U.S. Ambassador to India Announces Simpler U.S. Visa Application Process

The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and the Consulates General in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, and Hyderabad will now accept visa applications from individuals whose home residence is in any other Indian jurisdiction.  This is being done in an ongoing effort by Mission India to facilitate legitimate travel to the United States. 

After the Consulate General in Hyderabad opened in 2008, the U.S. Mission has looked for ways to best capture the unique nature of India’s growth across the country.  This resulted in a re-designation of consular districts.  Effective immediately, the consular districts in India will be organized as follows: 

U.S. Embassy in Delhi: Bihar, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bhutan; 

U.S. Consulate in Mumbai: Goa, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Diu and Daman, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli; 

U.S. Consulate in Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh, Orissa; Consulate Chennai: Karnataka, Kerala, Puducherry, Lakshadweep, Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar Islands; 

U.S. Consulate in Kolkata: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, and West Bengal. 

These changes will create a much more convenient and supportive process for U.S. visa applicants in India.

CANADA – Special Visa Program for Mexican Business Visitors Created

Canada imposed visa restrictions on those travelling from Mexico to Canada last year. This policy angered Mexican authorities and damaged the relationship between the governments of the two U.S. neighbors.  The visa restrictions were imposed to reduce the number of refugees from Mexico applying for valid status in Canada.

A special visa program for business visitors from Mexico has been implemented.  The new Business Express Program was created to enable qualified businesses and their employees to benefit from more efficient visa processing.  Specifically, they will be encumbered less paperwork, will benefit from priority processing of visa applications, and will have a dedicated service team to respond to specific issues.  This new program will also allow Mexican business visitors to have their visa applications processed within twenty-four hours.

The program is designed to benefit individuals employed by companies in Mexico who have a documented need for regular business travel to Canada.  Participation in the program is by invitation only.  Companies with good immigration track records will be identified and invited by the Embassy of Canada to register for the program.  This means that companies wishing to participate should be sure they are in full compliance with Canadian immigration law in all aspects.  Namely, their employees must be admissible, their employees have previously travelled to Canada and adhered to Canada’s immigration laws, and they have a significant number of business visitors working with Canadian businesses.

So far, the embassy has invited 113 companies to enroll.  Qualified applicants can apply for visas at visa application centers in Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara.

Canada has recognized that Mexico is one of its largest trading partners, and this program is intended to help Mexican and Canadian companies cooperate in renewing economic growth.

TAIWAN – Former Director for the American Institute in Taiwan Supports ECFA

Former American Institute in Taiwan Director Douglas H. Paal believes the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) will have a significant economic impact throughout the world.  He believes it will demonstrate that closer economic ties with the People’s Republic of China are good for Taiwan and its financial future.

The ECFA is a proposed agreement between the governments of Taiwan and mainland China that would enable Taiwan to generate economic integration China.  The agreement is still under negotiation and stands to be finalized sometime in June of this year.

Taiwan’s political status currently prevents it from signing free trade agreements with other countries.  The ECFA would change that.  However, it is not without controversy in Taiwan.  Some see it as part of a larger plan to unify Taiwan with the People’s Republic of China.  There is also a concern that it will allow easier access for professional Chinese workers to take desired positions in Taiwan, potentially displacing Taiwanese professionals.

Proponents see the ECFA as a landmark agreement that offers Taiwan the opportunity to increase its economic influence and cross new frontiers. Specifically, Taiwanese companies may experience new opportunities in the technology, services and manufacturing industries.  The ECFA is designed to level the playing field with neighboring competitor countries.  This is especially critical for Taiwan as mainland China continues to push forward as an economic superpower.

CANADA – Canada Plans to Launch E-passports Program

Canada is set to introduce a biometric passport system patterned after U.K.-style e-passports. Starting as early as 2011, Canadian citizens will begin receiving passports embedded with chips that contain digital images and personal information, including the individual’s name, gender, date of birth, and place of birth. 

