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INSIGHT: The Impact of Rising Unemployment on Global Business Immigration

July 1, 2020, 8:00 AM

It is crucial for multi-national companies who rely on foreign talent as a significant part of their workforce to devise a long-term strategy to survive the dampening effect of the Covid-19 pandemic to the global economy.

The key to successfully retaining and hiring foreign talent is to stay cognizant of the emerging post-Covid trends in the global immigration landscape, and to develop creative strategies to counter the limitations on business immigration.

Current Climate of Global Business Immigration

Three months into “worldwide quarantine” may be too early to grasp the lasting changes Covid-19 will cause in global mobility, but we can already see common themes surfacing that will certainly have a chilling effect on companies seeking to sponsor foreign talent in major business hubs around the globe.

Even for countries where the general attitude remains pro-immigrant and overall welcoming of foreign talent, several limiting factors are making it impractical for companies to complete the proper immigration procedures in a timely manner. This makes internal planning to fill skills gaps in the business more challenging.

Some of these practical challenges have included:

  • Inbound travel bans and entry restrictions by a majority of countries on residents or nationals of other countries;
  • Pre-entry clearance requirements and clearing the “essential worker” bar (Singapore, Canada);
  • Delays in processing time for immigration/work permit applications (Australia, Canada);
  • Closure or limited servicing at biometric centers and consulates for visa applications (United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Netherlands, Japan); and
  • Refusal of work permit applications for foreign national talent currently not located in the country (Singapore).


The flip side to this is that despite the challenges with hiring foreign talent located outside of the country, there is an emerging pattern of governments taking measures to ease the hiring and retention of foreign national talent already present in the country.

  • New policies are being introduced in countries allowing furloughing and stand down schemes of foreign nationals in an effort to reduce unemployment rates (United Kingdom, Australia). As a further measure, allowance of temporary part-time work is also permitted (Canada, Australia, China, Germany);
  • Continuous processing of new work permit applications for foreign nationals located in the country is proceeding as normal (Singapore, Ireland, United Arab Emirates);
  • Allowing foreign nationals to begin employment or switch employers in-country without completing formal immigration procedures such as biometrics or even before receiving an official work permit approval (United Kingdom, Singapore);
  • Permitting in-country change of status and extension of expiring visas for immigration procedures that usually require the applicant to leave the country (Ireland, United Kingdom, France);
  • Permitting telecommuting/remote work for employees who were previously not permitted to work from alternative locations (Ireland, United Kingdom, Philippines); and
  • Governments have introduced various support schemes and rescue packages to help companies retain, retrain, upskill and reskill their employees in order to save jobs (Singapore, Canada).

Changes to Expect in the Short Term

While formal immigration policy for some countries may remain unchanged in the near future, companies can expect a shift in the following discretionary areas of the business immigration process. These include:

  • Increased scrutiny of certain roles (“soft skills” roles such as business development, marketing, and sales may become more challenging to sponsor versus engineering or IT roles);
  • Stricter application of requirements for eligibility such as qualification of specialized knowledge criteria for intra-company transfer roles;
  • Increased scrutiny of the recruitment process (job posting details and fair consideration of local talent);
  • Increase in scrutiny of applications based on the industry of the sponsoring company (technology/IT company sponsored applications may receive less scrutiny than those in other industries);
  • Advances made in remote work capabilities may lead to a decrease in the need to move talent across borders; and
  • Difficulty in obtaining work permit approval for vacancies for a role with redundancies in the previous 6 months to a year.

Recommendations for Strategic Long-Term Planning

To build a solid argument for ongoing sponsorship of foreign talent or to obtain exemptions for their work permit/visa holders, it is advisable for companies to collect and report the following data in the coming months:

  • Track recruitment efforts and solidify strategy to hire local talent. Consider advertising all vacancies, even those that may qualify for a labor market test exemption, to make a strong argument that all efforts were made to source local talent;
  • Track and highlight data of shortages in the local labor market for certain occupation/skills;
  • Focus on sponsorship of roles requiring technical skills (engineering/IT), higher salaries, highly specialized skill set, senior level experience, and areas where there is a shortage of local talent;
  • Invest in training and grooming of local talent, including graduates of local universities to establish company as an integral part of the local economy; and
  • Establish a comprehensive support plan for new hires and returning foreign national employees to comply with the quarantine guidelines of the country. Include this support plan with work permit applications.

While these general trends highlight the current economic consequences of Covid-19, the circumstances remain fluid, especially now, as governments have started phased reopening of their countries. It is advisable to monitor closely and consult with immigration counsel regarding further immigration and employment regulations that may be announced in the near future.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

Author Information

Zara Najam is a senior attorney at Erickson Immigration Group. She specializes in corporate global immigration including advising international companies on immigration strategy & program development, securing proper immigration status for employees on overseas assignments, and providing country-specific immigration compliance guidance.

Salman Cheema is a managing attorney at Erickson Immigration Group in the Global Practice group. Cheema’s focus is in assisting multinational organizations develop an immigration strategy to hire and retain elite talent around the world.

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