Latest updates in global

This week, the Global Immigration team at Smith Stone Walters would like to highlight the following recent updates from Canada, Hungary, New Zealand, Nigeria, United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Canada: New rural and Francophone minority immigration pilots

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has announced new pilots for rural and Francophone minority communities, with a view to creating a permanent rural immigration program.

The Rural Community Immigration Pilot will launch in autumn 2024. It aims to ensure that rural communities continue to have the ability to access programs that address labour shortages and help local businesses find the workers they need. It will provide pathways to permanent residence for newcomers who can help to overcome critical labour job shortages and want to live long term in these smaller communities.

The Francophone Community Immigration Pilot, part of the Francophone Immigration Policy and modelled on the success of the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP), will also be launched in autumn 2024. The pilot will focus on increasing the number of French-speaking newcomers settling in Francophone minority communities outside of Quebec.

IRCC will open the community application process this spring to select communities who will participate in the pilots and will share more details in the coming months.

On February 21 2024, IRCC extended the deadline for current RNIP communities to recommend candidates for permanent residence until 31 July 2024. IRCC also increased the number of candidates that communities can recommend. These changes allow participating communities to take part in the pilot for a longer period and continue meeting their labour needs with skilled candidates.

Hungary: New immigration law takes effect

A new immigration law, published 1 January 2024 in Hungary, introduces major changes and stricter conditions to existing regulations for third-country nationals (TCNs).

The application of the new regulations began on 1 March 2024. Pending implementation, the submission of new applications from TCNs was suspended, except those involving residence permits ‘of national interest’ based on ministerial approval. In cases where an application was submitted before 31 December 2023, the old regulations still apply. The validity of residence permits and permanent residence permits expiring between 1 January 2024 and 29 February 2024 was automatically extended until 30 April 2024.

The previous immigration law in Hungary specified 18 types of residence permits. The new regulation outlines 24 types, including 8 for the purpose of employment. The residence permit for other purposes (known as the single permit) has been abolished and the new law introduces separate categories of work permits for highly-skilled workers (“Hungarian Card”), guest workers, posted workers, Serbian and Ukrainian nationals (“National Card”) and investors.

The guest worker residence permit will only be granted, by law, to those employed by specified employers, from specified countries, and in specified occupations. Moreover, the guest worker permit can only be extended for a limited period, up to a total of three years. After this period the permit cannot be extended, and a new application must be submitted. Guest workers, therefore, are not entitled to permanent residence in Hungary, or to family reunification.

The new law also introduces a so-called “golden visa”. From 1 July 2024, the guest-investor visa and residence permit will be available, allowing a residence of 10+10 years for a minimum real estate fund investment of 250 000 EUR. The detailed provisions for this have not yet been published.

Effective 1 January 2025, certain residence permits can only be extended if the relevant applicant fulfils the conditions of ‘social coexistence’, which must be proved by taking an exam in Hungarian about Hungarian history and culture.

The law also introduces a shorter validity for entry visas issued for the collection of residence permits, and stricter notification rules.

New Zealand: Updates to list of qualifications exempt from assessment

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has announced that phase 2 updates have been made to the List of Qualifications Exempt from Assessment (LQEA) and will come into effect from 25 March 2024.

From that date, the list will be updated with qualifications awarded in the following countries:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • China
  • Fiji
  • Japan

In addition, updates will be made to the list for these countries added to the LQEA in September 2023;

  • Malaysia
  • South Africa
  • United States of America

The updates to countries already on the LQEA includes adding:

  • Master’s degrees to the list of qualifications awarded in Malaysia
  • Doctoral Degrees to the list of qualifications awarded in South Africa and the United States of America.

More qualifications from additional countries will be added to the LQEA in further phases.

New Zealand: Ukraine Resident Visa imminent

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has announced that the new Ukraine Resident Visa opens on 16 March 2024 and will remain open for two years.  Applications must be submitted before 16 March 2026.  The visa permits holders, their partners and children to live, work and study in New Zealand permanently.

This visa is available to people who arrived in New Zealand on a 2022 Special Ukraine Visa on or before 15 March 2024.  All applicants must meet standard character and identity requirements and provide a Limited Medical Certificate and chest X-ray certificate. However, applicants do not need to take an English language test as part of their application. The applicant can add their partner and dependent children to their application.

The 2022 Special Ukraine Visa is a two-year temporary visa for Ukrainians with family in New Zealand. Expressions of interest (EOIs) from new applicants for this visa will close at midnight New Zealand Daylight Time (NZDT) on Friday 15 March 2024.

Those already in New Zealand on a 2022 Special Ukraine Visa can continue to:

  • apply for further 2022 Special Ukraine Visas while you shelter in New Zealand; or
  • wait for the outcome of their Ukraine Resident Visa application.

Nigeria: Expatriate Employment Levy suspended

The Federal Government has suspended the Expatriate Employment Levy (EEL) pending further consultation with stakeholders. The policy was originally announced 27 February 2024; it was to be effective from 15 March 2024 and employers had until 15 April 2024 to comply.

According to the previous announcement, the EEL was to be paid annually for foreign national workers employed for at least 183 days within a year, in any size of business in any sector or industry.  The EEL was set at USD 15,000 for a director-level position and USD 10,000 for other levels. Employees could be sanctioned with fines of up to NGN 3,000,000 for failure to submit the EEL on time and other offences.