Over 60 countries have e-passports, and Canada is the only member of the G7 that had not yet implemented them.  Some experts have expressed concern over the adequate protection of the holder’s privacy.  These concerns may have arisen due to recent research by British scientists who have uncovered weaknesses in electronic passports issued by the United States, United Kingdom, and approximately 50 other countries.  The research indicates movements of individuals as they enter or exit buildings are traceable by those with adequate technology.  Indeed, remote tracking of a given e-passport in real time is possible, and due to the e-passport’s radio-frequency identification, data in the passports cannot be turned off.  This makes the threat persistent unless the passport is shielded in a special identity document pouch that interrupts its radio transmissions.

A biometric passport, also known as an e-passport, uses biometrics to authenticate the identity of its holder. It uses smart card technology, including a microprocessor chip embedded in the cover or center page of the passport.  The passport’s information is printed on the data page of the passport and stored in the microprocessor chip.  Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is used to authenticate the data stored in the chip, making it virtually impossible to tamper with or fraudulently replicate.

AUSTRALIA – Alternative Australian Visa Options in Light of Reduced Skills List

Recent changes to Australia’s Skilled Occupation List mean that fewer people qualify for visa status in Australia as skilled independent visa holders. Furthermore, the Migration Occupations in Demand List no longer exists. These changes make Australian immigration more difficult.

One alternative is sponsorship by an Australian State or Territory, under which relatives may sponsor as dependents.  The second option is the provisional 475 visa, which may be an alternative to the Skilled Occupation List.  A detailed description of the requirements for each of these visas is listed below:

State or Territory Sponsorship

Under the State or Territory Sponsorship visa, the individual must meet the following requirements:

  • Under 45 years of age;
  • Be employed in an occupation listed on the Skilled Occupation List;
  • Be employed in an occupation listed on the individual State Skills in Demand list;
  • Have experience in the occupation;
  • Have good English language skills;
  • Be sponsored by a State or Territory;
  • Attain a score of 100 points; and
  • Live in the sponsoring State or Territory for the first two years.

Those qualifying under this visa category are also able to sponsor certain relatives for permanent resident visas.

State Sponsorship – Provisional Visa 475

This option could be considered if the individual’s occupation is not on the Skills in Demand list.  The requirements are similar:

  • Under 45 years of age;
  • Be employed in an occupation listed on the Skilled Occupation List;
  • Be employed in an occupation listed on the State regional skilled occupations list;
  • Have experience in the occupation;
  • Have good English language skills;
  • Be sponsored by the regional area;
  • Attain a score of 100 points; and
  • Live in the regional area for the first two years.

This is not a permanent visa, so applicants cannot sponsor relatives for entry to Australia.  Sponsorship for relatives can be done after the two-year residency requirement is met and the individual applies for permanent residency.

Applicants under this visa type should review the regional skilled occupation lists specific states in which they wish to reside for at least two years.

UNITED KINGDOM – U.K. Visa Fees Rise

The United Kingdom has announced that all U.K. visa applications will be subject to higher visa fees, although some are only rising slightly while others are rising significantly.  These new fee rates took effect on April 6th:
 
· Tier 1 visas for investors/entrepreneurs increased £15 to £690.
 
· Tier 2 visas for skilled workers increased by £5 to £270.
 
· 5-year multiple entry visas went up £20 to £420.
 
· 10-year visas increased £110 to £610.
 
· Tier 4 student visas increased £54 to £199.
 
The group that was impacted the most by the new fee structure is those with dependent relatives.  Settlement Visas for dependent relatives jumped from £585 to £1680, an increase of nearly 300 percent. An application for indefinite leave to remain for a dependent relative in the U.K. will rise to £1,930.  An additional 10 percent will now also be charged for dependent children.
 
The United States took similar action in 2007 with large fee increases. This sparked widespread criticism by immigrant advocates, who argued that steep hikes could impact some immigrants more than others, perhaps resulting in some applicants not being able to afford citizenship and other immigration benefits. In fact, immigration applications did drop off noticeably. U.K applications could face similar sharp declines, especially in light of the shaky economy.

