Pro-Link GLOBAL immigration dispatch – Bulgaria, Italy, Saudi Arabia and South Africa

Discover key changes to immigration regulations in Bulgaria, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa.

Bulgaria, Italy, Saudi Arabia and South Africa immigration dispatch

Featured update 

Bulgaria – new rules for blue cards and ICTs coming

A new law in Bulgaria is redefining the laws and procedures governing non-European Union/non-European Economic Area/non-Swiss nationals working in the country. The Labour Migration and Labour Mobility Act, enacted by the Bulgarian Parliament earlier this year, officially came into effect 21 May.However, immigration professionals in Bulgaria are still eagerly awaiting the subsequent decree from the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (MOL). This will provide the detailed regulations, which bring the new law into full implementation.The new act and the coming regulations are designed to harmonize Bulgarian labour and immigration law with the European directives regarding the EU Blue Card (Directive 2009/50/EC) and the EU ICT Permit (Directive 2014/66/EU). As we reported earlier regarding Romania, we are expecting to see numerous legislative changes – especially regarding implementation of the EU ICT Permit – throughout the EU in the coming months. See our Immigration Dispatch of 4 October for additional details.In the most significant development under the new law, Bulgaria is eliminating the current one-to-ten ratio of foreign to local national employees required of companies operating in the country. This ratio will no longer be applied to applicants for Blue Cards in certain preferred occupations or applicants for ICT Permits.In January of this year, the MOL had already introduced a list of occupations and specialties, which will receive relaxed Blue Card application processing – including exemption from labour market testing. It is expected that this list of preferred occupations is to be further expanded in January 2017, but currently includes: 
  • IT sales professionals
  • Systems administrators and analysts
  • Software developers and applications analysts
  • Designers and database administrators
  • Web content and multimedia developers
  • Applications programmers
  • Computer network specialists
  • Database and network specialists
For applicants on this preferred list, the new law increases the validity period for Blue cards from the current one year to three years, reducing the need for what has been in the past a burdensome renewal process. It also reduces the previous minimum salary requirement applicable to these preferred occupations from three times the national average salary to twice the national average. For Blue card employees not on the preferred occupations list, the minimum requirement remains 1.5 times the national average. Until this new law, intra-company transfers (ICTs) had been very limited without a specific framework for employment authorization for multi-national companies transferring employees to Bulgaria for assignments in a local affiliate. Such non-EU/non-EEA/non-Swiss nationals will receive ICT Permits valid for three years for managers and specialists and one year for trainees. New rules and processes patterned after the EU ICT Directive will be implemented in an attempt to create an efficient process for ICTs.In addition to being part of an EU-wide move to standardize laws on non-EU/EEA/Swiss foreign workers, this move appears to be part of a concerted effort by Bulgaria to attract high-skilled labour – especially in the Information Technology sector – which is currently in short supply in the country. Earlier this year, the MOL’s National Employment Agency called for a public tender for bids to build a new software system to automate the processing of work permit applications to make the process faster and more convenient for applicants. 

Immigration changes from around the world

Italy – new document requirements for ICT permit applications 

A seventeen-page joint circular by the Italian Ministries of Interior (MOI) and Labour (MOL) issued 14 July prompted the Milan Immigration Office to update its list of required documents to be submitted for the issuance of the “no impediment of work” document (“nulla osta”) needed for intra-company transfer (ICT) work permits. The secondment or posting letter provided by the assigning foreign company must now include: 
  • The signature of the employee accepting the assignment
  • In the case where the assigning company is located in a country with no social security agreement with Italy, a statement guaranteeing it will comply with the social security obligations of Italian law 
  • In the case where the assigning company is located in a country with a social security agreement with Italy, the company must provide a translated and legalized certificate of coverage issued by its local social security authority 
  • At the discretion of the Italian authorities, the company may also be required to provide a translated and legalized copy of its most recent financial statement
It was the same MOI-MOL joint circular that prompted the Immigration Offices earlier this year to implement additional document requirements for proof of suitable accommodations, including a “Housing Stability Certificate”. See our Immigration Dispatch of 11 July for additional details.The circular also contained various minor technical changes to document requirements for a number of work permit applications and processes. As implementation may vary based on the particulars of the case and the region in which a foreign national may be working, foreign nationals accepting assignments or employment in Italy are strongly encouraged to consult an immigration advisor familiar with the unique process in Italy.

