What's new in global

This week, the Global Immigration team at Smith Stone Walters would like to highlight the following recent updates from Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Taiwan and the United States.

Australia: New Pacific Engagement Visa

The Government has committed to a new permanent resident visa program and will introduce the Pacific Engagement visa (PEV) for nationals of participating Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste.

Australia will introduce the new Subclass 192 – Pacific Engagement visa in 2024. It will provide up to 3,000 permanent places annually for citizens of participating Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste and their immediate family members. This is in addition to Australia’s permanent migration program.

On 19 October 2023, the Australian Government passed immigration legislation to enable the use of a ballot for the new PEV.

The ballot ensures that eligible Pacific Island and Timor-Leste nationals of all skill levels, gender and backgrounds have equal opportunity to apply for a permanent visa for Australia.

Canada: New temporary resident pathway for Palestinian family members

On 9 January 2024, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced the opening of a new temporary resident pathway for extended family members in Gaza of Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

This measure provides a temporary safe haven for Palestinians directly affected by the crisis in Gaza who have Canadian citizen or permanent resident family members in Canada willing to support them. Eligible family members include a spouse, common-law partner, child, grandchild, sibling, parent or grandparent of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, as well as their immediate family members (spouse, common-law partner, dependent child and dependent child of a dependent child).

Once in Canada, eligible people can apply for a fee-exempt study permit or open work permit under the measures already announced. This will help them to better support themselves in Canada while the crisis in Israel and the Palestinian Territories continues. They will also have access to three months of health coverage under the Interim Federal Health Program to help address any urgent medical needs upon arrival, as well as settlement services such as language training and support connecting with the labour market and local community.

Movement out of Gaza remains extremely challenging, and may not be possible due to entry and exit requirements set by countries and other actors in the region. Applicants who are able to exit Gaza will also need to meet all admissibility requirements including biometrics before they can be approved to come to Canada.

  • IRCC has a dedicated service channel for enquiries on these special measures available for people both in Canada and abroad at 613-321-4243, with collect calls accepted.
  • The exemptions for temporary resident visa applicants under the public policy expire 9 January 2025, or when 1000 temporary resident visa applications have been received and accepted for processing, whichever comes first.
  • These multiple entry temporary resident visas will be valid for up to 3 years or the length of the person’s passport validity, whichever comes first.
  • As of 21 December 2023, the Government of Canada made fee-exempt study permits and open work permits available for immediate family members of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. Where possible, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is also prioritizing the processing of existing and new permanent residence applications for Palestinians within family-based streams.

China: Visa-free entry for Swiss nationals

On 15 January 2024, the government of China announced that it will apply a unilateral visa-free policy to Switzerland, and Switzerland will provide more visa facilitation for Chinese citizens as well as Chinese enterprises investing in Switzerland.

After a meeting between Swiss President Viola Amherd and Chinese Premier Li Qiang, the two sides announced the completion of a joint feasibility study on the upgrading of the China/Switzerland Free Trade Agreement (FTA), with formal negotiations due to start soon.

In November 2023, China allowed citizens from five European nations including France, Germany and Italy to enter the country without a visa.

Denmark: Proposal to change the rules regarding permanent residence permit and family reunification of spouses

The Ministry of Immigration and Integration has drafted a proposal to change the rules regarding permanent residence permits and family reunification of spouses. The proposal was sent to the relevant authorities and organisations for comments on 18 January 2024.

The proposal contains a tightening of the requirements to obtain a permanent residence permit and family reunification of spouses. The draft tightens the requirement that applicants may not have been convicted of certain crimes. The same applies to the transferred requirements for permanent residence permit, which applicants must meet, when applying for family reunification of spouses if the spouse in Denmark is a foreign national but not a refugee.

In accordance with the drafted proposal, the new rules will apply to applications for permanent residence permit and for family reunification of spouses submitted from the time the proposal is presented to the Danish parliament, unless a decision is made in such cases before the time of entry into force.

