As the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak continues to expand across the globe, international immigration lawyers find themselves in various stages of the crisis management lifecycle, having to advise clients and companies with business travel and immigration needs.
This short update summarizes some of the special directives of the Hong Kong government to contain the spread of the virus and the impact on immigration law practitioners.
Hong Kong is requiring compulsory quarantine for 14 days for all persons, regardless of nationality, entering from all jurisdictions except for Macau, Taiwan, and mainland China. After the 14 days of home quarantine, those persons will be subject to another 2 weeks of medical surveillance.
In addition, the government has closed all but three border checkpoints: the airport, the Shenzhen Bay Bridge, and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. Flights from China have been greatly reduced, and cross-border rail connections as well as cross-border ferries have also been suspended.
Impact on Operations of the Hong Kong Immigration Department
The Hong Kong Immigration Department (HKID) is now reopened for all services after a period when all government employees were advised not to go to the office but to work from home, except for staff of departments providing emergency services and essential public services such as urgent extension of visa applications and passport applications and renewals. All other services were suspended, including new applications for employment visas, change of sponsor, non-urgent applications for extension of stay, Hong Kong Identification Card appointments, and collection of approved visas.
While the HKID has reopened, new employment visa applications and applications for change of employment sponsor and non-urgent applications for extension of stay will be delayed because of a backlog of existing applications and a large number of new applications. Employers therefore should be prepared for a delay in their employees’ start of employment.
Certificate of No Criminal Conviction Office
The Hong Kong Police Force’s Certificate of No Criminal Office has implemented the following measures to reduce the number of people gathering at the office.
- Applicants are encouraged to make an appointment through the Online Booking System or through the auto-telephone answering system at 2396-5351.
- In addition, there will be 60 places for applicants without appointment by the distribution of discs, which are distributed at 8:45 a.m. each day. Those allocated a disc should return to the office for processing of their application at the designated time slot on the same day stated on the disc.
- Applicants are advised to wear masks, and their body temperature will be checked before entering the office. Those who have fever or respiratory symptoms will be told to leave.
- As a result of reduced personnel during the government policy of not requiring non-essential employees to go to the office, the processing of Hong Kong Police Certificates for those seeking to immigrate will likely be delayed.
High Court Registry Services
Many Citizenship By Investment programs require documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce certificates, and affidavits not only to be notarized but also legalized by the Hong Kong High Court Registry through an apostille stamp in accordance with the Hague Convention. These services had been curtailed completely for a period of time as the High Court Registry had temporarily closed for such services.
The High Court Registry Office has now reopened and legalizations of documents are being processed routinely.
U.S. Consulate Operations
As of March 19, 2020, the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau has suspended all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa services. The consulate said it will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but is unable to provide a specific date. There is no fee to change an appointment, and visa application fees are valid for one year.
To reschedule an immigrant visa appointment, use the Visa Inquiry Form at https://hk.usconsulate.gov/visas/visa-inquiry-form/
To request an emergency nonimmigrant visa appointment for immediate travel to the United States for medical reasons, funerals, urgent business travel, or urgent exchange visitor (J-1) or student (F-1) travel, use the Visa Inquiry Form at https://hk.usconsulate.gov/visas/visa-inquiry-form/
U.S. Citizen Services, such as applications for passports or registering for a consular report of birth of a U.S. citizen abroad, continue to be available by appointment.