Recent immigration articles:

Saudi Arabia – new “balanced nitaqat” coming

As part of its continuing efforts to achieve its goal of the "Saudization" of its workforce, in 2011 the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Labour (MOL) implemented its Nitaqat system. See our Global Briefs of 9 April 2015 and 6 September.Under Nitaqat, Saudi companies are evaluated and categorized based on their “Saudization level”, or the percentage of their workforce made up of Saudi nationals. “Premium” companies have Saudi nationals constituting at least 40 per cent of their employees. “Green” companies have at least 10 per cent Saudi employees, “yellow” companies have less than 10 per cent Saudi employees, and “red” companies have no Saudi employees. Companies are then rewarded or penalized through the immigration system based on their category – with more liberal work permit application requirements, fewer limitations, and greater privileges being given to the “premium” and “green” companies.The latest permutation of Nitaqat, set to take effect 12 December, takes these standards to a new level. With the introduction of what is being termed “Mausun Nitaqat” or “balanced Nitaqat”, the MOL will now additionally focus on the wages, longevity, and gender of each company’s Saudi employees. Under this balanced or weighted Nitaqat, points will be awarded to companies as follows: 
  • Ten points for every one per cent of their work workforce made up of Saudi nationals
  • Six points for every SAR 1000 in average salary paid to Saudi nationals, up to a maximum of 150 points
  • One point for every one per cent of their workforce made up of female Saudi nationals
  • Four points for each year beyond five years their average Saudi employee remains with the company, up to a maximum of 40 points for an average retention period of 15 years
  • One-tenth point for each per cent of the highest-paid 25 per cent of their employees that are Saudi nationals.
The total number of points the company earns under these new rules will then determine where the company is placed in the compliance categories (i.e. premium, green, yellow, or red). Work permit quotas and other requirements for each company will then be determined based on a matrix of their compliance category, workforce size, and industry. The goal of the new balanced Nitaqat is obviously to not only increase the number of Saudi nationals employed, but to also improve the quality of their employment in terms of compensation and job security. It is not yet clear whether the amended Nitaqat system will increase opportunities for Saudi employers to hire foreign nationals.

South Africa – new electronic police clearance system delayed

Employers and their foreign national employees working in South Africa were anticipating some long-awaited and much-appreciated good news last week. A new automated police clearance system had been set to go live 1 October.However, late last week, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) made a surprise announcement that it was postponing implementation of the new system. While the DHA stated that it still has plans to move ahead with the new computerized system, it gave no hint of the anticipated implementation date or the reason for the delay.Currently, applicants for visas and residence permits who have resided in South Africa for more than twelve months must personally visit a local South African police station, apply for the police clearance at the counter, and wait sometimes up to four months for the clearance certificate. The new system would have shortened that wait time dramatically, producing certificates within 24 to 36 hours.With the computerized system, the local VFS visa facilitation centres would run the criminal background check automatically using the applicant’s fingerprints, which have already been collected during the application process. Once the VFS office received the electronic police clearance, it would immediately submit the application and supporting documents electronically to the DHA for processing. This obviously would have been a major improvement of the immigration process in South Africa, significantly accelerating the issuance of visas and residence permits.For the time being, it remains “business as usual” for applicants needing police clearance certificates in South Africa, and the current three to four month wait time still applies. Pro-Link GLOBAL will continue to monitor announcements by the DHA from our KGNM offices in South Africa and will look forward to hopefully bringing you news that the system has gone live – sometime in the coming months. 

Reminders: recent and upcoming immigration implementations

The following are reminders of recent or upcoming implementation dates that you should know:
  • 4 October, Brazil – The strike by the union representing the foreign service workers in Brazilian Embassies and Consulates overseas ended. Staff at overseas consular posts are back to full capacity. The processing of visas and other consular filings is resuming, but delays will continue while consular posts work to overcome the backlog of pending cases. (See our Global Brief of 4 October 2016 for additional details) 
  • 10 October, Taiwan – Private companies, public offices, government offices, and overseas consular posts will be closed for National Day
  • 11-12 October, Israel – Private companies, public offices, government offices, and overseas consular posts will be closed on the 4th for Rosh Hashanah and the 11th and 12th for Yom Kippur

For related news and features, visit our Immigration section.

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