Global Immigration Update: China Eases Residence Criteria; Canada Announces Express Entry; More

By Elaine Martin Apr 25, 2014

New Measures in China Ease Residence Criteria for Top Foreign Talent

Highly skilled foreign workers in China may soon have an easier time obtaining a residence permit.

According to a report from China Daily, Zhang Jianguo, head of the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA), has led efforts to ease the residence permit application process for top foreign talent. He hopes that a simpler and faster process will encourage the target group to spend more time in China.

“[The goal] is to provide more swift and convenient service for those foreign high-end talents to settle down permanently in China for career and investment,” Zhang said.

He noted that the current process for obtaining permanent residence in the country is complicated, and that removing some of the hurdles could help with China’s economic and social development. As a result, he has begun to coordinate efforts between multiple state departments to speed up processing times. Within the foreign talent population, Zhang hopes to attract top professionals in the pollution treatment and environmental protection industries.

Cleaning Up the System

Zhang’s focus on the environmental protection industry stems from subpar waste processing practices in China.

“For example, China’s low-level trash disposal has left pollution problems, but in some developed countries such as Germany, trash can be recycled as a resource to generate electricity, turning itself into a profitable industry,” he said. “We can learn from them the advanced technology and mechanism.”

He also noted that China will soon implement environmental regulations that would push for more clean energy development and pollution control, presenting prospects for professionals and companies in those areas. Zhang foresees a large overhaul of the country’s industrial sector as a result, and a large need for talent to drive that change.

Not Enough Hands

For some time, China has not had enough specialists, which has driven the push for insourcing foreign professionals. However, only 6,000 expatriates have been granted permanent residence permits since the government began offering them in 2004. Additionally, the standards for receiving such permits were high in some cases—for instance, businesspeople had to invest $500,000 in the country. Consideration has also been greater for spouses of Chinese nationals, individuals deemed as having vital skills and technical personnel such as managers. Last year, for instance, Chinese immigration officials expanded their efforts to include an R visa available to foreign professionals with in-demand skills. Zhang said that the administration is making moves to ensure that foreign specialists who want to start a career in the country have an easy time obtaining an R visa. Additionally, a plan is underway to offer additional perks for expats to make their work and personal lives more convenient.

A Talent Disparity

Zhang hopes that his plan will put China on par with other countries offering residence to foreign specialists. Data from SAFEA showed that about 613,000 expat professionals came to work in China last year, and more than 60 percent of them worked in the mainland for more than three months.

Despite those encouraging figures, few are granted permanent residence. In 2012, for example, only 1,202 expats obtained residence, compared to 148,000 Chinese nationals who were granted citizenship abroad. SAFEA has been in contact with numerous foreign agencies to advertise China’s need for specialists, and it hopes to fill the talent gap through its networking efforts. So far, the administration has worked with more than 300 institutions from 60 countries.

Canada Announces Express Entry Program

The Canada Citizenship and Immigration Ministry (CIC) recently announced a new process for permanent residence applications.

Chris Alexander, Citizenship and Immigration minister, said that the new program would be called Express Entry—formerly known as Expression of Interest—and is scheduled to launch in January 2015. Immigration officials hope that the program will streamline the recruitment of top international talent to meet Canada’s labor and economic demands.

“Express Entry promises to be a game-changer for Canadian immigration and Canada’s economy,” Alexander said. “It will revolutionize the way we attract skilled immigrants, and get them working here faster. Our government is actively engaged with our provincial and territorial partners, and with employers, to make January’s launch of Express Entry a success.”

Rather than recruiting based on the order in which applications are received, the new system will approve applications based on evaluations of the applicants’ skills and whether those skills are in demand in Canada. Additionally, applications can be processed at a faster rate, lowering the chances of backlog. The CIC plans to have processing times of six months or less for qualified applicants. This is a noticeable improvement compared to current processing times, which can range from 10 to 30 months in some cases.

