COVID-19: Travel Ban Extensions and a Few Rays of Hope

Global HR

​As we enter the third month of travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the initial panic in the U.S. and abroad has given way to significant economic concerns and lockdown fatigue. Around the world, many governments are allowing a cautious reopening of certain business sectors and some freedom for their citizens to leave their homes for limited purposes or periods. However, governments have been much slower to reopen borders to international travel. This article provides an updated overview of where the jurisdictions we previously addressed stand now in terms of easing travel restrictions, as well as projected reopenings. 

Travel Bans

Most countries still have significant travel restrictions, ranging from a simple screening required to enter to a total ban on entry and exit. Here are the types of travel bans and restrictions in common business-travel destinations.

Australia. Australia has retained its ban on entry for almost anyone who is not an Australian citizen, permanent resident or New Zealand citizen usually residing in Australia. Very narrow exceptions are made to allow temporary residents to return or travel to Australia for compelling (i.e., public-health projects/work) or compassionate reasons. Australian citizens and residents are still banned from traveling abroad without first obtaining a preapproval based on exceptional circumstances. To date, there has been no announcement about when these restrictions will be eased.

Canada. Canada currently has significant travel restrictions in place. Nonessential travel has been suspended, including nonessential travel across the U.S. border, until June 22. Canada continues to restrict entry of all foreign nationals except those who are foreign workers, international students, permanent residents and immediate family members of Canadian citizens. Consulates are processing new work visa applications on a limited basis, prioritizing applications for essential workers. However, most biometrics locations are closed; this means that unless applicants already have biometrics (fingerprints) on file with the consulate, they are not able to obtain a work visa, as visas cannot be issued without biometrics. The U.S.-Canada border remains closed to all nonessential (tourist or recreational) travel, and the common practice of “flagpoling,” or traveling to the border to apply for a work permit, is currently not allowed. 

China. Until further notice, China has extended its ban on the entry of foreign nationals. The ban includes those holding visas or residence permits. This means that foreign nationals normally residing in China, pursuant to a residence permit but temporarily abroad, are not allowed to return to China until the ban has been lifted. There are narrow exceptions: If employees are abroad and qualify for an exemption, they should be able to apply for a visa with the Chinese consulate that has jurisdiction over their place of stay. Starting March 26, consulates have been issuing visas only to those who are exempt from the ban, and most require that a preapproval from the Chinese government be submitted with the visa application. Preapprovals are proving to be quite difficult to obtain, and some consulates are closed altogether due to various stay-at-home and lockdown orders.

India. India has continued its near-total travel ban, regardless of citizenship or immigration status of the traveler, by continuing to ground all incoming commercial flights. Most of India’s land borders remain closed. India continues to work directly with other countries to arrange for very limited evacuation flights to repatriate foreign nationals when necessary.

Mexico. Mexico still has not implemented a general travel ban, but it has, in coordination with the U.S., closed the U.S.-Mexico land border until further notice. Air travel between the U.S. and Mexico remains possible. Mexico is also still abiding by its usual visa-waiver policy, whereby citizens of countries that would normally require a visa to enter are recognized under this visa-waiver policy if they hold a valid visa from Canada, Japan, the U.S., the United Kingdom or any of the Schengen Area member states.

Schengen Area (Europe). The 26 Schengen Area member states (most of continental Europe) have extended their partial ban on entry to the Schengen Area through June 15. All non-European Union (non-EU) citizens remain barred from entering the area for nonessential purposes. Citizens of the Schengen member states are still allowed to return home, as are long-term foreign national residents of the area, because returning home is considered essential. Family members of EU citizens are also still exempt from the ban, as are essential workers in the health care and transport sectors. 

United Kingdom (U.K.). The U.K. has continued to maintain open borders, declining to impose COVID-19-based travel restrictions. However, the country implemented a 14-day, mandatory quarantine requirement for all incoming air travelers.

Visa and Work Permit Expirations

Companies continue to grapple with work visa or permit expirations, given the closure of many government immigration offices. More countries have now provided for automatic extensions of visas and permits or developed special processes to facilitate extension applications. However, some countries have yet to address the significant number of foreign nationals whose visas and permits have expired and are thus considered to be illegally present in the country. As the immediate medical emergencies faced in these jurisdictions continue to improve, immigration officials might begin making arrangements for these employees.  

Australia. Australia has taken measures to preserve the validity of work visas in the face of temporary work stoppages and is allowing companies some flexibility to vary the terms of work.  However, the country still has not implemented automatic extensions for expiring visas. In addition, Australia has canceled the visas of those who are not currently eligible to enter the country under the travel ban. Measures to reinstate the visas will be taken later, once travel is again possible, but details of what these measures will be are not yet confirmed. In the interim, those with expiring visas should apply for an extension using the immigration authorities’ online system.

