Covid travel bans 'upending' global mobility

Worldwide travel restrictions imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic have "completely upended the seemingly unshakeable global mobility hierarchy", according to a new report.

The latest Passport Index from Henley & Partners - a global citizenship and residence advisory firm based in London - illustrates the extent of restrictions now confronting passport-holders in individual countries.In the US, for instance, Americans could travel visa-free to 185 nations around the world at the start of the year. That figure has now fallen to 75 "with the most popular tourist and business centres notably excluded".Similarly, Singaporean passport-holders could freely travel to 190 destinations globally before the pandemic struck. Now that figure is below 80.In the first week of this month, according to latest data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a total of 219 countries, territories or areas had issued 96,549 travel restrictions, a four per cent increase over the previous week."There has been an increase of 10 per cent in other restrictions such as new documents needed for travel and an increase of eight per cent in medical requirements," added the IOM. "In parallel to existing travel restrictions, a total of 176 countries, territories or areas have issued 777 exceptions enabling mobility despite blanket travel restrictions."These exceptions to mobility, however, can prove extremely arduous to business travellers hoping to obtain a visa. Australia, for example, has closed its borders to everyone except Australian citizens, permanent residents, resident New Zealand citizens or immediate family members.The only other way people can enter the country is if the Australian Border Force Commissioner grants an exemption on a case-by-case discretionary basis to a person deemed to possess critical skills that are urgently needed."This process has led to extreme uncertainty for businesses in being able to plan for foreign workers entering Australia. With insufficient guidance on whether a worker's role is sufficiently 'critical', many businesses may consider delaying projects and expansions if they cannot guarantee they will be able to have the workers they need on site," according to the migration team at law firm MinterEllison.
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Additionally, some nations - notably the US - have imposed bans or severe restrictions on certain types of work visas while the pandemic has increased political pressure on the likes of Singapore to favour local labour over expatriates.“Attitudes towards middle-class migrants are similar to global sentiments under these pandemic conditions and are characterised by heightened xenophobia in many cases, seeing migrants as competing for scarce jobs and resources with citizens,” according to Laavanya Kathiravelu, a sociologist at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.Sarah Dennis, international head at global health and wellbeing provider Towergate Health & Protection, said the recruitment of local nationals had moved up the agenda for a number of organisations, as business travel continued to be affected by Covid-19, "making managing globally mobile workforces more difficult as restrictions change daily, country to country".She added: "It’s an opportunity for businesses to get local national recruitment right, by supporting employees from the offset with competitive employment packages that incorporate support for health and wellbeing."Parag Khanna, founder of Singapore globalisation advisers FutureMap, said that increasingly restrictive migration policies have also encouraged many people to seek out alternative citizenship and residency plans."Even prior to the pandemic, Brexit had pushed British professionals to seek German, French, Spanish, and other EU nationalities based on lineage, or to pursue residency leading to citizenship in countries such as Portugal," he said."Americans have availed themselves of similar options in countries ranging from Canada to Malta. Recent estimates suggest that interest in investment migration programmes has jumped five-fold from 2019 through mid-2020."Juerg Steffen, CEO of Henley & Partners, added that there was little doubt that the pandemic and the subsequent global disruption during 2020 had boosted the appeal of finding alternative access to other nations."We've seen unprecedented interest from citizens of developed economies, particularly Americans with a startling 238 per cent increase in enquiries from between January and October compared to the same period in 2019," he said."Alternative residence or citizenship is increasingly seen as an indispensable asset and a vital hedge against ongoing volatility."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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