There will be four key economic categories for Express Entry: the Federal Skilled Trades Program, Federal Skilled Worker Program, Canadian Experience Class and the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). Candidates who receive a nomination or valid job offer via the PNP will be given the opportunity to apply for permanent residence. Furthermore, each of the categories have separate quotas and application requirements.

Unlike the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which functions to fill temporary skills and labor shortages, Express Entry will target long-term labor shortages. This goal is particularly important for addressing Canada’s regional labor shortages, as the new program will allow for faster response to those shortages and greater flexibility for applicants.

As part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2014 and steps to ensure smooth program implementation, $14 million will be invested over two years and there will be $4.7 million invested on an ongoing basis. Additionally, the Canadian government has introduced a new job bank to aid in pairing Express Entry candidates and employers more efficiently.

Singapore Employment Pass Categories Consolidated

Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has simplified the country’s Employment Pass categories.

Rather than having the P1, P2 and Q1 passes, all three have been consolidated into a single category. The qualification standard—a minimum fixed monthly salary of SGD $3,300 (about $26,000)—will be unchanged, and the regulations regarding initial and renewal applications will remain the same.

The creation of a single Employment Pass has led to additional changes for family sponsorship, as each of the original passes had separate regulations on this matter. Employees who earn at least SGD $4,000 are allowed to sponsor their spouse and children for a dependent pass. Unmarried partners and stepchildren can be sponsored for long-term visit passes. Employees with a monthly salary of SGD $8,000 have the same sponsorship abilities, and they can sponsor parents for long-term visit passes.

The MOM has noted that the Personalized Employment Pass, S Pass and Entrepass will not be affected by the changes or have their own respective updates. As a result, high-skilled, self-sponsored individuals; mid-level foreign employees earning at least SGD $2,200 per month; and entrepreneurs, respectively, are unaffected by the administrative change.

Minimum Salary Requirement Increased for Blue Card Holders in Belgium

The minimum salary requirement for European Blue Card holders in Belgium has been raised.

Blue Card holders—who are allowed to be employed in Belgium without a work permit—must now earn at least €50,974 (about $70,201) each year. This is a 2 percent increase from the previous threshold of €49,995. Initial and renewal Blue Card applications that do not meet the requirement will be rejected.

Employers who plan to transfer workers to Belgium via a Blue Card should plan for higher costs in their corporate budget, as the minimum salary increase will likely impact their hiring strategy for foreign employees.

Blue cards for Belgium first became available to workers outside the European economic area in September 2012. The recent policy update for the salary threshold is the first to occur since then, and future adjustments are scheduled to occur annually based on a formula first published in the Belgian Official Journal in January 2014. Belgium’s Federal Public Service of Employment and Labor is responsible for reviewing the requirement each year.

Immigration Rule Changes in U.K. Take Effect

The U.K. Home Office has announced a number of immigration changes, most of which took effect April 6, 2014.

In his written ministerial statement, immigration minister James Brokenshire said that the changes were being made to “improve flexibility for applicants and help to boost economic growth.”

Notable changes include:

  • Closure of the Tier 1 (General) category for extension applications on April 6, 2015, and for settlement applications on April 6, 2018. In practice, this means that current Tier 1 migrants must ensure they will be able to qualify for indefinite leave-to-remain by April 5, 2018, or switch immigration categories before then.
  • From April 6, 2014, Tier 2 applicants may be granted visas for up to five years, rather than the present three years.
  • Additionally, from July 1, 2014, there will be increases to the maintenance fund requirements for main applicants and their dependents across all tiers. The maintenance requirement for Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) migrants will increase from £900 to £945 and from £600 to £630 for dependents. Although the changes don’t take effect until July 1, applicants need to prepare now because applicants must typically hold the maintenance funds for 90 consecutive days before application.
  • The Home Office announced fee increases of 4 percent for most immigration applications. The increases took effect April 6, 2014.

Elaine Martin is director, Immigration Services for Paragon GeoImmigration, a provider of global business immigration services in more than 150 countries.

Republished with permission. © 2014 Paragon GeoImmigration.

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