Canada. Canada has not provided for automatic visa extensions, but rather, it continues to accept and process in-country applications for extension of most visa and permit types. Applicants are generally considered to be in “implied” status, allowed to legally remain in Canada and continue working in their existing positions while their applications are pending. Canada has also implemented a special program for individuals already in the country who are applying for a work permit to work for a new employer: Applicants will be able to begin work in approximately 10 days, rather than be required to wait until their work permits are issued, which is currently taking more than three months. For both business visitors and assignees, applying in a timely manner to extend or change their status is crucial. 

For those currently outside Canada, Canadian consulates continue to operate in a reduced capacity and accept applications via the online application portal. However, as most applicants need to provide fingerprints for their visas to be issued, and most visa application centers for biometrics are currently closed, new visa applications cannot yet be finalized.

China. Following announcement of the travel ban, China automatically extended for a period of 60 days all short-term visas and work and residence permits that were due to expire on or after Jan. 20. There is no need to apply; the extension is granted automatically, and anyone who has overstayed the expiration date on a visa or permit during that period will not be counted as an overstay. However, the Chinese government has not provided further extensions or updates since announcing the initial 60-day extension, and for many, the 60-day extension has passed.

India. India previously provided that all foreign nationals currently in India with consular visas and e-visas that expired between Feb. 1 and April 29 would be granted visa extensions by the government in country to April 30, free of charge. The government has now provided that such visas will be extended to June 17. The foreign national must make an online application requesting the extension. In addition, foreign nationals whose visas have already expired will be granted exit permits to enable them to leave India without incurring a fine. Foreigner registration applications are being processed on a limited basis, and an appointment is required.

India temporarily suspended the validity of almost all visas for those outside India until May 17.  This period will likely be extended, depending on how the COVID-19 situation persists globally. When the visas are reinstated, it is still not clear whether the government will grant any sort of extension or if the employees will need to apply for new visa stamps or e-visas.

Mexico. Mexico’s immigration authorities remain open in a limited capacity and are accepting extension applications. It is important to apply for a visa or permit extension before the expiration, as no provisions have been made for automatic extensions or grace periods. 

Schengen Area. Pursuant to their national immigration laws and policies, countries within the Schengen Area are continuing to administer their own COVID-19 visa and permit extension policies. Some highlights include:

France. Government offices are operating at reduced capacity, and the processing of residence permits remains suspended. Residence permits, including long-stay visas, provisional residence permits and regular residence permits, that were due to expire between March 16 and May 15 have now been automatically extended for six months by decree. 

Germany. Government offices are operating with reduced staff who are working remotely. Residence permit applications are still being accepted remotely, as well (by mail, fax, website or e-mail, depending on the location) and are processed remotely (by mail, and no biometrics are being taken). Automatic extensions have still not been granted, so it is important to apply for an extension prior to the expiration date. In many instances, the employee will remain in implied legal status while awaiting the extension in country, as long as the extension application was filed before the expiration of the current visa or permit. 

U.K. The U.K. is automatically extending by one year the visas of doctors, nurses and paramedics working for the National Health Service (NHS) that are set to expire before Oct. 1, and no application or fee payment is required. For non-NHS workers whose visas have expired or will expire between Jan. 24 and May 31, visas were automatically extended to May 31 if they are unable to leave the U.K. due to COVID-19, and further extensions may be possible. The U.K. has also provided some flexibility regarding in-country change of status, working from home, reduced hours, and other instances when employers and employees are unable to fully comply with their normal visa terms due to COVID-19.

The U.K. has now made provisions for the extension of visas when the employee is abroad and was not able to travel back to the U.K. before the visa expired. The employee may apply with the U.K. Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre for a new 30-day visa, free of charge, until the end of 2020. 

Coping with Ongoing Global Immigration Challenges During COVID-19

It is important to continue to take stock of your employees’ immigration situations so that you can do what you can to preserve their legal status amid travel bans and governmental closures. It is also very important to have a complete census of your employees and their various immigration statuses so you can act quickly to remedy any expirations once consulates and immigration offices reopen. Reopening can come about suddenly, and there will likely be a flood of other companies and individuals clamoring for government officials’ limited time and attention. By being prepared and organized, not to mention relentless with follow up, you can help to ensure that your employees get the assistance they need, are able to correct any lapses in immigration status and get where they need to go as quickly as possible.   

Audrey Lustgarten is the founder and principal attorney of Lustgarten Global PLC, a law firm dedicated to representing companies in global (non-U.S.) immigration matters worldwide. She helps U.S. companies procure appropriate employment visas, work permits, residence permits and business visas so their employees can legally travel internationally to conduct business around the world.

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