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, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Panama, Taiwan and the United States.

Australia: New English language requirements for students

The Australian Government has made changes to English Language Requirements for Student and Temporary Graduate visas.

This change was announced as part of the Australian Government’s Migration Strategy released on 11 December 2023 and applies to all Student and Temporary Graduate visa applications lodged on or after 23 March 2024.

Temporary Graduate visa (TGV):

The minimum score required for a TGV from IELTS test score increases from 6.0 to 6.5 (or equivalent), with a minimum score of 5.5 for each component of the test (reading, writing, speaking and listening).

The test validity window for a TGV decreases from 3 years to 1 year. TGV applicants now need to provide evidence that they have completed an English Language test within 1 year immediately before the date of the visa application.

Student visa:

The minimum score required for a Student visa from an IELTS test score increases from 5.5 to 6 (or its equivalent).

The minimum score required to undertake a packaged ELICOS from IELTS increases from 4.5 to 5.0.

For students studying English only through ELICOS, there will be no change.

The test score required for students undertaking university foundation or pathway programs that deliver reputable English language training will be IELTS 5.5 (or equivalent).

Increasing English language requirements for students undertaking VET and higher education courses requires a similar increase in score for those taking packaged ELICOS courses.  This ensures that students can transition successfully into their main course, with the appropriate level of English.

New Genuine Student requirement:

Effective 23 March 2024, the Genuine Student (GS) requirement replaces the Genuine Temporary Entrant (GTE) requirement for Student visas.

This change was announced as part of the Australian Government’s Migration Strategy released on 11 December 2023 and applies to all Student visa applications lodged on or after 23 March 2024.

The purpose of this amendment is to clarify the assessment of a student’s intention to genuinely study in Australia and to remove the confusion about whether the student can express a desire to migrate to Australia.

Student visa applicants no longer need to satisfy the GTE requirement that they genuinely intend to only stay in Australia temporarily.

The GS requirement acknowledges that post-study pathways to permanent residence are available to those eligible graduates. International students with studies and qualifications obtained in Australia may provide a qualified skilled workforce ready to fill skill shortages in Australia.

The change is also intended to help the Department to identify non-genuine students who are seeking to enter Australia for purposes other than to study.

The GS requirement focuses on the assessment of the student’s genuine intention to study in Australia, having regard to a number of factors, including the applicant’s circumstances, evidence of course progression, immigration history, compliance with visa conditions and other relevant matter.

The GTE requirement will be retained for Student Guardian visa applicants.

Canada: New eligibility requirements for open work permit for spouse or partner of international students

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has provided further details of the new eligibility requirements, effective 19 March 2024, for a spouse or common-law partner of an international student wishing to apply for an open work permit.

From that date, a spouse or common-law partner of an international student may be eligible for an open work permit if the student has a valid study permit and is studying in either:

  • master’s or doctoral degree program in a university or polytechnic institution, or
  • One of the following professional degree programs at a university:
    • Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS, DMD)
    • Bachelor of Law or Juris Doctor (LLB, JD, BCL)
    • Doctor of Medicine (MD)
    • Doctor of Optometry (OD)
    • Pharmacy (PharmD, BS, BSc, BPharm)
    • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
    • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN, BSN, BNSc)
    • Bachelor of Education (B. Ed.)
    • Bachelor of Engineering (B. Eng., BE, BASc)

The spouse or partner must provide one of the following documents to prove the student’s enrolment in a degree-granting program of study:

  • valid letter of acceptance from the student’s designated learning institution (DLI)
  • A proof of enrolment letter from the DLI
  • Transcripts from the current program of study.

IRCC will ask the spouse or partner to provide additional documents, such as proof of their relationship to the student.

If the spouse or common-law partner applied for an open work permit before 19 March 2024, the student must meet the following requirements:

  • They have a valid study permit.
  • They’re eligible for a post-graduation work permit (PGWP).
  • They’re a full-time student at one of these types of schools:
    • A public post-secondary school, such as a college or university, or CEGEP in Quebec
    • A private college-level school in Quebec
    • A Canadian private school that can legally award degrees under provincial law (for example, a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree).

