply. In Qatar, visa types are relatively limited, but the rights afforded to individuals very much depend on the job designation. For example, my job title allowed me to sponsor family members and also drive a car while living and working in Qatar.
Furthermore, it is prudent to ensure that you have a good understanding of the limits imposed by the visa to avoid surprises and challenges later, such as children's ability to attend school, access to public healthcare and the availability of long-term residency options.
2. Getting the documents right
Each country has its own documentary requirements that individuals are expected to obtain, usually prior to entering the country. In Qatar, for example, it is a requirement in certain circumstances to submit one's degree, transcript and University Verification Letter (UVL). Some universities resist providing the UVL, which can be problematic because the Qatari authorities are very specific about what they require. It is, therefore, important to ensure you work closely with your immigration advisor to confirm what is or isn't possible to provide—getting it wrong could lead to unnecessary delays and, quite possibly, a denied visa. Thankfully, with persistence and a few trips to my university, I was able to obtain the correct UVL and continue my immigration process.
3. Full disclosure
Each country has its own nuances as it relates to immigration requirements, but there is one consistent theme: applicants are expected to be honest and truthful in anything that is submitted to the authorities. It is, therefore, of vital importance that your advisor knows about anything potentially negative in your personal history—even if it may seem insignificant on the surface. A minor run-in with the law in your college years, for example, may not seem important anymore, but could have wider consequences if you fail to disclose this when asked.
The ability of an assignee's family members to accompany on an assignment can often be a key deciding factor when making an international move. It is, therefore, important to understand:
Points b) and c) are particularly important. In some countries (including Qatar), family members are unable to apply for dependant visas at the same time as the main applicant. Instead, the main applicant must reside in the country for a period of time to demonstrate sufficient earnings to then sponsor family— a challenging requirement, especially when young children are involved! It's also a good idea to make sure you understand the working rights of your spouse, if applicable, from the outset.
5. How does immigration tie into other aspects of the move?
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, understanding how your visa process ties into other aspects of your move is key. It may not be possible to send a shipment of your personal goods (if applicable) overseas until your visa is in place or, at the very least, you have applied for your visa. Furthermore, without a Residence Permit, some banks are hesitant to allow you to open an account, which could mean a delayed salary—never ideal in a foreign country. As such, it is important to understand what other aspects are connected to your immigration status to help you plan accordingly.
Conclusion - get the right help
Having gone through an international move myself, I could not emphasise the importance of engaging the services of an experienced immigration professional enough. Having a trusted immigration advisor helping you with your move makes everything much easier and can alleviate much of the stress that you will inevitably feel. With the help of my great new team in Qatar, my move was seamless.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.