US visa pandemic-based entry bans affect European travelers

Pandemic-based US visa and entry bans, originally imposed by former American President Donald Trump, have actually become tougher in some respects under Biden. In the Schengen Area, UK and Ireland it has become more difficult to receive National Interest Exceptions (NIEs) and thereby avoid the long COVID-19 backlog of visa applications. NIEs for travelers from these countries had previously been granted more easily under the Trump administration at US embassies and consulates. In many cases to gain entry to the US quickly you now need to come under “critical infrastructure needs”, which is restricted to a limited number of industries.

However, changes in US Department of State (DoS) guidance has made it more difficult for business travelers, including senior executives and managers, to enter the US. Under previous guidance, E1 and E2 visa holders, H1B visa holders and L1 visa holders would be seen to offer substantial economic benefits to the US and visa applications would often be approved.
However, the US Embassy in Rome, Italy recently explained that managers or senior executives traveling to observe operations or hold meetings with clients will no longer qualify for a National Interest Exception.

Some countries not included
While applicants from the Schengen region, the UK and Ireland have been blocked from NIEs, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken did not include Brazil or South Africa in the change of policy, despite these two nations having particularly contagious variants of COVID-19.
The abruptly updated policy also doesn’t include China or Iran – countries that the US considers to be adversaries. The DoS announcement also fails to explain why students traveling from the Schengen region, the UK or Ireland with a valid F1 or M1 student visa do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual NIE to travel.
According to new guidance, students granted an F1 or M1 visa will ‘automatically be considered for an NIE to travel to the US’.
Meanwhile, there has been no change to the COVID-19 Labor Market and the different and more-easily-attainable NIE standards for H1B, L1 and J1 visa categories.
By rescinding the substantial economic benefit from the NIE criteria, which applied to travelers from the Schengen area, the UK and Ireland, Blinken now requires US consular officers to be satisfied that a visa applicant will provide ‘vital support to critical infrastructure sectors’ as defined by the Department of Homeland Security.
The DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) says: “There are 16 critical infrastructure sectors whose assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, are considered so vital to the US that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.”
“They include chemical, commercial facilities, communications, critical manufacturing, dams, defense industrial base, emergency services, energy, financial services, food and agriculture, government facilities, healthcare and public health, information technology, nuclear reactors, transportation, and water/wastewater systems,” the CISA added.

NIE rules make no sense
Rescinding NIE for citizens of the Schengen area, the UK and Ireland has been described as ‘making no sense’ on many levels, whether it’s on the grounds of public health, foreign policy, economic policy, rule of law or interdepartmental accountability.
To rescind on the basis of public health is baffling considering that student visa holders can enter unobstructed, while people from Brazil and South Africa – where a contagious variant of the coronavirus is known to exist – can also travel to the US.
From a foreign policy point of view, most countries in the Schengen area, the UK and Ireland are considered allies of the US, whereas nations like China and Iran would be considered enemies, yet their citizens are exempt from the new NIE rules.
From an economic standpoint, questions have been raised on why ‘harm to US industries that utilize talent from around the world’ has been used as a basis to remove NIE for some countries, but not others.
Questions have also been raised over why the US State Department is adjudicating and denying applications when its consular officers only have the authority to determine ‘visa ineligibilities’ and not inadmissibility to enter the US.
The use of funds by the DoS has also been questioned, with reports of appropriated funds being used unlawfully.
The DoS is set to review the existing rules before May 3, 2021, at which point some of these questions may be answered.

Retirement? What retirement? Why we need to work into our twilight years – and how