Ireland: Arrangements for Immigrant Investor Programme applications on hand

Following the closure of the Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP) on 14 February 2023 it was agreed that arrangements in relation to the orderly winding down of the Programme would be put in place. These arrangements have now been finalised.

The proposed arrangements cover a number of different categories of applications, as set out below:

1) Approved projects

1.a: Approved projects which have requested additional funding based on increased construction costs

1.b: Approved projects which have requested additional funding who have introduced additional elements to the project outside of their approved Business Plan

1.c: Approved projects which have stalled.

2) IIP Approved Investment Funds

3) Project Applications on hand pre-closure of the programme

4) Post-Closure project applications

4.a: Projects submitted without an associated investor, including those where an attempt was made to transfer an existing investor application to serve as an investor for a new project

4.b: Projects submitted outside the timeframe allowed post closure of the Programme (including those projects where there was no previous substantive engagement with the IIP Unit)

4.c: Projects that do not appear to be within the scope of the IIP programme

4.d: Projects which require planning permission

4.e: Valid project applications which are in scope of the IIP and planning is not an issue.

Under these arrangements, categories 1.b, 3, 4.a, 4.b and 4.c will be prioritised for processing either because of the length of time the applications are on hand or because a decision can be issued quickly.

Following this, categories 1.a and 1.c will be examined and decisions made on these applications. The remaining categories of applications will be examined thereafter.

Given the volume of applications on hand, it is expected to take a number of years to process the remaining categories of applications to final decision.

The closing of the programme did not affect already approved applicants and projects under the IIP. However, these projects will continue to be monitored for delivery and compliance with IIP requirements, and approved applicants will still need to meet certain requirements for renewal of their immigration permission.

Japan: Special measures after Noto earthquake

The Japanese Immigration Services Agency (ISA) has announced special measures in support of foreign nationals affected by the Noto earthquake which struck the country on 1 January 2024.

  • Residence permits held by foreign nationals living in the area affected by the earthquake, and which expire before 29 June 2024, will be extended until 30 June 2024.
  • Those who have been temporarily moved or evacuated from their original place of residence due to the disaster can apply at the immigration office that has jurisdiction over their current place of residence.
  • If it becomes difficult to engage in the work activities stipulated by the status of residence for a period not exceeding three months due to the disaster, the authorities will, on application, conditionally grant permission to engage in activities other than that permitted under the status of residence.
  • If it is recognized that it has been difficult to fulfil the obligations stipulated in the Immigration Control Act due to the effects of the 2024 Noto Peninsula Earthquake, the obligations will be cancelled on 3 April 2024. Affected foreign nationals will not treat you disadvantageously for non-compliance as long as they comply by the deadline.

Saudi Arabia: New Premium Residency categories available online

The Premium Residency Centre has announced the launch of five new Premium Residency Permits (PRP), which permit long-term, self-sponsored residence for qualifying foreign nationals.  The PRP was introduced in 2019.

The new categories are as follows:

  • The Special Talent Premium Residency (for executives and professionals who specialize in healthcare, science, and research);
  • The Gifted Premium Residency (for skilled professionals and talented individuals in the cultural and sport sectors);
  • The Investor Premium Residency;
  • The Entrepreneur Premium Residency;
  • The Real Estate Owner Premium Residency.

These are in addition to the existing Limited Duration Premium Residency category (fee of SAR 100,000 per year for up to five years, renewable); and the Unlimited Duration Premium Residency (one-off fee of SAR 800,000).

All Premium Residency holders:

  • can reside in Saudi with family members, including parents, spouses, and children under 25;
  • have the flexibility to move from one establishment to another;
  • are exempt from the fees imposed on expats and their dependents and companions;
  • can exit and return to Saudi without requiring a visa;
  • are entitled to obtain visit visas for relatives;
  • can use tracks dedicated to citizens at airports;
  • are entitled to work in the private sector and move between establishments;
  • can conduct business under the guidelines of the Investment Law;
  • can own and usufruct real estate.

