In immigration news this week:

  • Worldwide: Many jurisdictions around the world have expanded their coronavirus-related travel restrictions and quarantine measures outside of the original areas subject to such policies. Visit Fragomen's coronavirus-related news page for the latest immigration updates.
  • United States: Employers can now set up accounts in USCIS's new H-1B cap registration system. H-1B cap registration opens at noon ET on March 1, 2020 and closes at noon ET on March 20, 2020. All beneficiaries must be registered during this period to be entered in the annual H-1B cap selection lotteries. On February 24, USCIS began implementing its new public charge regulation in all 50 states.
  • Canada: The Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) is expanding the launch of its online Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) pilot program, which allows employers participating in the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program to submit LMIAs electronically. Previously, the online pilot project was only available to a small number of employers in the agricultural industry.
  • Poland: Effective February 11, the minimum monthly salary for EU Blue Card applicants increased by 7.3 percent from 2019.

In Brexit news this week, the Swedish government has published a proposal for the treatment of UK national residents after the Brexit transition period ends on December 31, 2020.

These items and other news from Austria, Colombia, Georgia, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Malta, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Republic of Congo, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom follow in this edition of the Fragomen Immigration Update.

Important Updates in Immigration This Week

Canada, February 27, 2020

Online Labor Market Impact Assessment Pilot Program Expanded

  • The Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) is expanding the launch of its new online Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) pilot program, which allows employers and third parties to submit LMIAs electronically.
  • The ESDC has extended invitations to use the pilot program to employers with existing Job Bank accounts or who had previously used the non-electronic LMIA system; however, any employer may request permission to use the system.
  • The online system is expected to streamline the LMIA application process and decrease processing times.

To view entire article, click here.

United States, February 26, 2020

FY 2020 H-2B Cap Is Reached

  • On February 18, 2020, USCIS received enough H-2B petitions to exhaust the FY 2020 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, 2020 and received after February 18, 2020, 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 2020 appropriations bill.

To view entire article, click here.

United States, February 24, 2020

USCIS Opens H-1B Cap Registration Account Set-Up for Employers

  • Employers can now set up accounts in USCIS's new H-1B cap registration system.
  • If your organization wishes to sponsor foreign workers for H-1B cap employment in FY 2021, it must set up a registration account.
  • H-1B cap registration opens at noon ET on March 1, 2020 and closes at noon ET on March 20, 2020. All beneficiaries must be registered during this period to be entered in the annual H-1B cap selection lotteries.

To view entire article, click here.

United States, February 24, 2020

Supreme Court Allows Public Charge Rule to Apply in Illinois, As State Department Readies Implementation of Similar Rule at U.S. Consulates

  • Beginning February 24, the new public charge rule will be applied in all 50 states.
  • Late Friday, the Supreme Court granted the Trump Administration's request to stay a federal court preliminary injunction that would have prohibited the public charge regulation from being applied in Illinois.
  • Applications for adjustment of status and nonimmigrant applications for nonimmigrant changes or extensions of stay postmarked today or later must comply with the new regulation and new USCIS form requirements.
  • The State Department is expected to soon implement its own public charge rules for visa applicants at U.S. consulates.

To view entire article, click here.

Poland, February 24, 2020

EU Blue Card Salary Level Increased

  • Effective February 11, 2020, the minimum monthly salary for EU Blue Card applicants in Poland has increased to PLN 7,378, up 7.3 percent from 2019.
  • Employers must increase salaries for pending and new applications, if required.

To view entire article, click here.

Sweden, February 24, 2020

2021 Plans for UK Nationals Published

The Swedish government has published a draft proposal for the treatment of UK national residents after the Brexit transition period ends on December 31, 2020. Central details of the plan include:

  • UK nationals registered in Sweden before December 31, 2020 would be able to apply for a national residence permit for 10 months following ratification of the proposal, which is expected to occur around December 1, 2020.
  • UK nationals residing in Sweden for five years or longer on December 31, 2020 would be able to apply for permanent residence or citizenship if eligible. Eligibility criteria would be similar to EU applicants.
  • UK nationals residing in Sweden for a period shorter than five years would be required to apply for a local residence permit type if eligible. A separate permit type will be created.

