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.
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