‘We still haven’t figured out a proper way to harness the skills and knowledge of retirees to mentor and build the skills of new labour market entrants,’ says one expert. Here, we look at what retirement means in 2021 in South Africa.
In the 2015 film The Intern, the plot follows a 70-year-old widower, Ben Whittaker, played by Robert De Niro, who realises he is not ready for retirement. In an attempt to “reinvent” himself and re-enter the job market, he takes up a senior intern position at a fast-paced online fashion site run by high-energy millennials.
Although the days of walking out of one nine-to-five job after four decades with a gold watch, and swapping an office chair for a rocking chair, might be over, the reality for those in their twilight years, certainly in South Africa, is far from what Hollywood depicts.
From forensics to the medical and legal fields, Dr Richard Holmes has been practising as an industrial and clinical psychologist for 37 years and continues to work at 74. “It is very difficult to discuss retirement as a concept in a country like ours where roughly 47% are working-aged people who actually don’t have jobs and might not ever have a steady job,” he says. “So I think it is imperative to note, particularly with the subject of retirement, that there is no one-size-fits-all case.”
Bernie Dolley, an NGO worker for more than 35 years, says: “Retirement in South Africa is a very complex and controversial topic. The more I observe in the line of work that I do, the more I am convinced that there is no such thing as retirement, at least from a South African perspective. If you mention that word [retirement] in the communities I work with, the answer is: ‘Retirement? What do you mean? There is no such thing in our community’.”
In 2000, Dolley founded Ikhala, an NGO that supports about 10 community-based organisations across rural communities in the Eastern Cape.
“It [retirement] is a very painful topic that no one even wants to talk about because it’s like, what does that actually mean. I’ve got nothing to retire with,” she says.
“There is no such thing as a ‘retirement home’ in the traditional sense of the term in these villages. These villages have what we refer to as ‘service centres’ that primarily are made up of very old people who just cannot afford to be on pension because they are still supporting households on the government pension [of] R1,860 per month. So, it is a very different scenario to what we all initially imagine retirement to be… it’s a big area that requires social justice because it is just completely unequal.”
Rachel Janneman during an interview on December 6, 2012 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Jan Hofmeyr is one of Joburg’s oldest suburbs but the elder people who live there say a lot has changed over the years. Crime and unemployment rates have increased, and more people are using drugs. (Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Nelius Rademan)
Dolley adds that Ikhala brings the elderly together in the service centre and offers them a meal, counselling, arts and crafts or just company. The centre is a “kind of therapy” since it encourages them to get off of their homestead and support their peers who have the same struggles.
Deputy director of the Development Policy Research Unit at the University of Cape Town’s School of Economics, Dr Morné Oosthuizen, says: “Certainly working several jobs over a career seems to be the norm, and changing technology has meant that freelancing has become more common. And freelancing is one of the trends that opens up the possibility of ‘slowing down’ rather than retiring.
“But I think ‘society’ is probably too broad when one is talking about how we think about retirement. We need to remember that a large proportion of the South African population over 60 is either reliant on some combination of the older persons grant and familial support, or they are reliant on the older persons grant and they need to support other members of their extended family. For this group, ‘retirement’ means something quite different to the idea of ‘middle-class’/‘upper-middle-class’ retirement.
“In terms of the latter, I think there are trends towards more active retirement, so using their skills to give back, get involved in causes and often to remain engaged to some degree in the labour market. I think where we are probably lacking at the moment as a society is that we still haven’t figured out a proper way to harness the skills and knowledge of retirees to mentor and build the skills of new labour market entrants.”
The primary issue among the elderly is money, says Dolley. “We have found it is mainly women caring for entire households of young children because either their own children have passed on or have moved to a different city or even province and very seldom send remittances back home, so often granny is left to support from five up to 10 children in their households.”
And that’s not all – many of the elderly women she is referring to were “domestic workers in and around bigger towns or on farms”. When they reach an age where they can’t work anymore, there’s often no pension or allowance – “when it is over, it is over.”
“I am going to be 60 next month and there is no way I can retire. I have always worked, I have a home and a husband who also works, he’s a teacher, but from an affordability point of view, with life as it is, I just don’t have enough savings to be able to ‘retire’ comfortably. I will have to continue to work and thank God I am healthy and still have energy and I still have a job which I am hoping to continue for many more years to come.”
Magdalena von Solms, director of CMR Eastern Cape’s child protection services, echoes this feeling: “I have seen with colleagues of mine that they are working longer and longer, beyond 60, because they just simply cannot afford to retire. If they still have the strength and the ability and their work is able to accommodate them, they will hold on tightly to that work. Although there is a pension fund, it is not enough to sustain them.”
Von Solms says what Dolley encounters in the rural areas is similar to the urban areas where the majority of her work is based. She works with vulnerable families across the spectrum of the population where there is abuse, neglect or abandonment.
Working in child protection, Von Solms gets to know entire families, dealing extensively with children’s caregivers. “What we find is that your caregivers are mostly older people ‘standing in’ for grandchildren or their children. Many times we have found that the child’s parents either leave to find work somewhere else and the family need to stand in for the children, or the age group that need to raise their own children have passed away or abandoned their children completely. So elderly members of the family like grandparents are standing in and they are getting older and older but have to raise children with a subsidy grant of R1,800 a month.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has made the situation worse as people lose their jobs. “Just this morning I had a conversation with one of my colleagues about the increase in requests for food support because the pension the elderly are receiving is only stretching as far as keeping the lights on for them and the family members they are supporting.