To view entire article, click here.

United States, February 21, 2020

The New Public Charge Rules - What Employers and Foreign Nationals Need to Know

  • DHS's new public charge regulation is set to take effect on February 24, 2020 in all U.S. states but Illinois, where a court injunction prevents implementation of the rule for the time being.
  • Adjustment of status applicants will be required to provide detailed financial and credit documentation to support their applications.
  • Nonimmigrants seeking an extension of stay or change of status will be required to disclose certain public benefits they receive or are certified to receive on or after February 24, 2020.

To view entire article, click here.

Weekly News Briefs

Colombia: Technical Issues with Online Platforms Resolved - The technical issues reported in December 2019 that prevented foreign nationals from applying online for the requisite degree validation, and prevented host companies from submitting the required online notification of foreign nationals' employment start or termination date, have been resolved. Applicants are currently able to submit degree validation applications under the recently implemented streamlined process, with fewer documentary requirements and reduced processing times. Additionally, users of the SIRE notification system can report their foreign employee's start or termination dates without delay and within the 15-day mandatory period.

Georgia: Minimum Salary Level Decreased - Effective January 1, 2020, the minimum monthly salary for foreign workers in Georgia has decreased to GEL 985, down 4.7 percent from 2019. The exchange rate at the time of publication is 1 GEL to 0.35 USD. Employers cannot decrease salaries of current foreign workers or pending applications. Benefits and allowances may only be included in the minimum salary calculation if they are specified in the employment contract, are guaranteed and fixed, and are not paid in kind. Holiday allowance cannot be included in the minimum salary calculation.

Greece: Students and Researchers Directive Implemented but Not Yet Effective - Greece has implemented the Students and Researchers Directive, which seeks to streamline access to permits and promote intra-EU mobility for students and researchers. The legislative changes are not yet in effect; however, the publication of a ministerial decree with practical guidance on the new process and document requirements is pending. Only Belgium and Slovenia have yet to implement the Directive. Since both countries are currently forming a new government, Fragomen does not expect implementation before July 2020.

Iceland: Residence Card Issuance on Hold - Icelandic authorities are postponing issuance of new residence permit cards for several weeks pending the launch of a new, more secure type of residence permit card. Foreign nationals currently receive a confirmation letter stating that all immigration formalities were successfully completed to demonstrate their immigration status in country, and will receive an invitation to collect a residence card in the new format once available. Foreign nationals can still obtain a residence permit card in the old format if strictly required for travel purposes. Affected applicants must file a separate request to the authorities.

Ireland: Processing Delays Continue - Application processing for all Irish work authorization types continues to be delayed, with applications sponsored by Trusted Partner companies still taking six to seven weeks and other applications taking 13-14 weeks. Fragomen expects the delays to subside within the coming weeks, although this cannot be guaranteed. Fragomen will continue to monitor the situation and will report on relevant developments.

Ireland/Israel: Israeli Consulate in Dublin Closed - Effective February 23, 2020, the Israeli Consulate in Dublin, Ireland has stopped providing consular services. According to the announcement, all consular services for Irish nationals or residents will be provided by the Israeli Consulate in London, United Kingdom until further notice. Since Irish nationals are visa exempt for entry to Israel, this only affects those seeking to process either a STEP B-1 work visa or B-1 work visa (Expert or Hi-Tech). Fragomen worked closely with Kan-Tor & Acco Law Firm to prepare this update.

Israel: General Elections Closure to Cause Processing Delays - Israeli government offices will be closed due to the general election on March 2, 2020. During this closure, the government will not process work permits or visa applications. Israeli consular posts abroad may also suspend their operations or conduct limited processing during this time. Visa applicants should check with their local consulate for specific information on election day operations. Fragomen worked closely with Kan-Tor & Acco Law Firm to prepare this update.

Malta: Individual Investor Program Closure Forthcoming - Maltese immigration authorities expect the Individual Investor Program, which allows eligible investors to obtain Maltese citizenship after significant financial investments in Malta, to close around April 2020. The program's quota of 1,800 permits, set when the program was launched in 2014, is expected to be filled in the upcoming months if the rate of applications remains unchanged. Once the quota is filled, the government is expected to review the program and potentially launch a new, amended version of the program towards the end of the year.

