Discover key changes to immigration regulations in Germany, Iceland, Italy, the Ivory Coast, Qatar, and Singapore.
ITALY | Push Towards Greater Efficiency Brings Numerous Improvements for ICTs, Families, and Investors
Italy appears to be making a concerted effort recently to improve its corporate immigration system. With its multitude of varying regional requirements, the system is notoriously one of the longest and most challenging immigration processes in Europe; but several recent developments appear to be aimed at making it more efficient and user-friendly. Changes include implementation of the European Union (EU) Intra-Corporate Transfer (ICT) Permit, decreased processing times for family entry clearances, and fast track processing of investor visas. A recent Interior Ministry circular proposing more unified processes throughout the country and a reduction in immigration inefficiencies motivated several of these changes, and it is hoped that further improvements are on the way.
EU ICT Permits – Italy began issuing EU ICT Permits in January of this year. The new EU ICT permit replaced the previous Article 27(g) ICT permits, but left ICT options in place under the new EU ICT guidelines and the still-existing Article 27(a) permits. In addition, renewals of Article 27(g) ICT permits continued to be accepted during a transition period ending May 31. Thus, holders of Article 27(g) permits must now apply for a new permit (not a renewal) under the new EU ICT guidelines or Article 27(a), depending on their case particulars.
Italy’s EU ICT Permit has one significant advantage over the national ICT scheme in that it allows the holder to use their permit for temporary assignments in other EU member states that recognize the EU ICT Permit. However, the EU ICT Permit differs from the national scheme in that it is restricted to “mangers, specialists, and trainees” for a maximum of three-years (rather than the national scheme standard of five-years), after which time there is a three-month “cooling off” period before the holder may apply for a new EU ICT Permit. In addition, EU ICT Permit applicants must have been employed by the sending entity for just three-months (compared to six-months under the national scheme), and family members may accompany them for any length assignment (rather than just for assignments over one-year under the national scheme).
Current Article 27(g) ICT permit holders who wish to apply for a new EU ICT Permit or Article 27(a) permit will be required to exit Italy at the end of their current permit validity and submit their new application to the Italian overseas consular post in their home countries. As the national scheme has no “cooling off” period, foreign nationals are immediately able to apply for their new ICT permits as soon as the previous Article 27(g) permit expires. Pro-Link GLOBAL has confirmed with authorities that any time used on the previous Article 27(g) permit will not be counted against the maximum three-year validity of their new EU ICT Permit.
Family Clearance Process Improved – Effective August 17, foreign nationals submitting applications for family entry clearances for accompanying family members will be able to submit the required supporting documents online. This simple improvement in procedure is expected to cut processing times by half, down to 90-days from the current 180-day average. Under the current process, applications are filed online, but applicants must wait until their in-person appointment to submit the paper versions of supporting documentation.
Fast-Tracked Visas for Investors and Start-Up Founders – Effective June 30, a new Inter-Ministerial Decree (No. 1202/385bis) has implemented new visa processing rules for both foreign national investors to establish Italian tax residency under the recently implemented flat tax scheme, and for those creating “innovative start-up ventures.” Under the Decree, authorities are instructed to expedite visa applications without the need of pre-scheduling an appointment and to provide the applicant direct access to dedicated case processors. Residence permit applications will likewise to subject to expedited processing.
Immigration Changes from Around the World
GERMANY | Major Delays at Foreigners Offices May Necessitate Visa-Waiver Nationals to Obtain Long Stay “D” Visas
Major delays at the in-country Foreigners Offices are causing many Immigration Specialists to revise their recommended process for visa-waiver nationals obtaining work and residence authorization in Germany. Increased case volumes and staffing shortages have pushed the processing times for the combined Work-Residence Permit cards to as much as several months in some cases. While the problem is perhaps most acute in the offices in Munich, Frankfort, and Mainz, Foreigners Offices throughout Germany are experiencing backlogs and delays with insufficient staff. As the residence permit issued through the Foreigners Offices provides both residence and work authorization, the longer processing times also mean delays for companies and foreign employees as the applicant awaits their combined work and residence permit to be issued in order to begin work activities.
