US, Mexican, and Canadian leaders have reached an agreement on a new trade deal, the US- Mexico-Canada Agreement ("USMCA"). The new agreement, if approved by Congress, would replace the current trade deal that has been in effect since 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement ("NAFTA"). While the new agreement introduces several changes—including allowing Mexican workers to join labor unions, protecting workers from unsafe work conditions, and increasing efforts to curb discrimination against women in the workforce, and no longer allowing Canadian businesses to challenge US government policies—the agreement provides very few changes to the immigration provisions under NAFTA. Importantly, the TN category will remain in place for qualifying Mexican and Canadian nationals.
Singapore Testing New Electronic Arrival Card for Foreign Visitors
The Singapore Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (“ICA”) recently started a three-month trial of an electronic arrival card for foreign nationals visiting Singapore, whether for business or tourism. Foreign nationals can submit their personal information through the ICA website prior to arriving in Singapore, thereby omitting the need to complete a paper disembarkation/embarkation card, which foreign nationals have been required to complete upon arrival in Singapore. Foreign nationals traveling with their families or as a small group may have the option of completing a group submission. In addition, individual data will be saved for future visits to Singapore. Singapore citizens, permanent residents, and employment pass holders are not required to complete an arrival card. It is believed that the new electronic arrival card system will make the process of entering Singapore more efficient for foreign nationals.
Thai Government Eases Requirements to Hire Foreign Nationals into Certain Positions
The Thai Board of Investment (“BOI”) recently announced that all BOI-registered companies can continue to sponsor qualifying foreign nationals for an approved position without having to first apply for a pre-position approval as long as the employer does the following: files an application to cancel the work visa and work permit for the outgoing foreign national employee more than 90 days before the position expires in the Single Window System. This change is to help facilitate the mobility of employees by allowing employers to bypass the initial step of applying for a pre-position approval.
However, the replacement employee’s work visa and work permit will only be valid for the same period as the previous position. In instances where the work visa and work permit are canceled with less than 90 days validity of an approved position, the Single Window System will automatically cancel the position. When this occurs, employers must file a new pre-position approval application, which takes approximately three weeks to process.
Smart Borders System Proposed for Schengen Area
The European Commission recently announced its proposal for a “smart borders” system for foreign nationals traveling within the Schengen area. The new system would provide electronic tracking of non-EU nationals traveling within the Schengen area, an electronic pre-authorization system for citizens of visa waiver countries, and stricter border checks within the EU territory. Specifically, the following changes have been proposed:
- The implementation of an entry-exit tracking system to ensure that foreign nationals do not exceed the permitted period of stay for 90 days in any 180-day period. The new system would scan passports and fingerprints to track the dates foreign nationals enter and leave the European Union. Individuals who overstay the allotted 90-day period may be subject to sanctions or barred from entry into the Schengen territory altogether.
- A registered travelers program designed to automate border checks and significantly reduce the amount of time needed to screen foreign nationals seeking entry into the Schengen area.
- Prescreening and registration of citizens of visa waiver countries through the European Travel Information and Authorization System (“ETIAS”).
To move forward with the Smart Borders system, the European Commission, Parliament, and Council would need to agree to all terms of the program.
Portuguese Government Streamlines Immigration Processes
Effective October 1, 2018, the Portuguese Foreign Affairs Ministry adopted Regulatory Decree no. 9/2018, which attempts to simplify and digitize visa application and residence permit procedures. Along with the amended law, the government has also implemented a new visa information portal where foreign nationals can file visa applications, schedule appointments to have biometric data captured, apply for new and extended residence permits, and schedule appointments to retrieve residence permits. In addition, native Portuguese speakers can apply online for student visas and are waived from the interview requirement. In addition to making the application process more convenient, the online system should also reduce the processing time for these applications.
Theresa May Announces Immigration Policy Plans for EU Nationals After Brexit
On October 1, 2018, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the United Kingdom will not continue to give EU nationals preferential immigration treatment after Brexit. The UK government will decide what the immigration requirements are for EU nationals. Speculation on whether Britain will adopt “US-style” visas for travel and work has been considered, and May herself has indicated that waivers of visa requirements may continue on a reciprocal basis with countries (or regions) with which Britain agrees to these requirements.
Beginning in 2021, EU nationals will need to apply for formal admission requirements in advance of living or working in the United Kingdom and may also face visa or pre-registration requirements. What these requirements will ultimately translate to will depend on continued negotiations and the input of key business sectors and stakeholders such as the UK Migration Advisory Committee.
In the interim, the UK government has confirmed its commitment that all of the nearly 3 million EU immigrants currently living in Britain can remain even if the United Kingdom leaves the EU bloc with no agreement in place. It includes citizens’ rights protections for EU nationals who are resident in Britain as late as December 31, 2020, provided they register for Indefinite Leave to Remain (settled status) or Leave to Remain (pre-settled status) by June 2021.