The centre also launched a new electronic platform to simplify applications for Premium Residency.  The new platform enables applicants to view regulations, application procedures, and the products available for each category, in addition to the eligibility criteria and requirements for obtaining each product.

South Africa: Extension of temporary measures

On 21 December 2023, the South African Department of Home Affairs (DHA) extended the temporary measures it originally implemented in September 2022, to address delays in visa, waiver and appeals application processing.

  • Visa holders who have applied for a long-term visa, a waiver or an appeal via VFS Global and the application was still pending as of 30 November 2023 are granted a further extension until 30 June 2024 to enable DHA to process the applications and applicants to collect their outcomes and submit further applications if required.
    • Applicants are not allowed to engage in any activity other than what the visa conditions provide for.
    • Those who wish to abandon their applications and depart from South Africa should be allowed to exit at a port of entry before or on 30 June 2024 without being declared undesirable.
    • Visa holders who need to travel but are awaiting the outcome of an application should be allowed to exit and re-enter at a port of entry before or on 30 June 2024 without being declared undesirable.
    • Non-visa-exempt applicants who travel out of the country with an application receipt are required to apply for a port of entry visa to allow re-entry.
    • All appeal applicants are required to produce a copy of the rejection letter with a receipt for the appeal application on departure and re-entry in to South Africa.
  • Holders of short-term visas which were still valid up to and including 30 November 2023 who have applied for a renewal of the visa but have not received their visa renewal outcome by 24 February 2024 must make the necessary arrangements to depart from South Africa on or before 29 February 2024 to avoid being declared undesirable.

Taiwan: New polio virus requirements

In accordance with World Health Organization recommendations, applicants for Taiwan visas must submit proof of having been administered the oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) or the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) four weeks to one year before applying, if they have resided in or visited countries at high risk for poliovirus transmission (namely Afghanistan, Malawi, Mozambique, Pakistan, Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) for four weeks or longer within the past year.

United States: Updates to H-1B cap registrations

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced the upcoming launch of a package of customer experience improvements for H-1B cap season.

USCIS will launch organizational accounts for non-cap filings and the fiscal year (FY) 2025 H-1B cap season. Organizational accounts will allow multiple individuals within a company, and their legal representatives to collaborate on and prepare H-1B registrations, Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, and associated Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service.

USCIS expects to launch the organizational accounts in February 2024, with online filing of Forms I-129 and I-907 following shortly thereafter. In addition to streamlining the Form I-129 H-1B petition process, these changes should help reduce duplicate H-1B registrations and other common errors.

USCIS will also transition the paper filing location for Forms I-129 and I-907 from service centres.

USCIS will host two national engagements on organizational accounts on 23 and 24 January 2023 as well as several smaller sessions leading up to the H-1B registration period to help guide organizations and legal representatives through the process. Invitations to these engagements will be sent later this month.

United States: Cap Reached for Additional Returning Worker H-2B Visas for the First Half of FY 2024

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has received enough petitions to reach the cap for the additional 20,716 H-2B visas made available for returning workers for the first half of fiscal year 2024 with start dates on or before 31 March 2024, under the H-2B supplemental cap temporary final rule (FY 2024 TFR).  9 January 2024 was the final receipt date for petitions requesting supplemental H-2B visas under the FY 2024 first half returning worker allocation.

USCIS is still accepting petitions for H-2B nonimmigrant workers with start dates on or before 31 March 2024, for the additional 20,000 visas allotted for nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica (country-specific allocation), as well as those who are exempt from the congressionally mandated cap.

The FY 2024 TFR was published on 17 November 2023, with an immediate effective date. USCIS immediately began accepting H-2B petitions with start dates on or before 31 March 2024, for the 20,716 returning worker allocation for the first half of FY2024, and the 20,000 allocation for nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica who are exempt from the returning worker requirement.

Petitioners with start dates on or before 31 March 2024, whose workers were not accepted for the 20,716 returning worker allocation are encouraged to file under the country-specific allocation while visas remain available. As of 12 January 2024, USCIS has received petitions requesting 4,500 workers under the 20,000 visas set aside for nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.

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