“From the perspective of the work I do, I think the number of older persons who retire with enough to have that wonderful, dream retirement is marginal. The majority need to take care of other family members, younger generations. I see this every day.”
Fear of retirement
“I would imagine that most people have some level of concern around whether they have saved enough to see them comfortably through retirement. We do not know how long we will be retired for, which creates uncertainty on the financial side. And we know that, as South Africans, we generally do not or cannot save enough for retirement,” says Oosthuizen.
And on top of financial worries, there are psychological concerns.
According to psychologist Erik Erikson, people in their 60s are in the psychosocial developmental stage of generativity versus stagnation and after 65 shift to integrity versus despair. The former is associated with the need to give back, to contribute to society and to find ways to support the next generation.
“Yet people are expected to retire and are in many ways simply discarded as no longer having anything of value to offer. This arguably contributes to the thwarting of these developmental needs, making the transition to a sense of integrity rather than despair harder,” says clinical psychologist Dr Natalie Kerr.
“Some people have spent their entire lives working in a position or pursuing a career to which they have devoted their lives, their energy, their skill, etc, and their work was how they derived a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Some of them have defined themselves and based their entire sense of identity on what they do. For these people their status and sense of self are directly related to their functioning at work. Retirement thus represents a loss of a sense of identity, status, sense of self, etc.
“However, these individuals are still capable of making a significant contribution long past their retirement age and the loss of their skills and expertise should not be regarded as insignificant. They can, and should, still play a role in society,” she adds.
Retirement versus reinvention
“Do you reinvent yourself? If you still have your physical and mental dexterity, then 100% yes. Because you have to. If you can reinvent yourself with a skill that you already have, then do it. Whether it is project management or consulting or volunteer work. Changing your occupation and adopting an entirely new skill can be difficult and risky as an older person, but reinvention of an existing skill can and should be done,” says Holmes.
Kerr points out that “‘reinvention’ is not the same as ‘redirection’. A person of 60-plus should be in a perfectly good position to change direction without having to start at bedrock. Redirections tap into skills evolved over decades and intellectual and creative capacities that don’t form overnight.”
When thinking about retirement, Oosthuizen’s advice is to not look at it as “a big bang event” where one suddenly goes from working and earning to not working and living off one’s savings, but to figure out how to transition gradually from one to the other in a “part-time retirement”.
“For example, scale back to a couple days of work per week or part-time employment if that’s an option, or harness your skills to supplement your income. I don’t think that reinvention is for everyone or a necessity, and I think some of the options such as starting new businesses may come with considerable risk at a life stage where high risk is not generally advisable and so should be considered very carefully.”
With increasingly high levels of uncertainty about job security and job requirements often shifting rapidly to meet new demands, Kerr advises to keep learning, no matter one’s age: “Those who keep learning and have the capacity to adapt quickly to change are the ones most likely to survive a turbulent labour market. There is no reason ‘older’ employees would not be able to do this too… Of course, there will always be those who don’t want to reinvent themselves and who eagerly anticipate retirement, and that too is okay.”
And “don’t wait until retirement to ‘start living’”, she adds, because things may not work out as planned. “Rather do the things that you want to do while you can and start developing a range of skills and learning new things and making new connections so that you remain relevant in the workplace and also connected to people who are not in your usual work environment.”
It’s important, she notes, that people don’t define themselves and their phases of life in terms of age categories and instead start using more initiative to keep growing, learning and up/multiskilling to remain relevant, but within reason.
“Try new things, but do so responsibly. Some people have big plans about starting their own businesses or venturing into markets of which they have little experience… It would be advisable for people to thoroughly explore and investigate their dreams in terms of the hard realities of, for example, running a business and learning the skills they might need before they dive in.”
Holmes shares his personal experience: “I have had the same career as when I started but I am using my old skills. You have to not only embrace technology and the gig economy but be willing to upskill yourself. It is never too late to upskill. One thing I have always held close is the idea that everything of yours can be taken away from you except your knowledge and experience.” We shouldn’t be afraid of competing with a younger workforce but be encouraged to work together. “Work with the younger generations. It can become very exciting and as cliché as it may sound, it really does keep you young.
“We are already living in a very different world. For the next generations, retirement will be incredibly different too compared with that of your parents and that of my parents. I think the next generations will become more and more mobile. You will have to maintain your level of technical prowess; you will have to continue to embrace new technologies; you will have to be aware of the difficulties that will arise from not communicating with people face-to-face… But in a way, the same basic rules apply. You have to form solid relationships if you can. Creating and maintaining life partnerships, whatever those may be, are incredibly important when growing old. You cannot put a value on what that means.”

