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EIG Week in Review (July 25, 2014)

July 25, 2014

Highlights

  • New Biometrics Requirements for Children Applying for UK Visas
  • State Department Global Database Crashes
  • Dual Irish-UK Visa Coming Soon for Short-Term Visitors 
  • Australia Permanently Extends SmartGate Program to Singaporean Nationals
  • Belgium Lessens Immigration Requirements for Volunteer Workers and IT Specialists

New Biometrics Requirements for Children Applying for UK Visas

The United Kingdom is implementing new biometrics requirements for visa applicants under 5 years old.  Prior to this change, children under 5 years were not required to provide biometrics at the visa application centre (VAC) for entry clearance applications.  Pursuant to the new requirement, all applicants for entry clearance, regardless of age, must make an appointment with the VAC to obtain a digital photograph; however, applicants under the age of 5 are still exempt from submitting fingerprints.

This new rule applies to all UK visa applications and was instituted earlier this month for applicants in Canada as well as several countries in Asia and the Middle East.  The requirement has not yet been implemented in the U.S., but it is anticipated that it will take effect later this year once the biometrics equipment has been put into place at UK Consulates in the U.S.

State Department Global Database Crashes

As reported yesterday, the U.S. State Department’s global database for issuing travel documents has crashed, potentially affecting millions of people worldwide. Individuals with pending applications for U.S. travel documents, such as visas and passports, should expect major delays as a result of a system malfunction.

The system glitches are causing significant performance issues, including outages, in the processing of applications for passports, visas, and reports of Americans born abroad.  The issues are not specific to any particular country, document, or visa category and are occurring across the globe.  Consequently, the database is experiencing an extensive backlog of applications, which is also affecting the ability to fully restore the system.

In light of the database outage, individuals planning international travel should account for additional time in the processing and issuance of U.S. travel documents and plan their travel accordingly.  EIG is closely monitoring the situation and will provide further updates as they become available.

Dual Irish-UK Visa Coming Soon for Short-Term Visitors

Beginning Fall 2014, Chinese and Indian business visitors and tourists traveling to Ireland and the UK will be able to obtain a single short-stay visa, issued by either country, which will be acceptable for travel to both locations.  Currently, travelers are required to obtain two separate visas, one from each country, in order to visit Ireland and the UK.

At this time, neither the Irish Naturalization and Immigration Services nor the UK Home Office have announced a specific date for when this new program will take effect.  In Ireland, the new policy will replace the Short-Stay Visa Waiver Program.

Although the program will only initially be available to Chinese and Indian nationals, it is anticipated that it will be extended to nationals of other countries at a later date.

Australia Permanently Extends SmartGate Program to Singaporean Nationals

At the beginning of this year, we reported that Australia extended eligibility for SmartGate (a self-processing passport control system) to Singaporean nationals with an ePassport.  After a successful trial period for this program, Australia has announced that it will make SmartGate permanently available to Singaporean nationals who are 16 years or older with an ePassport.  The program will allow eligible participants to bypass immigration lines requiring a meeting with a border control officer and can instead self-process through passport controls.

SmartGate is also available to Australian, New Zealand, U.S., and UK citizens on a permanent basis and to Swiss electronic passport holders under trial arrangements.  Dubai has also implemented the SmartGate program to UAE citizens and residents, GCC nationals, and passport holders from pre-approved countries.

Belgium Lessens Immigration Requirements for IT Specialists and Volunteer Workers

Belgian immigration authorities announced recent changes to employment-based immigration requirements that will benefit foreign nationals in the non-profit and IT fields:

IT Specialists

Foreign national IT Specialists are now eligible for B Work Permits for Specialized Technicians in Belgium. The B Work Permit allows foreign entities to send employees to Belgium for up to six months to install or repair machinery or equipment that is produced, supplied, or designed by the entity abroad. In addition to the installation and repair of machinery and equipment, the work permit can also be utilized to install or repair software.

B Work Permits for Specialized Technicians are exempt from the annual immigration salary threshold of €39,422 that otherwise applies to standard work permits used by highly-skilled foreign workers.  However, these work permit holders are still subject to the minimum salary requirements for the IT sector, which amounts to half of the general salary threshold.  The permits are further exempt from standard work permit educational or labor market test requirements.

Volunteer Workers

Foreign nationals legally residing in Belgium may now work as volunteers without having to obtain work permits.  In order for foreign nationals to conduct volunteer work without a work permit, they must legally reside in Belgium or hold a valid Belgian residence permit, and the work must meet the following criteria:

  • The unpaid, voluntary work must be for society as a whole, a group, a nonprofit organization, or one or more persons other than the volunteer.
  • The work must not be organized by the volunteer’s family or personal circle.
  • The volunteer may not perform the same work for the same organization under an employment contract, service contract, or a civil service appointment.

It should be noted that the volunteer work itself does not provide or constitute grounds for obtaining residency in Belgium; thus, foreign nationals must have already obtained legal residency rights in order to volunteer without a work permit.