The world is in the midst of a digital transformation in all aspects of life. Zoom in further to the immigration arena: governments are attempting to keep pace with this movement and are growingly replacing in-person and in-country processes with online systems. However, the rapid growth of digitized systems has often resulted in workflow delays, technical issues and process-related problems that often hinder foreign nationals’ ability to start assignments on time. The growth of online systems in governments’ immigration systems so far in 2019 shows the potential for more streamlined immigration processes once implementation glitches are ironed out.
The below is a summary of each region’s moves to online immigration systems in 2019:
- Sub-Saharan Africa. A shift to online immigration processes in Angola, Nigeria, Mozambique, and Zambia shows a growing preference for digital tracking and storage systems in the region. However, implementation has been slow and plagued by system failures caused by inadequate online infrastructure.
- What’s ahead? Internal process changes are likely to cause disruptions and delays as policy changes outpace technological capabilities, requiring governments to change internal processes to line up with new initiatives.
- Latin America. Chile introduced a mandatory online system for permanent residence application submission. Argentina opened an electronic system for all in-country immigration applications. Peru launched an online system for foreign nationals to request police records, which replaced the previous in-person request process.
- What’s ahead? Online applications and processes are not expected to completely replace mandatory in-person appearances by foreign nationals in the short term, as tracking methods for foreign populations remain a work in progress for many Latin American governments.
- Asia Pacific. An effort to consolidate government administrative systems has led to an increased use of online platforms, especially in Indonesia and China, where in the recent past, numerous government agencies interacted in the immigration process, often causing delays and multiple administrative hurdles for applicants and employers.
- What’s ahead? The region’s governments will continue to digitize immigration systems and improve infrastructure to handle high levels of immigration.
- Many European countries implemented online processes in 2019: the Slovak Republic introduced an online system for residence-related processes; Bulgaria, an online posted worker notification system; Norway, an online in-country registration process for non-EU nationals; the United Kingdom, online right to work checks; and France, an online visa validation system.
- What’s ahead? Online system proliferation may increase immigration security and improve travel efficiency where the systems work well. This will be seen in the European Travel Information and Authorisation System in 2021, which will require visa-exempt nationals to obtain advance electronic approval for travel to the European Union. Although this process will add an extra step for visa-free nationals, the process is expected to be completed within 10 minutes online or on a mobile device and will not require any visa-like obligations such as visiting a consulate.
- Middle East & North Africa. Several countries in the region have embraced digital transformation: Pakistan introduced an e-visa system, the United Arab Emirates launched an online application system for long-term residence permit applicants, and Saudi Arabia implemented an online permanent residency program.
- What’s ahead? Continued digitization of immigration processes will likely improve the efficiency of processes and attract foreign workers and employers, ultimately counterbalancing high unemployment rates in the region.
What’s the takeaway?
Despite the challenges, countries will continue to subscribe to digital platform use, both as a way to streamline immigration agencies’ work, and as a method to improve capabilities to track foreign nationals. Although this can lead to greater efficiencies for foreign nationals and businesses, governments will likely continue to face the problems of outdated technological infrastructure systems and the resulting processing disruptions in the short-term. Notably, employers and foreign nationals should work with their immigration provider to comply with changing process steps and shifts in administrative burdens in the immigration process (from employers to foreign nationals, or vice-versa).
For more information on trends in electronic visas and other important immigration events in 2019 and beyond, access Fragomen's Worldwide Trends Report