Alleged arms dealer Alexander Zingman arrested in DRC

Businessman with links to Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko was arrested by Congolese police in Lubumbashi on Wednesday after meeting with former president Joseph Kabila.
Mystery and international intrigue surround the arrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of Alexander Zingman, a businessman and alleged arms dealer with close links to Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko.
Zingman was arrested by Congolese police in Lubumbashi on Wednesday after meeting with former president Joseph Kabila. Zingman has previously been mentioned in media reports in connection with arms deals in Zambia and Zimbabwe – which he has denied.
A source close to the administration of DRC President Felix Tshisekedi confirmed Zingman’s arrest. He said that after meeting Kabila, Zingman flew from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi, where he was questioned by police about his business in the DRC. The source said he could not explain what he was doing in the DRC.
Zingman is a dual US and Belarus citizen, and his arrest has led to intense diplomatic activity. The Congolese source said the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe were both applying pressure for his release. However, the Congolese official said, they were “holding on to him for now”.
Another DRC source claimed that Zingman had offered to sell weapons to the former president, whose relations with his successor are said to be tense. The source said there was no evidence that Kabila invited the meeting or agreed to any arms deals.
Zingman threatened to sue the investigative Zambian newspaper Digger News in 2020 after it published pictures of him meeting at the Zambian Embassy in Moscow with President Edgar Lungu and the top brass of the Zambian military including Defence Permanent Secretary Sturdy Mwale, and Zambia Air Force Commander Lieutenant-General David Muma, in 2016.
The newspaper reported that Zingman brokered a meeting between the president and Lungu and Alexander Mikheev, president of Rosoboronexport, the Russian state-owned arms exporting company. In July 2017 Zambia purchased five Sukhoi jets from Russia.
Zingman has been photographed many times with Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has been on Zingman’s private jet. He is Zimbabwe’s honorary consul to Belarus.

Ghana faces parliamentary paralysis as Akufo-Addo enters second term

After a disputed election, bitter relations between political parties and a hung Parliament will test governance processes.

On 4 March, Ghana’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled to uphold the second term victory of president Nana Akufo-Addo in the 7 December 2020 general elections. Akufo-Addo’s opponent and immediate past predecessor John Dramani Mahama, who had challenged the results in court and argued for a rerun, criticised the decision.

He and his main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) party, said the presidential and parliamentary results were rigged for Akufo-Addo and the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP). They accused Ghana’s Electoral Commission of bias and incompetence.

The situation sets the stage for possible paralysis in government decision making in parliament. It also raises the risk of more inter-party acrimony that could provoke violence before and after the 2024 elections in which Mahama may run.

In the short term, the Akufo-Addo government won’t have the numbers to pass its legislative agenda. The NPP and the NDC each hold 137 of the 275 seats in parliament, with the remaining one held by independent Andrew Asiamah Amoako of the Fomena constituency. The NPP expelled Amoako following a controversial party primary and his decision to run as an independent.