Denmark: Authorities publish updated income statistics applicable from 1 April 2024

The Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI) uses income statistics made by the Confederation of Danish Employers (DA) in the case processing of applications to decide if an offered job is within the Danish standards for salary. This applies to the Pay Limit Scheme, the Positive List and the Fast Track Scheme, among other routes.

The new income statistics contain information from the fourth quarter of 2023 and will take effect for applications submitted from 1 April 2024. It is expected that the income statistics will be updated each quarter and that the next update will take effect from 1 July 2024.

SIRI will usually assume that the salary corresponds to Danish standards, and will not make further assessment, if it is stated in the application form and employment contract that:

  • The employer is covered by a collective agreement though a membership of an employers’ association.
  • The employment is covered by a collective agreement in the relevant sector.
  • The salary is at least DKK 71,020.83 per month (2024 level).

If the above-mentioned terms are not documented in the employment contract, SIRI will assess whether the salary offered corresponds to Danish standards, using the income statistics from the DA as a guideline.

Applications for a residence and work permit after 31 March 2024 will be evaluated according to the income statistics for the fourth quarter of 2024.

Applications between 1 January 2024 and 31 March 2024 will be evaluated according to the income statistics from the third quarter of 2023.

Denmark: Residence permits under Ukraine -Special Act extended

The Danish Immigration Service has now extended the residence permits which were granted under the Ukraine-Special Act. The validity has been extended until 17 March 2025.

On 3 November 2023, the Minister of Immigration and Integration decided that residence permits which were issued under the act on temporary residence permits granted to people who have been displaced from Ukraine (hereinafter the Special Act) could be extended until 17 March 2025.

The Danish Immigration Service initiated a review of all residence permits which were issued under the Special Act until 3 November 2023, and which were otherwise set to expire on 17 March 2024. If the requirements were met, the residence permits have been extended until 17 March 2025.

Residence permits under the special act, which were granted in the period from 3 November 2023 to 17 March 2024, have at the same time been extended, so that they are valid until 17 March 2025.

In a small number of cases, the Danish Immigration Service attempted, without success, to contact individuals who were granted a residence permit under the Special Act before 3 November 2023. In these cases, the Danish Immigration Service was unable to extend the residence permits because necessary information was not available. As a result, these permits will expire on 17 March 2024. Those individuals who could not be contacted are requested to submit a new application for a residence permit under the Special Act, if they still wish to retain a residence permit in Denmark based on the Special Act.

Finland: Thailand applications for wild berry picker visas suspended

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has decided to suspend the reception of wild-berry pickers’ visa applications in Thailand. The suspension applies to all applicants in countries within the consular district of the Embassy of Finland in Bangkok: Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar. This means that Schengen visas will not be issued to wild-berry pickers from these countries for the summer 2024 harvest season.

Visas for wild-berry picking have been issued on the assumption that pickers enter the country for a purpose comparable to tourism, collect wild berries freely under the right of public access (‘Everyman’s Right’) and sell the natural products that they have harvested to the party of their choice. However, it is evident that the current practice in the sector contradicts this assumption. It has come to the Foreign Ministry’s attention that wild-berry pickers have generally entered into employment contracts.

The charges and suspicions related to aggravated trafficking in human beings involve hundreds of victims. The clear and serious risk of exploitation and trafficking of human beings must be taken into account when visa applications are considered. As the visa authority and the authority guiding the issuing of visas by the missions, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs takes the exploitation of Thai wild-berry pickers very seriously.

The Government’s aim is to find a comprehensive long-term solution to the entry of wild-berry pickers into Finland from the 2025 harvest season onwards.

Visa applications of applicants other than berry pickers will continue to be received and processed as usual at the Embassy of Finland in Bangkok, and the applications will be individually processed in accordance with the Visa Code.

Germany: New appointments system for Schengen visa applications in Turkey

Effective 18 March 2024, a new appointments system is implemented for short-stay Schengen visa applications at all German diplomatic missions in Turkey.

The appointment procedure has two steps:

Appointments are made exclusively in chronological order of appointment registrations. The previous, time-consuming search for a free appointment will now be avoided.

Appointment registration is always free of charge, but to confirm the appointment for submitting the visa application, the service fee must be paid within 48 hours of appointment assignment by IDATA. Appointments not confirmed in time will be cancelled and the applicant will have to register again.