Typically, foreign nationals from visa-waiver countries simply enter Germany without a visa and immediately register and apply for the necessary work-residence permit. In the past, this process could be completed within a matter of a few days and the employee could begin his/her work activities. However, this process is now taking anywhere from several weeks to several months (depending on the region and specific Foreigners Office). Thus, Pro-Link GLOBAL Immigration Specialists now recommend that some visa-waiver foreign nationals obtain a Long Stay “D” Visa from the German consulate abroad prior to departing their home country. This additional step will allow the foreign employee to begin work activities while waiting for his/her residence permit to be issued.
With the world’s second highest number of immigrants per annum (second only to the United States) and perhaps Europe’s strongest economy, multiplied by the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, Germany’s in-country immigration offices will likely continue to experience record volumes and significant delays absent a substantial investment in staff and facilities. Thus, Pro-Link GLOBAL expects the current delays to continue for the foreseeable future.
Companies and their foreign employees anticipating upcoming assignments to Germany should be aware that processing times may be substantially longer than previously experienced. Clients are reminded to reach out to their Pro-Link GLOBAL Immigration Specialists early in the planning process in order to assess the immigration levels into the region where the employee will be working and to advise on the best course of action.
ICELAND | Work Permit Exemption Extended to 90-Days
A recent amendment to Iceland’s Foreign National’s Right to Work Act (No. 97/2002) has extended the work permit exemption period for foreign nationals engaged in certain work activities in the country. The move extends the exemption from 30-days to 90-days, bringing it in line with the validity of Iceland’s business visa and the general visa exemption given to citizens of European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) countries and certain other non-EU/EEA nations.
Note, however, the 90-day work permit exemption is limited in the scope of activities that may be performed. Foreign nationals may be exempt from the requirement to obtain a work permit for up to 90-days when performing the following activities in Iceland:
- Teaching, academic, and scientific activities;
- Artists and musicians;
- Athletic coaching;
- Business representatives, including those promoting goods and services and attending business meetings;
- Passenger coach drivers;
- Journalists and reporters; and
- Assembly, installation, instruction, testing, supervision, and repair of equipment sold into Iceland.
Countries whose citizens are eligible for the 90-day work permit exemption without the need to obtain a business visa include: EU/EEA nations, the United States, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Mexico, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates. All other nationalities must obtain a 90-day business visa to avail themselves of the work permit exemption. A full list of visa-exempt and 90-day work permit exempt nationalities can be found on the Iceland Directorate of Immigration website here.
Companies and their foreign employees are cautioned that Iceland immigration authorities tend to draw the scope of exempt activities narrowly. Therefore, Pro-Link GLOBAL strongly recommends that companies wishing to use the work permit exemption for any planned assignments reach out to their Immigration Specialists for a detailed assessment of the activity and the applicability of this exemption.
IVORY COAST | Transition to Biometric Residence Cards Ongoing
Starting August 14, foreign nationals holding temporary residence cards in the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) must begin exchanging their old cards for new biometric residence cards. Foreign residents have until December 31, 2017 to complete the switch-over.
The Ivory Coast has been in the process of transitioning over to a national biometric identification card system for its citizens over the past two years. The move to transition to biometric cards for both citizens and resident foreign nationals in Ivory Coast is part of a larger movement to increase security, combat immigration abuses, and increase mobility throughout the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Companies and their foreign employees should expect similar measures to be ongoing in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
QATAR | Ongoing Gulf Crisis Brings Visa-Free and Permanent Residency Opportunities
In the ongoing saga of the diplomatic and trade boycott of Qatar by 16 nations of Middle East, Qatar is striking back with a “public relations” move using its immigration policy. In an announcement on August 9, the monarchy introduced a program to grant visa-free entry to citizens of 80 countries for stays of up to either 90-days or 30-days. In the previous week, on August 2, the Qatari cabinet also approved a new law that would allow the Ministry of Interior to grant permanent residency to some foreign nationals already living the country. While many see the moves as primarily an attempt to combat the negative image of Qatar as a sponsor of global terrorism, the changes nevertheless represent significant steps toward greater openness and economic independence for the wealthy Persian Gulf nation.