United Arab Emirates: “Work Bundle” initiative to streamline applications

The UAE government has launched the “Work Bundle” initiative to facilitate employee residency procedures and work permits in private sector companies. The initiative will initially be implemented in Dubai and then gradually expanded to include other emirates.

The “Work Bundle” offers a single platform to complete employment services including renewal, cancellation, medical examination, and fingerprinting.

The project is a result of close cooperation between federal and local government entities, including the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship, Customs and Ports Security, the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs in Dubai, and Dubai Health. It is supported by the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism and by Digital Dubai, which provides the digital infrastructure and services to allow seamless data exchange between the relevant entities.

The “Work Bundle” provides one platform in place of five and reduces procedures from eight services to a unified single platform, while the required steps are reduced from 15 steps requiring 16 documents to five steps and five documents. The number of visits is reduced from seven to only two, which in turn affects the time taken to complete the procedure, which is reduced from 30 working days to five working days.

More information is available here.

United States: USCIS Reaches H-2B Cap for Second Half of FY 2024 and Announces Filing Dates for the Second Half of FY 2024 Supplemental Visas

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has received enough petitions to meet the H-2B cap for the second half of fiscal year (FY) 2024 and is announcing the filing dates for supplemental H-2B visas for the reminder of FY 2024 made available under the FY 2024 H-2B supplemental visa temporary final rule.

H-2B Cap for Second Half of FY 2024:

USCIS has received enough petitions to meet the congressionally mandated H-2B cap for the second half of FY 2024. 7 March 2024 was the final receipt date for new cap-subject H-2B worker petitions requesting an employment start date on or after 1 April 2024, and before 1 October 2024. USCIS will reject new cap-subject H-2B petitions received after 7 March 2024, that request an employment start date on or after 1 April 2024, and before 1 October 2024.

USCIS continue to accept H-2B petitions that are exempt from the congressionally mandated cap. This includes petitions for:

  • Current H-2B workers in the United States who wish to extend their stay and, if applicable, change the terms of their employment or change their employers;
  • Fish roe processors, fish roe technicians and/or supervisors of fish roe processing; and
  • Workers performing labour or services in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and/or Guam (until 31 December 2029).

Filing Dates for Second Half of FY 2024 Supplemental Visas:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Labour (DOL) jointly published a temporary final rule on 17 November 2023, increasing the numerical limit (or cap) on H-2B nonimmigrant visas by up to 64,716 additional visas for all of FY 2024. These supplemental visas are available only to US businesses that are suffering irreparable harm or will suffer impending irreparable harm without the ability to employ all the H-2B workers requested in their petition, as attested by the employer on the DOL Form ETA 9142-B-CAA-8 (PDF). These supplemental H-2B visas are for US employers seeking to petition for additional workers at certain periods of the fiscal year.

Below are the filing start dates for each of the remaining supplemental visa allocations under the temporary final rule:

  • For employers seeking workers who are nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica, regardless of whether such nationals are returning workers:USCIS will begin accepting petitions for employers requesting an employment start date from 1 April 2024 to 30 September 2024, on 22 March 2024. USCIS began accepting petitions from employers with employment start dates from 1 October 2023 to 31 March 2024, in November 2023. A cap count for this country-specific allocation is available on the Temporary Increase in H-2B Nonimmigrant Visas for FY 2024
  • For employers seeking returning workers for the early second half of FY 2024 (1 April to 14 May): USCIS will begin accepting petitions for the additional 19,000 visas made available to returning workers regardless of country of nationality on 22 March 2024.
  • For employers seeking returning workers for the late second half of FY 2024 (15 May to 30 September): USCIS will begin accepting petitions for the additional 5,000 visas made available to returning workers regardless of country of nationality on 22 April 2024.

USCIS will stop accepting petitions under this temporary final rule received after 16 September 2024, or after the applicable cap has been reached, whichever occurs first.

USCIS has already announced that we have 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 FY 2024 with employment start dates on or before 31 March 2024.

Additional information on the FY 2024 supplemental visas is available on the Temporary Increase in H-2B Nonimmigrant Visas for FY 2024 page.

United States: Streamlined Process for Refugee Employment Authorization Documents

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that it has begun implementing a streamlined process for Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, to provide Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) more efficiently to eligible refugees after they are admitted into the United States. USCIS launched this process on 10 December 2023, following a successful trial period.

This streamlined process shortens the wait time for an EAD to approximately 30 days instead of several months. All individuals admitted into the United States as refugees on or after 10 December 2023, will receive EADs pursuant to this new process.

Under US law, a refugee is legally authorized to work as soon as they arrive in the United States. Obtaining proof of this work authorization in the form of an EAD, however, was previously a paper-based process that led to undue delays. The new process is fully automated and no longer requires refugees to apply for an EAD, allowing for more efficient processing and adjudication of Form I-765 and quicker delivery of EADs after approval.

With this new process, USCIS will digitally create a Form I-765 for arriving refugees and begin adjudicating it as soon as they are admitted into the United States. After USCIS approves a refugee’s Form I-765, refugees will generally receive their EAD within one to two weeks. USCIS will mail their EAD via US Postal Service Priority Mail to their address of record. The time frame for a refugee to receive their EAD card may vary, depending on delivery times, but refugees should allow a total of 30 days before inquiring.

USCIS will also electronically provide the Social Security Administration with the information required to assign a Social Security number and mail a Social Security card to the refugee.

This process does not apply to following-to join refugees admitted into the United States based on an approved Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition. Additionally, refugees seeking a replacement or renewal EAD will still need to complete and submit Form I-765.

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