Law360 (February 19, 2020, 5:55 PM EST) --
As with any global health threats, multinational corporations, as global employers, will suffer grave consequences in the realm of global immigration as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. While having global workforce has many benefits, such as attracting top talent and promoting the company's overall financial growth, it also means the invitation of many risks, some of which stem directly from immigration policies to combat a global health crisis. Therefore, global employers should actively assess the situation and proactively establish an action plan that clearly outlines the steps to be taken in the event of global health emergency.
The coronavirus continues to spread around the world with new cases being detected every day. To date, there are 73,332 confirmed cases globally, of which there have been 1,870 deaths in China. While other viruses remain bigger threats to individuals, the coronavirus has shown to be capable of massive and rapid transmission leaving the chances of containment to be quite difficult. To date, there is no known cure that would treat the virus.
Global Response to the Coronavirus Outbreak
History shows that outbreaks — like SARS in 2003, H1N1 of 2009, Ebola in 2014 and Zika in 2016 — can originate in nations thousands of miles away, but within a matter of days can have profound effect on the world. As a result, foreign governments scramble to put in place preventative measures to thwart spread of these outbreaks and to diminish public fear. Some of these measures have included border control through the denial entry of certain individuals, increasing border screening methods, and announcing the closure of their foreign missions.
In our highly globalized world, border control has become the immediate response of many nations upon an outbreak. To illustrate this point, the following nations have implemented some form of border restriction and border screenings immediately following the outbreak.
On Feb. 1, the Australian government announced that all travelers arriving from mainland China would be denied entry into Australia effective Feb. 1, unless travelers are Australian citizens, permanent residents, immediate family members of Australian citizens or permanent residents, New Zealand citizens residing in Australia, or diplomats. The government announced on Feb. 13 that these restrictions will remain in place until Feb. 22.
Furthermore, citizens and permanent residents of Australia who have been to mainland China before arriving Australia will be subjected to screenings.
The Indonesian government announced that it will temporarily suspend all flights between Indonesia and mainland China effective Feb. 5. Additionally, travelers who have visited China within the previous 14 days will not be permitted to enter, or transit, Indonesia.
Any travelers from China will not be permitted entry into India. The Indian government strongly urged individuals living in India not to travel to China. Furthermore, the government announced the cancellation of all visas of all foreign nationals from China and residents of China.
The New Zealand government announced that all travelers arriving from mainland China will be denied entry into the country effective Feb. 2.
All travelers arriving from mainland China would be denied entry into Singapore and will not be allowed to transit there effective Feb. 2. On Jan. 28, the Ministry of Manpower announced it will reject all work permit applications from mainland China immediately and until further notice.
On Jan. 31, the president of the United States signed a proclamation that suspends entry of all foreign nationals who have been in China within 14 days effective Feb. 2. While U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and their immediate families who have been to China can enter the United States, they will be subject to health monitoring and, potentially, quarantine for up to 14 days.
Current Action Steps for Employers
Global employers thrive on the relocation and transfer of employees to meet business demands. At any given time, a global employer can be planning to execute the relocation of hundreds of employees. The successful relocation of an employee requires the employer to get the employee where they need to be on time.
In this sophisticated system, an unforeseeable border restriction as a result of a health emergency will undoubtedly create interference on a massive scale to the system. As such, employers should take the following points into consideration for all business travel and assignments abroad.
- Global employers should understand the regulations that have been put in place since the outbreak. The U.S. Department of State issued a Level 4 do not travel advisory to China and warned that all travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions.
- Employers with employee-business travelers in China should identify the number of business travelers in China. Employers should assess if the business traveler will face any complications should they wish to return to their country of residence considering the restrictions placed on many travelers from China.
- As with travel to other nations, employers should reassess whether business travel to other nations at this time is feasible. This step will require employers to consider whether such business travel is essential.
- Employers should advise employees scheduled for business travel to take precautionary steps to protect themselves during their travel. To do this, employers should defer to health recommendations provided by reputable sources, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's travelers' health notices provided online.
- Employers should ensure that employees understand how to locate medical providers should they become ill while traveling. Employers should also ensure that this information is provided to them before all departures.
- Employers should routinely assess the business justification for all scheduled business trips to the affected region and consider if such trips could be scheduled at a different region to accommodate global restrictions and diminish employees' concerns over travel.
- Employers should identify the current foreign national population in China and review the immigration status of each employee.
- Employers should understand emergency evacuation plans by foreign nations and communicate them to the employees to ensure they are receiving the latest information.
- Employers should understand the immigration implications of an assignee that chooses to depart China before the end of their assignment, develop a plan on how to address the premature departure, and ensure that they meet their legal obligation of reporting the departure to the immigration authorities. Specifically, in China and Singapore employers that sponsor a work permit for assignees, have a legal obligation to report the termination of the assignment promptly. Failure to do so may result in a penalty.
- Employers should keep abreast of local restrictions in China. The State Council announced on Feb. 11, that many Chinese cities have put forth many restrictive measures, including, entry restrictions to avoid the spread of the virus. Individuals will be subjected to questioning and screening at entry points. Given the enhanced in-country restrictions, global employers should offer employees the ability to work remotely.
- Establishing a proactive plan means taking into amount the likelihood that a global health emergency will lead to border restrictions, closure of subsidiary offices, and a reduced workforce. As such, employers should plan to cross-train other employees on all essential functions.
- Closure of governmental agencies will have serious effect on the global employer navigating the immigration laws of foreign countries. To elaborate on this point, consider the global employer that has recently hired a talented employee to work in China. That newly hired employee will now have to endure the processing delay of the work permit filed for the employee as State Council announced its plans to extend the Chinese New Year into Feb. 2, in an effort to contain the outbreak. This delay could easily complicate matters for the employee that is waiting for the approval for their work permit to begin work, such as enduring a gap in pay as they wait to begin work. Not to mention, the global employers may fall to the risk of losing the employee all together given the delay in obtaining the appropriate work authorization to ensure compliance with foreign immigration laws.
- Employers should also understand their limited ability to even file work permit applications for certain nationals going to certain countries at this time given. For instance, the Ministry of Manpower announced it will reject all work permit applications for foreign nationals from Hubei, China, until further notice.
- Given the increased restrictions and difficultly of obtaining work permits, global employers should not attempt to send employees as business travelers to circumvent the work permit process. Traveling as a business visitor carries a global understanding that hands-on work will not be undertaken during the duration of the trip. In fact, many nations have a strict definition of business travelers therefore, employers should continue to adhere to all applicable foreign laws during this time.
Global health outbreaks do not respect nationalities, time or borders, as evidenced by the coronavirus. In times like these, it is up to the global employer to swiftly deal with outbreaks of massive scales to ensure they address the needs of their foreign national populations. Placing responsive measures in place could ultimately address and minimize the negative impact of an outbreak on the global employer.
Yasmin Mirreh is an associate at Erickson Immigration Group.
The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.
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