With most nations closing borders or introducing strict restrictions on who can enter their country, the movement of people around the world has greatly diminished.
Businesses in the Visa & Immigration industry who traditionally assist people in moving from one country to another have seen this side of their business virtually been put on hold until borders open and movement can once again commence.
Speaking to our Visa and Immigration E-Team members around the world has unearthed some interesting situations. They shared with us how their businesses have had to shift their focus, how their industries have changed and some very unique client situations.
What’s happening in…
We spoke to our Visa and Immigration E-Team members in Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland and Christchurch.
We’d love to hear what’s happening in your city – if you work with a Visa and Immigration provider or know of a business that would be interested in joining our network, please let us know at email@example.com.
The Australian government has closed its borders to everyone but citizens, permanent residents, their immediate family members and New Zealanders who normally live in Australia.
“Very few people can enter Australia,” commented Amanda Tinner of Visa Executive, our Visa & Immigration E-Team member in Sydney and Melbourne, “I have had some cases where expats have come to Australia in early January to commence work. They have rented a property, started working, have gone back home to collect their family and have not been able to return. They are now stuck overseas waiting for Australia to open its borders so they can come back.”
Traditionally dealing with short-term, sub 400 visas which can only be applied for by those overseas, Visa Executive has seen this side of their business halted.
“Our business has been stable in terms of demand but the work we do has changed,” explained Amanda, “we are now applying for tourist visas for those already in Australia, which we rarely did in the past. We are increasingly applying for permanent resident visas for clients who don’t want to go home anymore and providing a lot of advice for clients as their circumstances change.”
“We’ve had a lot of calls from clients who have been made redundant and cannot find another job. These clients cannot leave Australia because of flight restrictions and in some circumstances, their country of origin will not allow them to go back. They need to remain in Australia and extend their visa. For these clients, we’ve been recommending a tourist visa, which gives them time to determine what their next step will be.”
“We spend a lot of our time thinking about how we can help clients remain on a valid visa until all of this is over. We’ve had to think outside the square,” said Amanda, “the Immigration Department has been very receptive to tourist visas for those who need to remain in Australia for longer than their current visa allows.”
“There are new visa types and changes being made quite rapidly that we quickly need to understand and apply to client situations.”
Beaches are are closed around Australia to combat the spread of the virus.
Having experienced SARS almost two decades earlier, Hong Kong has been on high alert for COVID-19 from the beginning. This has largely contributed to their ability to slow the outbreak.
“Residents are very cautious in Hong Kong,” explained Jenn Tang of AIMS Immigration, “everyone wears a mask, the elevator buttons are sanitised every 2 hours, very few people leave their house unless they have to. They have been well prepared from the beginning of the virus outbreak. Government authorities announced the closure of amusement parks, schools and high-speed rail as early as January 2020.”
“The borders are open in Hong Kong and only returning residents are allowed to enter but they have to go into a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival,” commented Jenn.
“New arrivals have to wear a tag on their hand that identifies them as being in quarantine,” said Jenn, “so it is very easy to spot people who are not abiding by the rules. Locals get very upset if they see someone who is supposed to be in quarantine out in the community and promptly report them to the authorities.”
“New returning residents will either be quarantined at a self-allocated residence or in designated quarantine centres, depending on where they are arriving from and if they have arranged their own accommodation.”
“A large number of imported COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong are from residents returning from the USA, Canada and the UK,” shared Jenn.
The strict social distancing rules and residents’ cautious behaviour have seen many businesses fight to survive in Hong Kong.
“Although the government has given some relief to residents, businesses have not received any monetary support,” explained Jenn, “with tourism non-existent and locals restricting their shopping, many businesses are struggling.”
Handrails and elevator buttons are regularly sanitised in Hong Kong.
Widely praised as a nation that has largely contained the spread of the virus, Singapore has seen a resurgence in cases over the last few weeks. This has prompted the government to enforce tighter border control and strict quarantine and self-isolation rules.
“Currently, virtually no non-residents can enter Singapore,” explained Jenn, “the only Work Pass holders that can enter are those that work in healthcare and transport through submission of approval by the Singaporean government prior to arrival. Work pass holders in other industries can submit an approval request to enter the country, but it is subjected to the discretion of the Singaporean authorities whether to approve or reject the request for entry.”
Work Pass holders who are granted access to enter Singapore will have to serve a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.
Singapore has among the toughest enforcement practices of the mandatory quarantine and self-isolation rules.
“The government is very tough on quarantine and self-isolation,” commented Jenn, “they spot check on a daily basis by requesting location links, random calls, sms or home visits and those caught breaking quarantine or self-isolation are faced with heavy penalties.”
“Citizens are stripped of their passports, and permanent residency is revoked for those that do not abide by the rules.”
“Work Pass holders that breach the requirements, have their passes revoked and are permanently banned from working in Singapore. Their employer’s work pass privileges are also suspended for between one to three years, ” shared Jenn.
Singapore has released a care package to assist local residents and businesses through the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
“Businesses and residents are feeling the retraction of business activities especially after the announcement made by the Singaporean Government to close all non-essential businesses from operating on-site,” said Jenn.
“Singapore’s total confirmed cases continue to rise with new clusters identified in the past week.”
