Effect of COVID-19 on Migration Services in Europe

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, countries have been introducing states of emergency and implementing strict measures in a bid to contain the spread of the virus so as not to overwhelm health care systems. These measures have impacted migrant services all over the world especially in relation to the processing of work permits, residence permits and visa applications. This article shall compare the current situation in Malta with that of other member states.

Malta

Malta has been deemed a ‘model country’ in dealing with COVID-19 by the World Health Organization. The Maltese government has been implementing a number of measures in its endeavour to control the spread of the coronavirus.

In relation to expatriates, Identity Malta Agency issued a list of changes in the provision of services on the 16th of March. Most services will still continue operating, however, applications are to be submitted virtually. The Customer Care Desk is closed to the public but any queries can be communicated via email or telephone.

Third country nationals who need to renew their single permit or are changing their employment can liaise with their employer and submit their application online. Identity Malta is only accepting submissions in person in exceptional circumstances where online applications cannot be used. In order to obtain an interim permit extension, applicants should send a request via email.

Third country nationals who have been issued with an approval in principle and are physically present in Malta can only submit their residence permit application after the lapse of 14 days from their arrival in Malta.

New applications must also be submitted online, however, they can be submitted in person if it is not possible to use the online application and the third country national has not been abroad in the last 14 days. The only new applications being accepted are for highly skilled workers (Key Employee Initiative), health workers and workers in social care for the elderly and the disabled. Furthermore, Identity Malta will not be issuing decisions on applications submitted by persons who are still abroad.

Identity Malta Agency will advise the public when services will resume back to normal.

France

All services welcoming foreign nationals are closed indefinitely but measures have been implemented in order to safeguard the presence of foreigners who are already legally in France. By virtue of Ordinance No. 2020-328 of 25th March 2020, the validity of certain residence documents due to expire between the 16th of March and the 15th of May is to be extended by a period of 90 days. These documents being:

  •  Long-stay visas;
  •  Residence permits, whatever their nature, with the exception of special residence permits issued to foreign diplomatic and consular staff;
  • Provisional residence permits;
  • Asylum application certificates;
  • Receipts for residence permit applications.

Thus, the previously-mentioned Ordinance is by itself enough to extend the period of validity of any of the above documents. No additional or supplementary documents are required. The French authorities strongly recommend anyone benefitting from this extension not to leave the French territory as problems may be encountered when trying to re-enter. Furthermore, France has also indefinitely suspended the issuing of new residence permits and all types of visas.

Italy

Throughout the month of March, Italy became Europe’s worst-affected country. The Italian government imposed a nationwide lockdown on the 9th of March. Immigrant services, such as issuing of residence permits, have been suspended. However, a decree was issued on the 17th of March including measures applicable to foreign citizens residing and working in Italy.

The decree specifies that all certifications, permits, authorizations, concessions and qualifying documents who have an expiration date falling between the 31st of January and the 15th of April will remain valid until the 15th of June. This extension allows holders to submit an application for renewal after the 15th of June.

Spain

Spanish authorities have also implemented similar measures with the aim to protect the health of their citizens. All residency applications have been suspended until further notice with all related upcoming appointments cancelled. The below documentation may only be issued in urgent cases when a duly justified explanation and proof of such urgency has been presented to and accepted by the Directorate-General of the Police:

  • Invitation Letter;
  • Extension of short stay visa;
  • Extension of stay without visa;
  • Residency cards of EU citizens and non-EU citizens.

A Royal Decree was issued containing measures with regards to the suspension of deadlines, terms of prescription and expiration of immigration procedures in view of this exception period.

  •  Documents are still accepted if they have expired during this period;
  • The expiration of a third country national’s authorisation to stay in Spain is to be suspended if such individual is unable to return home due to COVID-19.

Germany

The Immigration Offices in Germany have closed and are working remotely, thus resulting in the suspension of certain services. For instance, applying for a residence title is a process which requires personal interviews and so this service has been discontinued until conditions improve.

Efforts are being made to send most of the documents by post in order to keep most services running whilst still safeguarding the citizens’ health.

In the case of any appointments which were supposed to be held at this time and cannot due to the closure of the Immigration Offices, alternative dates for a replacement appointment are being sent.

If an application to extend one’s residence title has been submitted prior to the expiration date of the title, the fiction of the continued validity of the residence title comes into effect by force of law upon submission. This also applies if the application is submitted informally. If the date of expiration is coming up and the application has not yet been submitted, one is encouraged to submit the application electronically in order to get a fiction certificate. This does not apply to Schengen visas. Once the Immigration Offices are reopened a new appointment date will be sent before the fiction certificate expires.

Sweden

In efforts to mitigate the transmission of the coronavirus, the Swedish government placed a 30-day entry restriction on foreigners coming from countries outside the EU, EEA or Switzerland.  This restriction applies to business visitors and holders of a visa, work permit or residence permit who are not already residing in Sweden. The Swedish government has warned that individuals with a newly-issued work permit or residence permit and those still pending a decision on their permit application may be unable to enter Sweden as planned.

Due to the partial border closures in place, the Swedish Migration Agency strongly recommends postponing the employment start date in Sweden, especially of any non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizens who will not be allowed to enter the country. Furthermore, if an individual who has been granted a Swedish work permit will not be able to arrive in the country within four months from the date of approval, the permit will be revoked.

In conclusion, it seems that the common position adopted by most member states is to provisionally terminate all services requiring face-to-face interaction. A transition to online services has been made where possible in order to keep most procedures going as normal, highlighting the importance of digital connectivity and working remotely in these dire times.

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