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Trends to Watch

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SPONSORED CONTENT: Immigration Policies for Dependent Spouses and Same-Sex Partners: What is the Road Ahead?

When a foreign national is assigned to an overseas project, whether their family can travel with them is often a top priority in the decision of whether to accept the assignment. Employers must be sensitive to factors such as whether the assignee must be married to their partner to allow the partner to enter the destination country under the assignee’s work permit, and whether the assignee’s spouse can automatically work under their dependent status, among other related issues. Worldwide governments and their immigration departments have been catching up to these concerns, realizing that many highly-skilled employees will not accept temporary or permanent assignments in a country that does not provide favorable policies for partners and spouses.

An analysis of global immigration policy over recent years shows that countries are reducing administrative burdens for dependents and are relaxing policies regarding same-sex spouses and partners. Some examples of these relaxed policies are discussed below:

Expanded entry and work rights for dependents

  • In 2019, the United Arab Emirates announced that it plans to change the main criterion for foreign nationals seeking to sponsor residence permits for dependents from profession to income, which will allow lower-skilled foreign nationals to sponsor dependents.
  • In Ireland, effective April 2019, de facto partners of Critical Skills Employment Permit holders must apply for their dependent status from abroad instead of in Ireland. While this rule change prevents de facto partners from joining the principal applicant immediately upon the start of the assignment, it allows them to work shortly after upon entry for any employer, which was not
    allowed before.
  • In January 2019, Singapore introduced a new work pass that allows eligible Long-Term Visit Pass dependents to work in Singapore without employer sponsorship or an offer of employment.
  • In January 2018, the Israeli Ministry of Interior started allowing spouses of high-tech work permit visa holders to work.
  • Since 2018, dependents of foreign residents in Kuwait are issued visitor visas with a three-month validity instead of the previous one-month validity period, which reduces the cost and administrative burden of renewing their visa during their stay.

Streamlined immigration processes for dependents

  • Since 2019, foreign investors in Oman can sponsor residence visas for dependents directly, instead of through the principal assignee's employer.
  • Since 2018, dependents entering New Zealand can apply for a dependent visa on an online system that was previously only available for primary visa applicants. This decreases the processing time for dependents' visa applications.
  • Since 2018, dependent family members of permit holders in Italy can start working immediately upon filing their dependent visa application. Previously, dependents had to await residence permit issuance before starting work, which took several months.

Examples of relaxed policies for same-sex partners and spouses

  • In May 2019, the Lithuanian Constitutional Court ruled that foreign nationals can sponsor same-sex spouses and registered partners as dependents, where this was not previously possible.
  • In Costa Rica in February 2019, in preparation for a law to be passed in 2020 that will legalize same-sex marriage, the Costa Rican government issued a temporary decree that recognizes same-sex spouses and unmarried same-sex partners as dependents, provided their relationship is considered legal in their country of origin.
  • Since September 2018, Hong Kong allows same-sex dependent spouses, same-sex partners, or individuals who have entered into a legally-recognized same-sex civil partnership or same-sex civil union outside Hong Kong to qualify to apply for dependent status.
  • In June 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that when an EU national moves to a second EU country with a same-sex spouse and applies for residence rights there, the second EU country must recognize the same-sex marriage conducted in the other EU country and grant residence rights, even if the latter country does not allow same-sex marriage under national law. In another decision, the Court held that EU nationals moving to another EU country can sponsor their unmarried partner as a dependent in any EU country.
  • Since 2017, same-sex partners qualify for dependent status in Croatia.
  • Since 2017, unmarried partners of Italian citizens are eligible for a dependent residence permit.

What are the implications of these relaxed rules?

Less-restrictive immigration rules for dependents will increase fluidity in labor migration as assignments become more appealing and administrative burdens are lifted. This could have a cascading effect on governmental policies as expanded immigration rights for same-sex partners and spouses could lead to further legislative protection of such relationships.

A widened social and economic gap between foreign workers (who are usually highly-paid based on minimum salary requirements set by national immigration and/or labor laws) and lower-skilled local workers could lead to friction, and could also result in gentrification, changes in local city planning and other socio-economic changes reflective of changing labor dynamics.

What’s ahead?

Countries are likely to continue to streamline processes to allow dependents to start work closer to their arrival date in the receiving country, for example, by allowing dependents to work automatically based on their dependent visa, by implementing pre-arrival work authorization application processes or by eliminating the requirement to present approved immigration documents to start work. The below map illustrates the limited amount of countries that currently allow dependents the right to work automatically based on their dependent status: 

With such policy shifts, more dependents may seek to enter the local work force.

If global governments recognize that the amount of foreign talent in their country may be affected by the policies toward partners and spouses, more countries will likely implement favorable laws and immigration rules in this arena to attract highly-skilled workers.

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