Dubai: With COVID-19 disrupting systems across the world, how does the pandemic reset your plans for migrating to a new country? Gulf News spoke with experts in the field of skilled and investment based immigration to find out how candidates interested in moving to a new country for permanent residence and citizenship need to reassess their timeline, factoring in delays.
Travel restrictions, lockdowns
With air travel being partially or fully suspended by various countries in the world, if you have already received an invite from your country of interest for permanent residency, you may need to budget in four to six month delays in travelling.
Canada, which issued 110,000 permanent residency invitations in 2019, has said that applicants should expect delays in processing during the COVID-19 period.
“We’re still accepting most permanent resident applications. Unfortunately, our ability to review and process them is being affected by COVID-19. We can’t currently estimate any processing times,” the Canadian government’s official website informed applicants.
Nofi Mojidi, a senior manager at Fragomen, an international immigration firm, said that while her company often covered the various aspects of migration with clients, based on the country’s jurisdiction and processes, COVID-19 had added another layer of complexity to the migration process.
“Now the environment has drastically changed because of the implications caused by COVID-19. While applicants still need to do their due diligence with each jurisdiction prior to signing up with an agent, timelines would be affected because so many processes have slowed down. Whether you are submitting the initial application or an authority is reviewing any piece of documentation, whatever timeline you may have had earlier, factor in an increase of six to nine months,” she said.
“Everyone is implementing entry restrictions. Quarantine and health screening measures have become widespread. Many countries have suspended non-essential services by their consulates and embassies, so residency by investment or skill-based migration would experience severe delays,” she added.
Now the environment has drastically changed because of the implications caused by COVID-19. While applicants still need to do their due diligence with each jurisdiction prior to signing up with an agent, timelines would be affected because so many processes have slowed down. Whether you are submitting the initial application or an authority is reviewing any piece of documentation, whatever timeline you may have had earlier, factor in an increase of six to nine months.
Apart from the current delays, migration patterns may also be affected by the impact COVID-19 has on each country’s economy and workforce. Mojidi, however, felt that the demand for investors and skill-based migration would continue to rise.
“If more individuals want to travel, landing jurisdictions may see the increase in demand to make their prices competitive, compared to other jurisdictions. Many countries may actually create new immigration opportunities. We have seen the United Kingdom revamping their immigration system after Brexit and many Caribbean countries revamping their programmes to drive in more tourists after the natural disasters in 2017, to rebuild their infrastructure,” she said.
The 2017 hurricane season was one of the worst on record seasons in the Caribbean, according to the World Meteorological Organisation, causing hundreds of casualties, destroying infrastructure and reversing socioeconomic development in the hardest hit territories including Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St Maarten and Puerto Rico.
“It is going to be similar with skilled migration, where countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand – which are the go to countries for skilled migration – create alternative solutions for the industry. They are still going to be rigorous with their immigration requirements, but they can further attract skilled talent by creating alternative solutions,” Mojidi said.
Time to upskill
Mojidi also added that with COVID-19 hitting the pause button on many ongoing plans, applicants could capitalise on the extra time to work on processes or skills to make their applications stronger.
“You may need to reach out to other countries to get fresh police clearance certificates, as they may have expired because of the delays. You can register for learning a new language skill, like French, which can help you get more points in applications to countries like Canada. When things are at a standstill because of aspects you cannot control, I would advise applicants to focus on things that they can control to improve their chances of successful migration,” she said.
Citizenship by investment
COVID-19 has also led to some changes for people wishing to apply for a second passport through investments. According to Imran Farooq, CEO of AAA Associates, while eligibility criteria have largely remained the same, certain details of classification of family members eligible for citizenship have changed from some Caribbean countries.
“We are seeing a change in trend, where while earlier people were keen on getting a second passport for reasons like ease of travel, but continue living in another country, they are now looking at citizenship in European countries where they would like to move to as well. Along these lines, interest in migrating to Spain and Portugal, for example, has seen an increase,” Farooq said.
He added that while people should expect delays, with many cases piling up because government functions are happening in full swing, the extra time has also given people time to rethink where they want to move.
“Recently, we have seen an increase by 35 per cent in submissions to Portugal. Similarly, Caribbean countries have also moved to accepting scanned copies of documents, where earlier you needed to submit physical documents,” he added.
We are seeing a change in trend, where while earlier people were keen on getting a second passport for reasons like ease of travel, but continue living in another country, they are now looking at citizenship in European countries where they would like to move to as well. Along these lines, interest in migrating to Spain and Portugal, for example, has seen an increase.
Farooq also shared recent developments by immigration departments of countries that have citizenship by investment programmes (CIPs):
Commonwealth of Dominica
Commonwealth of Dominica has recently introduced new changes on the CIPs investment and fee amounts along with the definition of dependents. The contribution for a family of four under the Economic Diversification fund is now US$175,000, down from US$200,000. The non-contribution fund for a married couple is now US$150,000, down from US$175,000. In addition, siblings may now be included in a contribution-option application for an additional contribution of either US$50,000 (for those aged 18-25) or US$25,000 for those aged 18 below.
Investors will now be able to qualify for Saint Lucia citizenship through the purchase of a fully refundable Government bond, called the COVID-19 Relief Bond. The minimum investment is US$250,000 without interest. This bond option is available for a limited time up to December 31, 2020.
The non-refundable contribution amount for a family of four in St. Kitts has been reduced to US$150,000 (from US$195,000). This is valid till December 31, 2020. The fee for single applicant still remains at US$150,000.
Portugal maintained proper precautionary measures against fighting the disease and has overcome the crisis. Amidst the lockdowns and travel restrictions, Portugal’s Golden Visa programme has significantly become popular and a lot of applicants are approved in the first months of the year.