MEXICO – Violence Against U.S. Targets in Mexico Increasing

On Friday, April 9th just before midnight, an unknown assailant tossed an explosive device over the wall surrounding the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.  The bomb caused some structural damage to the building, but no employees were injured.  Mexican officials in Mexico City said they were reviewing evidence, including security camera video surveillance recordings.

This attack is another link in an alarming chain of violence against U.S. targets in Mexico. Last month, a group conspired against U.S. consular workers in Ciudad Juarez who had been attending an engagement together. Gunmen followed and killed three individuals who had left the gathering, also injuring several of their children who were accompanying them.

The U.S. Department of State has issued an updated travel warning for citizens of the United States in Mexico. The warning was issued to alert travelers to the risks in northern territories of Mexico. It also noted that drug cartels have retaliated violently against individuals who speak out against them or whom they otherwise view as a threat to their organizations. The State Department has also authorized approximately 100 family members of employees of the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez to depart Mexico for the United States amid concerns of increased security risk.

In 2008, two men fired shots and threw a grenade – which didn’t explode – at the U.S. consulate in Monterrey. Nobody was hurt in that assault, but the gate was left pockmarked. Five days later gunmen again fired at that consulate.

Many individuals who need to apply for U.S. visas elect to cross the border into northern Mexican cities with U.S. consular posts. The convenience of the location is a draw for many foreign-born individuals living in the United States who have a need to travel internationally. Given the increased security risk and the potential for processing delays, individuals wishing to apply for visas at U.S. consulates in northern Mexico should weigh the risks of delay carefully in making their decision on where to apply for a visa.

SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa Contemplating New Policy on Business Immigration

South African officials have expressed concern that current immigration laws do not entice enough investors and entrepreneurial talent to the country.  The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor has consistently rated South Africa below other strong developing countries, which is due, in part, to its tight immigration policy that does not encourage a stead infusion of higher level skills and entrepreneurial-minded investors.
 
Currently, in order to qualify for a business visa to South Africa the applicant must demonstrate an intention of investing at least 2.5 million Rand (~$350,000) in a new or existing business.  This can be a serious barrier to entry for those who have innovative ideas, but little capital to get their business off the ground.  Such businesses would need to begin operations elsewhere and then relocate to South Africa.  While there is an exception to the capital investment rule, it is narrowly tailored to fit businesses in a limited number of industries.

Furthermore, South Africa’s work permit process only permits work authorization for 1 year at a time.  Work permits can be extended, allowing the person to remain and continue working, but the inconvenience of doing this on an annual basis can be discouraging to professional-level workers.
 
South Africa has taken steps to reform its education system to meet some of these needs.  However, the fruits of that effort will not appear for year.  In the meantime, South African’s International Investment Council has expressed a desire to reform current immigration law to entice young, risk-taking professionals who have the ability to add thousands of jobs to the economy.  In the meantime, some South African officials are concerned that the gap could lead to serious economic problems.

CANADA – Priority Occupation List Changing

Canada is restructuring its Priority Occupation List.  Discussions on this issue indicate that a number of occupations that were previously eligible will now be taken off the list.  The priority occupation list comprises the positions that the Canadian Government deems to be most in demand (i.e., hardest to fill with Canadian Citizens).  The positions that will be removed are likely going to be those not considered professional-level jobs.  Once the new occupation list is released, we will provide an update.
 
Because of the suffering global economy, Canada’s unemployment rate has been on the rise. According to Canada’s Labour Force Survey, unemployment in Canada has risen to 8.2%. While unemployment in Canada is not as severe as it is in the United States, it signifies a surplus of job seekers. This change to the priority occupation list is an effort by Canadian officials to help its citizens find open positions that might have otherwise been filled by talent from another country.
 
This change is scheduled to take effect on May 1, 2010.