Effective immediately, the announcement of visa-free entry for 80 nations follows just weeks after Qatar also extended its already existing tourist visa-on-arrival scheme to an additional 37 nations. While also aimed primarily at increasing tourism, this latest visa-free measure takes the openness to a new level by encompassing 80 nations, including many of the world’s largest countries, and applying broadly for tourism and business travel. Qatari officials have been quoted in Gulf media touting that Qatar is now “the most open country in the region.” The citizens of the 33 nations who are eligible for visa-free stays of up to 90-days include all of the member nations of the European Union (EU). The 47 nations whose citizens are eligible for 30-day visa-free stays (renewable for an additional 30-days) include: The United States, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.
In a separate action, but one certainly designed for similar effect, the Qatari cabinet announced that Qatar would become the first Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nation to adopt a specific process for foreign nationals to become permanent residents. While the majority of the populations and labor forces of most Persian Gulf nations consist of foreign expats, permanent residency has always been a closely guarded privilege and unavailable to foreigners regardless of their years of residency in the country. According to reports by the Qatar News Agency, the new law makes permanent residence rights available to children of Qatari women married to non-Qatari men and to other foreign expatriates who “provide outstanding services to Qatar.” With permanent residence, holders would then have access to free state education, healthcare, and rights to own property and run businesses.
While these recent actions are surely a response to the negative world perception being generated by the ongoing diplomatic crisis, Pro-Link GLOBAL previously identified a trend toward greater openness in Qatar. See our Immigration Dispatches of February 13 and December 12. The current crisis has simply intensified and accelerated the efforts. In a dispute that appears likely to drag for some months and that thus far has brought only disruption and heightened costs to companies doing business in the region, these two developments are welcomed positive developments. That being said, Pro-Link GLOBAL cautions companies and their foreign employees to reach out to their Immigration Specialists ahead of attempting to take advantage of these new opportunities, as the situation in Qatar remains in a high state of flux.
SINGAPORE | EntrePass Start-Up Visa Criterion Liberalized to Attract More Applicants
Effective August 3, Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has new eligibility criteria for its EntrePass foreign entrepreneur program. The new guidelines are designed to admit a larger number of applicants into the program designed to attract global entrepreneurs and encourage new start-up companies in Singapore. Already one of the world’s most attractive technology and innovation hubs, Singapore has seen a cooling of its business climate in recent years. Officials hope this enhancement to EntrePass will help turn up the heat on future growth.
The new guidelines call for applicants to be evaluated on four “innovation criteria”: (1) funding and investment, (2) intellectual property, (3) research collaborations in Singapore, and (4) admission to a government-recognized business incubator program. The absolute minimum capital requirement of SNG $50,000 (approximately USD $38,000) has now been eliminated, and the MOM is now authorized to consider non-monetary contributions such as expertise and relevance to industries when evaluating the funding/investment criterion.
First implemented in 2003, EntrePass provides a work visa route for foreign entrepreneurs desiring to establish new businesses in Singapore, particularly in the technology sectors. Work visas are issued for an initial one-year validity with subsequent two-year renewals available, with no quota or minimum salary requirements. Interested applicants can view more detail online regarding the program here.
Caveat Lector | Warning to Reader
This is provided as informational only and does not substitute for actual legal advice based on the specific circumstances of a matter. Readers are reminded that Immigration laws are fluid and can change at a moment's notice without any warning. Please reach out to your local Pro-Link GLOBAL specialist should you require any additional clarification. This alert was prepared by Pro-Link GLOBAL's Counsel and Knowledge Management teams. We worked with our PLG | KGNM Iceland Office “Atrius Legal Services”, our PLG | KGNM Germany Office “Cheryl Koenig Relocation Services Group”, our PLG | KGNM Italy Office “LCA LEGA COLLUCCI E ASSOCIATI”, our PLG | KGNM Qatar Office “QShield LLC”, and Peregrine Immigration Management to provide you this update.
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