March 20, 2020

COVID-19 Developments

Updated 27th March, 2020

As countries develop further strategies to restrict the movement of people and the spread of COVID-19, and the days and weeks go by under these measures, disciplinary actions have started to come into play for those not respecting rules and regulations put into place. These actions aim to penalize both the country’s own citizens for not respecting lockdown or quarantine rules, and foreign nationals and international travelers not abiding by the rules. Countries are also conscious that in order for individuals to follow the lockdown requirements, flexibility must be given to foreign nationals holding work and residence authorizations and / or visas that may expire during the period of restricted movement.

What has changed?

Following the increase of restrictive measures implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19, subsequent fines and penalties are being introduced to punish those who do not follow the guidelines. As countries such as the UK, Italy and Spain admit their health care facilities are unable to cope with the impact of COVID-19, governments have realized that simply recommending people distance themselves from each other is not sufficient to tackle the spread and strict lockdown measures are required. The general public have been lax at adhering to the rules and have continued to interact, permitting the virus to take hold continuing to put lives at risk. Consequently, the authorities have taken action to ensure that people follow the restrictive measures in place.

Punitive actions typically involve fines, but jail time is also possible for non-compliance in some locations. In Australia, anyone arriving from overseas must go into 14-day self-isolation, failure to do so could lead to fines of up to $50,000 or jail time for individuals, depending on the territory.

In Singapore, 89 work passes have been revoked for foreign nationals breaching entry approval and Stay-Home Notice (SHN) requirements. There were 73 individuals who failed to obtain entry approval from the Ministry of Manpower while having a travel history to COVID-19 affected countries and 16 were caught breaching the Leave of Absence (LOA) or SHN requirements. These individuals are now permanently banned from working in Singapore and their employers work pass privileges have been suspended for 1 to 3 years. Most individuals were caught during the first month following the imposition of the SHN requirement and the number of violations quickly fell in the second month, perhaps proving that punitive measures were effective or that the general public were realizing their own actions could save lives.

Alongside these punitive measures, it is recognized that in order to enable individuals to follow the lockdown and quarantine requirements, there must be a degree of flexibility to ensure they do not become non-compliant as visa’s, work and residence permits and personal documents expire during the epidemic. With travel restrictions in place and government authorities closed and not processing extensions, respecting the usual timeframes and renewal /departure requirements is impossible. China was quick to recognize this and introduced automatic extension measures for limited time periods specific to permit types and locations. Other countries are starting to follow with Ireland giving an automatic extension to expiring Residence Permits, Short Stay Visas and Atypical Visas between March 20th and May 20th. Similar actions are being implemented in Latin America, as demonstrated by Argentina giving an automatic initial 30-day extension to expiring permits, which may be further extended subject to how the virus develops. 

Who is affected?

Whether you are in your home country or living as a resident in an overseas territory, it is important to follow the jurisdiction’s rules and regulations in place relating to COVID-19 to avoid fines and penalties relating to non-compliance.

What you need to do

For further information on rules, regulations and penalties in the various jurisdictions in relation to COVID-19, please contact the Sterling Lexicon immigration team at

Updated 20th March, 2020

There are major COVID-19 developments throughout EMEA and the United States in reaction to the increasing number of confirmed cases, with different jurisdictions introducing different methods to tackle the spread of the virus.

Until now some countries have focused on delaying the peak of the outbreak to relieve pressure on the local health services, while also allowing usual day to day life to continue as much as possible. However, as the number of cases and sadly number of related deaths increase, the strategy now seems to be to take more drastic action to stop it as quickly and effectively as possible.

What has changed?

In the last week there has been a shift in focus regarding COVID-19. The far East appears to be seeing the benefit of the quarantine period and the restrictions on movement that were put into place. The number of new confirmed cases in locations such as China and Korea are dropping. However, concern is now on ensuring a second wave of the virus does not occur due to returnees from overseas. For example, to combat this China are maintaining tight entry restrictions and stringent epidemic screening at airports. As a result, travelers should expect delays of several hours before they can enter the country and depending on the jurisdiction, may have to go into 14-day quarantine.

At present, Europe seems to be the epicentre of the developing COVID-19 crisis. We are seeing global action taken to stem the spread of the virus between European countries and from travelers from the European region to elsewhere in the world. The result of which has been an extreme number of countries choosing to shutdown borders and cease international travel.

In some countries the closure of borders has been sudden and without warning. An example of this is Russia, where on March 18, the authorities announced a closure of the borders with immediate effect. Foreigners landing in Russian airports that day were unable to enter and were obliged to either buy a return ticket or risk being deported.

From an immigration perspective, while Hong Kong seems to be the exception with the Immigration Department resuming full operations, elsewhere in more and more countries we are seeing the processing and issuance of documents being put on hold, submissions being halted while authorities are closed, and immigration appointments being cancelled.

This week the Russian authorities announced a temporary suspension of the issuance of documents relating to permits for the labor workforce, individual work permits, invitation letters and visas for work, student, private, tourist and transit purposes.

In Spain the closure of authorities means that the National Police have suspended issuing documents and are no longer taking online bookings for appointments. Pre-arranged appointments have been cancelled for the time being except under urgent circumstances. The case is the same for the Department of Foreign affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who have also ceased face to face appointments including pre-arranged appointments.

Italy’s authorities have also imposed the same restrictions and we are also seeing a number of US consulates (including London) cancel scheduled visa appointments with no guidance as to when appointments will resume.

The United Arab Emirates also has announced the temporary suspension of new visas, tourist visas and work permits with immediate effect.

Until now the number of cases reported in Africa has remained low, but as we see a few cases of Coronavirus start to be registered, African countries are commencing implementation of their own methods of controlling the spread of COVID-19. This week Kenya suspended travel for all nationals entering Kenya who are coming from any country with reported cases of Coronavirus, without distinguishing between high and low risk locations. Whereas, South Africa’s president has banned all travel into South Africa for nationals from “high risk” countries which include among others the United Kingdom, United States, Italy, Spain and China.

Who is affected?

Anyone intending to travel internationally and / or applying for immigration documentation, especially European citizens or those travelling from or via Europe and the United States.

What to expect / impact?

There will be a significant change to day to day life for all citizens across EMEA and the United States. We should expect further restrictions on social interactions throughout Europe and major disruption to travel for several weeks, with new developments being announced daily.

What you need to do

Expect all travel to be extremely disrupted for an extended period of time. Be prepared that immigration processes are going to be subject to extreme delays, frequent change and possibly halted completely for multiple locations. It is highly recommended to contact your Sterling Lexicon account manager for advice prior to considering any new assignments or relocations and also for case specific queries or concerns.

For more information regarding the increase in the International Health Surcharge, please contact the Sterling Lexicon immigration team.


Leanne Cottrell

Leanne Cottrell

As Head of Immigration with Sterling Lexicon, Leanne leads a team of specialists who are responsible for ensuring the entire immigration process is smooth and stress-free for clients, assignees and their accompanying family members. She brings over ten years of experience in strategic immigration management, planning and consultation to her role, and has cultivated invaluable knowledge and experience in processing countless global migration applications. As a trusted partner, she consults with clients on everything from policy considerations and cost or efficiency improvements, to the impact of opening offices in new locations. Leanne is a frequent presenter and author on global immigration topics and trends.

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