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The Visa Dilemma Facing Many Expats

While COVID-19 numbers are continuing to rise and many countries are still in lockdown, Governments have started to adjust their future migration and travel policies. 

Russia is planning to “cut visa red tape” – to ease visa procedures for foreigners and in parallel has announced simplified Russian citizenship approval rules for many applicant categories. On the contrary, the USA has shut down its borders and announced that it will temporarily suspend approval of green cards this year except for health workers or for those who have close relatives in the USA.

Meanwhile, Governments around the world are trying to address and resolve the questions that expats face amid the lockdowns and travel restrictions. The two key issues expats are facing are extensions to their visa and issues arising if their employer ceases their employment.

1. Visa extensions for those within the country

With borders closing, often with very little notice, many expats had very little time to plan whether to stay where they were or return home. With lockdowns in place, many immigration authorities are not operating at all or functioning at a diminished capacity.  In some countries, for example in the UK, special commissions have been formed to deal with expats whose visas are expiring to make sure that they can remain in the country they are in legally and until they plan their next move. 

With COVID-19 classified as a force-majeure, immigration assistance is usually handled through a set of simplified procedures, often available online and free of charge.  For example, in the UK, one can request a visa extension through a Coronavirus Immigration Team website. In China, the visa will be automatically extended for two months. In South Africa, one can re-apply for the same type of visa and have it extended up to 31 July 2020. In Australia, Immigration offices are assisting expats with issuing short-term tourist visas to make the overstay valid.

2. Coping with redundancy on an employer-linked visa

With a sharp drop in revenue, many businesses are struggling to survive and have to cut employees, including expats on an employer-linked visa. In New Zealand, the government is providing wage subsidies to employers so that they can retain as many employees as possible during and for weeks following the lockdown. 

However, if an expat has been made redundant, with the increase of unemployment after the lockdown, they would be struggling to find a new position to extend their visa. 

In Australia, the government is creating new visa types to assist those expats that have been left without a job due to the shutdowns, to find a new position in industries that have a workforce shortage.

Demand for expats in post COVID-19 world

Given the speed with which COVID-19 has ravaged the world – Governments have had to move quickly. With many increasingly looking to safeguard the health and livelihoods of their own citizens and permanent residents, the expat population in many cases was not top of mind.

As the situation progresses and as countries regain some control over the virus, issues such as visa and immigration will become more of a focus for governments  – providing some certainty to expats. 

It is already becoming clearer that the dislocation caused by Covid 19 will dramatically shift global supply chains in a wide variety of industries. 

The silver lining for expats is that as some countries look to boost their own internal capabilities – more expats will be needed across a range of industries. 

Countries that were comfortable importing key strategic goods and services will now need to develop an in-house capability and attract foreign labour to develop these domestic industries.

That could mean more movement in Expatland in the years to come.