New Zealand: Prioritization Order Changed to Speed up Application Processing – Due to a high volume of applications, New Zealand Immigration announced that, effective immediately, it is changing the prioritization order for processing Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) and Residence from Work Category (RFW) applications. New and pending applications will only be prioritized if the applicant's occupation requires occupational registration, or if their salary is higher than double the median wage of NZD 51 per hour. Applications for Talent Resident Visas will no longer be prioritized. New Zealand Immigration anticipates that 20-25% of SMC and RFW applications will be prioritized, with the aim of significantly reducing the currently prolonged processing times of up to 15 months for SMCs and five months for RFWs. Fragomen anticipates that the new priority order will prevent future backlogs as allocation of applications will follow a clear method, whereas previously all applications went into one queue.

Philippines: Special Work Permit Regulations Clarified - According to new guidelines released by the Bureau of Immigration, foreign nationals applying for a Special Work Permit (SWP) who provide expert advice must now prove their educational and work qualifications to qualify as a specialist or consultant (one of the 14 categories of SWPs). This includes providing evidence that they have at least two years of relevant work experience or training related to the proposed position, nature, and primary purpose of the company's business; and that they are at least 25 years old at the time of the filing of the application.

Poland/Philippines: Consular Services Forthcoming - Effective April 1, 2020, the Polish Embassy in Manila, Philippines will offer consular support where Philippine nationals currently have to travel to Malaysia for long-term visa applications or visit the Netherlands Embassy for Schengen visa applications.

Qatar: Additional Job Opportunities Open to Jordanian Nationals - Qatar's Emir has opened 6,350 new jobs specifically for Jordanian nationals this year, following the 3,650 jobs provided in 2019. Jordanian nationals can apply for these jobs by visiting the National Platform for Employment's website and will be able to obtain Qatari visas in Amman, Jordan when an office is opened before the end of May.

Republic of Congo: Labor Department Reopens Office for Work Permit Applications – The Agence Congolaise Pour I'Emploi (ACPE) is operational following the restructuring of the Labour Department and recent dissolution of the Office National de l'Emploi et de la Main d'Ruvre (ONEMO). Work permit issuance has resumed, although delays are expected due to the backlog following the suspension of work permit applications last month. The process previously took up to three months; however, given the backlog, it is anticipated that it will take longer to issue work permits until the backlog is cleared.

Republic of Congo: Hydrocarbon Card Requirement Suspended - The Departmental Direction of Oil and Gas has suspended the requirement for a Hydrocarbon Card due to the temporary closure of the department responsible for issuing the card. The Hydrocarbon Card is used with a work permit for foreign nationals working offshore in the Republic of Congo. It is unknown when the department will reopen. Foreign nationals traveling to work offshore in the Republic will not require this document in the interim.

Slovakia: Municipal Consent No Longer Required - In a change of policy, Slovak immigration authorities no longer require initial applicants for Temporary Residence Permits for Employment, which includes Blue Card and EU Intracompany Transferee (ICT) Permit applicants, to submit municipal consent—a statement by Slovak town hall confirming the applicant's planned residence address. Applicants were already required to submit proof of their accommodation, and town halls frequently faced administrative issues with issuing this document. The document remains required for pending applications submitted before January 1, 2020.

Slovakia: Online Residence Permit Appointment System Overburdened - As an update, the online residence permit appointment system introduced in May 2019 has not yet fully replaced the prior in-person appointment system since the online platform is overburdened. Appointments are released in monthly batches and filled within minutes of their release. Unsuccessful applicants must queue for several hours to file their applications without a pre-scheduled appointment. Separately, authorities plan to allow appointments to be booked six weeks in advance under the online system, up from the current one to two weeks in advance. A timeline for this improvement has not yet been announced.

Turkey/Austria/Belgium/Netherlands/Poland/Spain/United Kingdom: Turkey Grants Visa Waiver - In a change of policy, Turkey has granted a unilateral visa waiver to nationals of Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom, for tourist and business trips to Turkey up to 90 days in a 180-day period. The visa waiver will take effect March 2, 2020. Previously, these nationals had to apply for an e-visa and pay the corresponding fee.

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