3 points to pay attention to as businesses increase international travel
The pandemic halted global travel and brought an enormous shift toward remote work and fewer business meetings. Midway through the pandemic, many thought those trends were here to stay. However, global air travel has reached 94% of its pre-pandemic levels. In Houston, international air traffic is only 2% below where it was in July 2019. With 12,000 companies exporting goods and services overseas, Houston’s economy will continue to send people abroad to deliver services and engage with customers face-to-face.
Consider these three crucial points regarding travel and immigration post-pandemic.
- Immigration law hasn’t caught up to the reality of remote work
Many countries, such as Bermuda, Italy and Portugal, have implemented “digital nomad” visas to take advantage of the remote work revolution. The idea is that workers can unplug their computer in their home country, plug it back in somewhere else, and continue doing the same job. These visas authorize them to do that and allow them to stay longer than a visitor can.
However, digital nomad visas aren’t usually a viable alternative to work permit requirements when moving employees. They typically won’t work if a company wants to relocate someone to a foreign office or have someone provide services to a foreign customer.
Similarly, the idea of “bleisure” – blending business and leisure travel where you log on during vacation –can be tricky internationally. In many countries, even if you are allowed to enter without a visa, you’re not allowed to work – including remotely.
What to do: If you or an employee want to take advantage of today’s technology to work from another country, review your plans with qualified immigration counsel. Some countries allow remote international work, and some do not.
- New entry/exit systems may constrain frequent travelers to Europe
There is a widespread misconception that U.S. citizens can travel to any European country for up to 90 days. But the rule has always been that U.S. citizens and other visa-exempt nationalities may enter the Schengen Area – which includes 27 European countries with the notable exceptions of the U.K. and Ireland – for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. The rule applies to the 27 countries as a single territory, so two weeks spent in France count against the total time you can stay in Italy or Germany.
The time limitation is problematic for frequent travelers to Europe since the Schengen Area covers many countries where business travel may be needed. But since there is no central system tracking the departure dates of travelers, it has been relatively easy to overstay the allotted 90 days – unintentionally or not – without consequence.
Starting in 2024, this will change when the European Entry/Exit System (EES) becomes active. From that point, immigration officers will scan passports on entry and departure and check the EES database to identify overstays. These scans will replace the often-blurry passport stamps everyone is familiar with. Travelers who overstay can face fines, deportation, or a ban from reentering the Schengen Area.
What to do: If you are a frequent traveler to Europe, become familiar with the Schengen Area stay limitation and start tracking your travel so you don’t unintentionally overstay. If you need to be in the Schengen Area longer than you’re allowed, seek immigration counsel to determine what visa or residence permit might facilitate your plans.
- Countries are competing aggressively for skilled workers
Houston’s workforce is incredibly international; 1 in 4 Houstonians are foreign-born. However, U.S. immigration policy can make it difficult for foreign workers to stay here long-term. Other countries have taken note.
Seeing an opportunity in the lack of comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S., Canada announced in June its new tech talent strategy, including a wide array of programs that will make it easier for highly skilled workers to move to Canada. A program inviting 10,000 U.S. H-1B visa holders to come work in Canada has already met its quota. Later this year, Canada will implement an Innovation Stream program, making moving to Canada easier for workers with specific in-demand skills.
Similarly, the U.K. announced in 2021 a High Potential Individual visa, offering graduates of 40 top global universities – including The University of Texas at Austin – a 2-3 year visa to move to the U.K.
What to do: Turn this competition to your advantage. In combination with immigration strategies to retain foreign talent in the U.S., use these programs to transfer valuable employees abroad when needed.
As foreign assignments resume and business models adjust to our new virtual reality, consider partnering with immigration counsel to ensure your business is making the most of the new landscape.
For more information or schedule a consultation visit fosterglobal.com.
Foster LLP is an immigration law firm headquartered in Houston that provides a comprehensive range of U.S. and global immigration services. The firm is now marking its 50th year of serving businesses in Houston and across the globe.
Ryan Chargois is a partner at Foster LLP, where he oversees the firm’s global immigration services.