Ghana operates a semi-parliamentary system that obligates presidents to appoint the majority of ministers from parliament. This approach means the government will need the NDC’s support in approving bills because members of parliament (MPs) who double as ministers are often not present to vote due to their ministerial duties.

Experts interviewed by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said this could constrain governance if the NDC decides to obstruct government business in the chamber. The opposition party may use this strategy to frustrate the NPP and score political points ahead of the 2024 elections. Inter-party relations are already bitter, as was displayed during the chaotic election of a new Speaker on 7 January when MPs from both sides openly brawled with each other.

Some NDC MPs and senior figures have hinted that parliament will not readily approve bills and agreements submitted by the executive. Haruna Iddrisu, NDC parliamentary leader, has warned that the party’s MPs, who occupy 13 out of the 26 seats on the chamber’s vetting committee, won’t approve more than 70 ministers and deputies. Akufo-Addo has indicated that up to 85 are to be appointed.

On 1 March, all NDC members on the committee voted to reject Akufo-Addo’s nominees for the agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, and information ministers on the grounds of dishonesty during their vetting. The three nominees were ultimately approved by the parliamentary plenary after more than 20 NDC MPs voted with their NPP colleagues.

The vote drew fiery criticism from the NDC’s communications officer and many of the party’s supporters who accused their MPs and the party leadership of betraying a collective cause. This reaction and the call for a leadership change will probably make the NDC cautious in its engagement with the government, experts told ISS Today.

Nonetheless, the hung parliament presents opportunities for better governance and accountability through oversight over the executive. It’s a departure from the past seven parliaments in Ghana’s Fourth Republic (1992 to date), in which governing parties had comfortable majorities, and the executive always had its way. These were, according to experts, ‘rubber-stamp’ parliaments, especially as many MPs were part of the executive as ministers and seldom challenged bills and agreements.

For the next four years, the government will try to avoid criticism by being more diligent and thorough in presenting budget statements and other vital documents for debate.

Meanwhile, although the Supreme Court’s ruling hasn’t revived the violent protests that followed the election, the NDC may take a firm position in the next polls. Ghana has a competitive winner-takes-all electoral system. Both the NPP and NDC have mobilised political vigilante groups to attack and intimidate opponents.

The government outlawed vigilantes in 2019, but experts expressed grave doubts about the political will to enforce the law. They cited the two main parties’ reluctance to sign a code of conduct on peaceful campaigning ahead of the December 2020 elections.

More than a year after the law was passed, the Ministry of Justice hasn’t issued its enforcement guidelines. For opposition parties that feel the courts won’t afford them justice, vigilantes become a reliable source of security during campaigns.

In addition to their distrust of the Electoral Commission, Mahama and the NDC have subtly expressed their lack of confidence in the independence of state security and justice institutions. Among these bodies are the military, the police and the courts.

If these vital institutions lack legitimacy, future election disputes may be settled on the street rather than in the courts. The 2024 election will be crucial for the opposition, as observers note that a third consecutive loss would seriously demoralise the party and deepen factional divides.

Akufo-Addo should adopt a consensus-building approach to governance and ensure opposition views are considered, especially on crucial laws. The Electoral Commission needs to strengthen the Inter-Party Advisory Committee as a platform for consensus and trust-building around election preparations.

The National Peace Council, which facilitated the signing of the peace accord by Akufo-Addo and Mahama on 4 December 2020, should work with both sides to defuse election-related tensions.

Nigeria suspends Emirates flights over COVID-19 tests

ABUJA, March 22 (Reuters) – Nigeria suspended the airline Emirates from flying into or out of its territory last week after the carrier imposed additional COVID-19 test requirements on passengers from the country, the aviation minister said on Monday.
Emirates said last week passenger flights to and from Nigeria had been suspended until further notice in line with government directives, but did not give details.
Aviation minister Hadi Sirika told a news conference that the airline had demanded passengers from Nigeria undertake three COVID-19 tests within 24 hours, leading the government to suspend its operations, with the exemption of cargo and humanitarian flights.
“To make us go through three tests within 24 hours does not make sense. Since they insist, their operations remain suspended,” Sirika said.
Last month Nigeria lifted a suspension of Emirates airlines flights imposed after the carrier sought additional COVID-19 tests for passengers from Nigeria.
In addition to requiring a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test before flying from Nigeria, the airline added an extra requirement of having a rapid test four hours before departure.