The use of an agency or an intermediary to make an appointment is not necessary. The waiting times for visa application appointments will depend on demand.

Panama: Extended deadline for immigration regularization

The National Immigration Service has further extended the deadline for submitting extensions for expired residence permits.

Resolution No. 9049 of 1 March 2024, published in the Official Gazette on 6 March 2024, extends until 30 June 2024 the deadline to submit residence permits that expired on or after 13 March 2020.  The original deadline of 31 December 2023 had previously been extended to 29 February 2024.

The deadline applies to the submission of extension requests for Temporary Residence Permits, Provisional Residence Permits, Permanent Residence Permits and Domestic Workers’ Visas.

Taiwan: Immigration Changes in March 2024

Several changes to the immigration rules were implemented effective 1 March 2024.

These include the following:

  • A foreign national who is permitted to stay in Taiwan for 60 days or longer via a visitor visa (that does not state “no extension will be granted”) may apply for extension for a fee of TWD 300. Each extension cannot exceed the original permitted duration of stay and the cumulative stay cannot exceed six months.
  • A foreign national holding an Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) can now apply to extend their ARC up to three months before it expires (previously one month).
  • The maximum entry ban for overstay has been increased from three to seven years.
  • An entry ban for overstay or illegal work may be halved for parents of Taiwan nationals or foreign permanent residents.
  • The fine for overstaying has been increased to TWD 10,000 – 50,000 (from TWD 2000 – 10,000).

United States: USCIS Extends Initial Registration Period for FY 2025 H-1B Cap

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has extended the initial registration period for the fiscal year (FY) 2025 H-1B cap. The initial registration period, which opened at noon Eastern Time on 6 March 2024, and was originally scheduled to run until noon Eastern Time on 22 March 2024, will now run until noon Eastern Time on 25 March 2024. USCIS is aware of a temporary system outage experienced by some registrants, and is extending the registration period to provide additional time due to this issue.

During this period, prospective petitioners and their representatives, if applicable, must use a USCIS online account to register each beneficiary electronically for the selection process and pay the associated registration fee for each beneficiary. USCIS still intends to notify selected registrants by 31 March 2024.

On 28 February 2024, USCIS launched myUSCIS organizational accounts that allow multiple people within an organization, as well as their legal representatives, to collaborate on and prepare H-1B registrations, H-1B petitions, and any associated Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service. A new organizational account is required to participate in the H-1B Electronic Registration Process.

United States: USCIS Updates Policy Guidance Clarifying Expedite Requests

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is updating guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to clarify how it considers expedite requests related to government interests and requests related to emergencies or urgent humanitarian situations, including travel-related requests. This update also clarifies how to make an expedite request and explains how USCIS processes expedite requests.

Government Interests:

This update clarifies that USCIS may expedite cases identified as urgent by federal, state, tribal, territorial, or local governments of the United States because they involve public interest, public safety, national interest, or national security interests. This update clarifies that when an expedite request is made by a federal government agency or department based on government interests, USCIS generally defers to that agency or department’s assessment.

Travel-Related Requests:

USCIS issues several types of travel documents. This update clarifies that it will consider expediting Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, for benefit requestors in the United States when they have a pressing or critical need to leave the United States, whether the need to travel relates to an unplanned or planned event, such as a professional, academic, or personal commitment.

When the need is related to a planned event, USCIS considers whether:

  • The applicant timely filed Form I-131; and
  • Processing times would prevent USCIS from issuing the travel document by the planned date of departure.

Submission and Processing of Expedite Requests:

This update also clarifies how to make an expedite request, including how requestors can use USCIS online tools with secure messaging, such as submitting their expedite request and uploading evidence to support their expedite request if they have a USCIS online account.

This update explains how USICIS processes expedite requests by clarifying that it will generally respond to benefit requestors who submit their request through the USCIS Contact Center to inform them when it has made a decision on their expedite request.

This guidance is effective immediately and is controlling and supersedes any related prior guidance.

Expert advice on global immigration

If you need support with any aspect of global immigration, Smith Stone Walters is here to help.

To speak to a member of our global immigration team, please contact us today.

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