How is Covid-19 affecting business immigration in Europe?

Written on 18 May 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit countries at different times and with differing impacts, so each country has had to deal with slightly different issues. Unlike the UK, mainland Europe has a large number of land borders which itself raises difficulties in containment.

Within the Schengen Area, travel restrictions have been imposed. A temporary Schengen entry ban was announced on 17 March 2020 by the EU to limit the transmission of Covid-19. The EU Commission issued recommendations concerning the travel ban with temporary travel restrictions apply to all non-essential travels from third countries to the EU+ EEA (exceptions applying mainly to EU/EEA nationals and Schengen visa nationals). The UK by contrast has not restricted travel, save for the UK government advising against all but essential travel.

Non-essential travel restricted for extra-Schengen nationals until 15 May 2020 across much of Europe and may be extended. Also in most territories, no new visa applications can be submitted and those already submitted, processing continues but freeze on visa issuance. Where a visa was issued before the travel ban, the recommendation is to postpone travel. Most countries are managing to still process applications albeit working remotely which has an obvious impact on service levels – as well as access to relevant information.

As anticipated, exceptions always apply but to date these have been for applications that will have a real and immediate impact in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic itself of other seriously business critical event. In addition, because travel is largely prohibited, governments are conscious that some people are unable to leave or enter a country – it is not a choice. Therefore, staying in a country beyond the expiry of a visa or not being able to return to a country to extend a visa etc. are common scenarios they are addressing without prejudicing future visa applications.

What about approved applications and then effecting a change of employment? Most work visas are specific to a particular role and employer and changes need to be approved and that permission checked by the employer. Remote working was becoming more common prior to the pandemic and is obviously the new-normal now. Governments have therefore accepted that the previous requirements for having a fixed "office" working address and checking original documents prior to commencement of employment are currently not viable. Therefore, concessions have been brought in to make working as practical as possible with the general overall aim being to protect jobs and economies. Redundancies are an absolute last resort as countries and companies need to be able to scale up.

Most diplomatic missions abroad have closed or work restricted. Aside from delays to processing current applications, it is also expected that backlogs will occur when centres are reopened – therefore travel planning does need to be even more carefully considered. It has to be anticipated that countries will come out of lockdown at different times and will ease restrictions at different rates. Companies may therefore want to consider moving employees to certain territories first with an aim of providing a regional support function as opposed to country specific. This would naturally mean taking advice on immigration, employment and tax issues, so please do get in touch to explore these options.