Government prioritises wealthy investor visas

Money talks if you want permanent residency in Australia.
There has never been a better time for rich foreign investors to buy residency in Australia, after the federal government quietly pushed ultra-wealthy applicants to the front of the line.
An internal document released under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act reveals that in August last year, then-Immigration Minister Alan Tudge directed the Department of Home Affairs to prioritise investor visas over nearly every other type of visa applicant.
The direction, which became effective on September 1, ordered that foreigners willing to invest $5 million or more in Australia be conferred number one status, granting them a fast-track to permanent residency (PR).
The decision places ultra-rich individuals on hallowed footing shared only with two other visa types: those filling the most desperate critical skills shortages the country is facing, as well as internationally-recognised professionals, artists, athletes and academics with an “outstanding” record of achievement.
Home Affairs employees were instructed to secondarily assess those investors willing to stump up $1.5 million or more along with other Business Innovation and Investment Program (BIIP) visas before considering any other visa applications.
The impact has been both immediate and spectacular.
According to a separately obtained document, BIIP visa approvals jumped tenfold to hit almost 750 in September and haven’t faltered in the months since.
Investors to help spur the recovery
The reshuffle confirms the government’s preference for wealthy applicants over other demand-based visa streams.
It speaks volumes given pandemic 408 visas, which are designed to maintain essential personnel in “critical sectors” like healthcare, are now considered secondary to investment.
The decision demonstrates a renewed focus on wealthy investors, who are estimated to have contributed some $1.3 billion to the local economy last year.
The Department of Home Affairs said the growth in the program is “to support Australia’s post-COVID-19 recovery by maximising its economic contribution”.
“[Significant investors] help inject additional funds into the Australian economy including into higher risk investments that support emerging enterprises, the commercialisation of Australian ideas and research and development which is a key aspect of economic recovery,” a spokesperson said.
Australia is not alone in rolling out the red carpet to the rich.
Since the wake of the global financial crisis (GFC), everyone from indebted economies like Portugal and international hubs like Dubai began using visas and residency to woo the wealthy.
Closer to home, New Zealand has leveraged its coronavirus credentials, along with its peace and stability, to promote itself as a destination for the rich.
Scores of Silicon Valley billionaires swapped America for Aotearoa when the pandemic kicked off last year, with the two-island nation offering versions of Australia’s visas for $NZ3 million and $NZ10 million respectively.
However, it has also drawn a line in the sand after Jacinda Ardern’s government rejected a proposal to offer 2,000 visas for $50 million a pop.
“We don’t want people paying for passports,” she said.
Inside the investor migration into Australia
As part of the push, the Australian government doubled the annual cap for investor visas from 6,800 last year to 13,500.
Even with quarantine and flight caps, which have frustrated the 40,000 Australians stranded overseas, visa demand looks set to exhaust the extra supply.
In questions submitted to it, Home Affairs stated that “the majority of the 2020-21 program places” would be allocated to the backlog of applications.
Not that the pandemic hasn’t also helped drive new demand, according to property platform Juwai IQI, which helps investors from China buy property in countries like Australia.
“In the 2019-2020 year, we had more than 1,500 applicants, higher than either of the previous two years,” chairman and co-founder Georg Chmiel said, noting the biggest investors predominantly come from the one region.
“China and Hong Kong account for 88.5% of all Significant Investor Visas that have been granted. Two other Asian countries, Malaysia and Vietnam, are also in the top five.”
Despite the influx of applications, immigration lawyers reported approvals were being finalised in just four months, with the Home Affairs office receiving $1.2 million to help it process BIIP places.
Previously, the same approvals have taken up to two years.
“Processing resources have been redirected from the general skilled migration visas, which do not create jobs, to [significant investor] visas,” Melbourne lawyer Lily Ong said, noting 30,000 other visa places had been cut as part of the shuffle.
It came as part of an overhaul of the visa program implemented during Tudge’s tenure, including increasing the threshold for business innovation visas to a minimum of $1.25 million.
“These changes will maximise the economic contribution of these high value investors to get the best possible outcome for Australians,” Tudge said in a ministerial announcement at the time.
It followed a December review which proposed a range of adjustments, including potentially doubling the $1.5 million investment threshold for regular investor visas and incentivising foreigners to invest in regional Australia.
Property the biggest winner
However, for all the talk of innovation and business investment, it is the property market that may receive the lion’s share of foreign attention.
Juwai IQI processed 1,500 applicants last year, enough to snap up one-sixth of all investor visas alone. With many Chinese applicants lured by the stability and lifestyle, according to Chmiel, there’s clearly a strong appeal in investing in Australia property in a rising market and becoming a resident.
“Releasing a flood of wealthy investment visa holders into the capital city housing markets could be a boon for vendors of property above $5 million in price,” he said.
“Instead of coming into the market spread out over the next year or two, many are coming all at once.”
The impact of that is already apparent, according to real estate agency Kay & Burton’s international division, as permanent resident visas are also granted in record time.
“Since last year I have had at least five or six clients who literally just got their permanent residency, and there are a few more pending… they weren’t expecting it to come so quickly,” Melbourne-based agency partner Jamie Mi, said, noting some clients are going shopping with upwards of $5 million in affluent suburbs like Toorak.
Permanent resident status, available to visa holders after four years, allows buyers to snap up property without having to fork out exorbitant fees.
“Another client came to me three days ago. They haven’t got their PR [permanent residency] yet, and if they buy now they would have to pay the stamp duty and get FIRB approval. Based on the $6 million to $8 million value they are looking at, that would mean paying the government a half million in fees,” Mi said.
“If you get your permanent residency, that half million dollars lets you get more value in the best suburbs. So, with the faster visa processing, we have an immediate increase in demand in these key suburbs