“To combat the spread, the Singaporean Government imposed a mandatory rule on 15th April 2020 that requires anyone who leaves their residence to wear a mask or face a fine of S$300 for the first offence and S$1,000 for repeat offenders,” concluded Jenn.
People are discouraged from sitting on public benches in Singapore.
“The recent rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Malaysia is believed to have been a result of an organised religious mass gathering in the capital,” shared Jenn.
“The gathering of more than 13,000 people from Malaysia, as well as neighbouring countries, included participants who were carrying the virus undiagnosed.”
As of 18th March 2020, The Malaysian Government has activated the Movement Control Order (MCO) measure in a hope to control the widespread epidemic within the nation. This MCO is still in place and has been scheduled to be lifted on 28th April 2020 if authorities decide no further extension is required.
“Malaysia is in complete lockdown until April 28, and no one knows if it will be extended again,” explained Jenn, “At this point, only Malaysians and Malaysian permanent residents are allowed to return to Malaysia but they are required to be in mandatory quarantine for 14 days.”
“Among the restrictions, motor-vehicles on the road are required to have only one person except in emergency cases, and they are not allowed to travel more than 10km from their registered residential address.”
“Thanks to the increased efforts of the Malaysian Health Board to contain the spread, certain Malaysian states have seen effectively no new cases in recent days” said Jenn.
“The Malaysian immigration authorities have been closed during the lockdown,” Jenn continued, “there could potentially be a large backlog of visa approvals required once the country lifts the MCO which would cause big delays once they reopen for processing.”
New Zealand has been in a state of civil emergency where level 4 lockdown restrictions have been in force since 25th March 2020. The borders have been closed to everyone apart from citizens, Residence Visa Holders, essential foreign workers and those who meet the government’s threshold of exceptional circumstance. The population can only leave their homes for essentials and only essential workers are permitted to work outside their home.
“Inbound migration has essentially stopped,” commented Lukas Sousa from Malcolm Pacific Immigration, our Visa & Immigration E-Team member in Auckland, “that side of our business has seen a downturn, but we also work with corporate immigration – those companies that highly depend on a skilled migrant workforce who are already in New Zealand.”
“When the lockdown first happened we were inundated with calls from our clients with questions about how they can maintain their foreign workers during and after the lockdown,” explained Lukas, “we have been working with them on strategies on how they can keep their employees or how wider business decisions, reduction in pay, reduction in hours or redundancies, may affect the visa holder.”
“While visas can still be lodged electronically, New Zealand Immigration has effectively shut down and only visas for essential workers are being processed,” said Lukas, “there is a lot of uncertainty for both employers and migrant employees at this time.”
“From an employee perspective, the biggest issue is for those employees who are employed on a ‘employer specific visa’ which states they can perform a role for a specified employer. If that employer makes them redundant, then they would have to find another job and employer willing to support them through the immigration process” explained Lukas.
“The other consideration after the lockdown ends, unemployment rates are expected to increase meaning employers will need to ensure they have made genuine efforts to recruit locals before considering migrant workers,” continued Lukas, “so even if a foreign worker presents the exact skill set required to perform a role, an employer would need to advertise and build a compelling case to demonstrate they cannot recruit these skills in New Zealand.”
“From an employer perspective, the government is providing wage subsidies so employers can retain as many employees as possible during and for weeks following the lockdown,” commented Lukas, “we are largely working with these employers to ensure they can retain their employees, get through the lockdown and resume trading.”
For Heartland Immigration, our Visa & Immigration E-Team member in Christchurch the experience has been a little different.
Mary Noonan explained, “the lockdown has had a considerable effect on our business, but it won’t last forever.”
“We are still working with clients who are preparing to move to New Zealand once the restrictions are eased” stated Mary.
“We work with skilled migrants mostly, and after the lockdown we don’t expect the demand for employers to find qualified skilled staff to drop.”
“The criteria to enter New Zealand is likely to become tighter and more complicated – this is where our services will be needed to secure the visas,” continued Mary.
“I think at the moment everyone is at a standstill waiting to see what happens,” added Mary, “our prediction is that the demand to move permanently to New Zealand will increase after this crisis, particularly as migrants see how we have handled the situation.”
A deserted Auckland during the level 4 lockdown restrictions.
What does the future hold…
There is no denying that COVID-19 has created a lot of confusion and uncertainty around the world.
“The last few months have become interesting times,” commented John Marcarian, Founder of the Expatland Global Network, “we’ve seen unprecedented shutdowns of nations around the world.”
“But COVID-19 will pass and although expat movement may be subdued for some time and the expat destinations change, movement of expats will resume.”
John continued, “our focus during this time, as nations battle the virus and the world recovers from COVID-19, will be to support our E-Team members and grow our capabilities so we are ready as a network when the movement of migrants resumes.”
“Many of these expats, like in the past, will have limited support in moving and settling into their new home cities,” stated John, “they will have to find service providers to assist them quickly without knowing their capabilities or reputation.”
“Our E-Teams are perfectly positioned to provide the support and expertise they will need” concluded John.
Expanding our network
We are always looking for proactive businesses who work with expats to join our network. If you work with such a business or know a business that would be interested in joining our network, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.