Home Affairs plans to go ‘paperless’ in South Africa – here are the changes you can expect

Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi says that his department is working on a number of tech-focused features, with plans to take some services digital.
Answering in a recent written parliamentary Q&A, Motsoaledi said that the department will also introduce a number of changes which are aimed at increased identity security for citizens.
“The department has partnered with the Department of Health (DoH) to ensure that each child is allocated with a birth certificate on the spot, by registering birth at health facilities.
“This will curb identity theft from the onset as an ID number gets allocated and remains with the child for life. The primary purpose is to ensure a credible population register, not vulnerable to theft and fraud.”
With ‘live capture’, Motsoaledi said that the department is able to identify applicants through online verification which has a direct interface with the Home Affairs National Identification System (HANIS) to identify persons through biometrics.
“Furthermore, during the collection of smart identity cards, online verification is also performed to ensure that the correct enabling document is handed over to the appropriate clients.”
Motsoaledi said that the South African Smart ID card and passport also have enhanced security features.
“The department is moving away from paper to a paperless environment. The department is thereby progressively phasing out the manual application process,” he said.
“In addition, in terms of the Departments’ Information Security Policy, a model was built around proactive risk assessment and risk management where all users responsible for registering and capturing births and identity-related applications within the domain of the organization, are assigned with biometric fingerprint authentication, to detect and hold users accountable for fraudulent activities.”
Services available
Home Affairs announced the resumption of a number of services under South Africa’s level 1 lockdown at the start of March.
This comes after several services were temporarily suspended due to concerns around Covid-19 transmissions.
The following services are now available:
• Births registration;
• Re-issuance of births certificates;
• Late Registration of Birth (LRB) for learners and pensioners only;
• Death registration;
• Applications temporary identity certificate (TIC);
• Collection of identity cards or documents;
• Applications and collection of passports for those who are exempted to travel;
• Applications for identity (Smart ID) cards or documents for matriculants only;
• Re-issues of Smart ID cards and identity documents;
• Registration and solemnization of marriages;
• Amendments and rectifications;
• Late Registration of Birth (LRB) for all categories;
• Applications and collections of passports for all categories.
“We urge everyone who visits our offices to observe social distancing, sanitise their hands regularly and to wear their masks properly, covering their noses and mouths,” Motsoaledi said.
“Nobody will be allowed into our offices if they are not wearing their masks properly,” he said.