During this COVID-19 pandemic, one of the issues facing companies has been the continuing recruitment of skilled workers from third countries; it is understood that the work permit process had stalled and the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) in Luxembourg, stepped in to facilitate the reopening of the administrative processes behind the granting of such work permits.

Paul Schonenberg, AMCHAM Chairman, spoke with Chronicle.lu and explained "the AMCHAM team has re-organised itself based on work-from-home and video conferencing strategies to focus heavily on discussing issues and concerns internally within our committee structure, and then interacting with government decision leaders. This is done to ensure the interests and needs of the expatriate communities and international companies with their employees are appropriately identified and considered when decisions are made for the national good. To inform and communicate with our members, AMCHAM has launched a weekly Newsletter digitally distributed via our database, website and social media sites, which aggregates together all of the available economic and governmental policy issues and guidance (fully translated into English as required), augmented by articles of interest to employees and their families to promote their quality of life, health, happiness and psychological well-being during this difficult period. In this regard, AMCHAM is pleased to have an ongoing partnership with Chronicle.lu in service to our community of English speakers as we have done together for many years".

Paul Schonenberg continued: "Recently AMCHAM has begun to focus on return-to-work considerations including the resumption of the work permit approval process necessary to ensure Luxembourg warmly welcomes in a timely manner the highly skilled foreigners needed to maintain the economy, but who are in insufficient supply locally. As a result of the AMCHAM interactions with responsible government officials in several of the key ministries, we are very pleased to publish the article below authored by Anne-Catherine Thill, the responsible official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the work permit approval process, who explains the government’s thinking and plans for resuming the approval process for external work permits".

The article in full:

"The COVID-19 pandemic currently affects Europe and the world as a whole, including, inevitably, the Grand-Duchy. Like its counterparts in the three neighbouring countries, the Luxembourg Government has reacted by rapidly rolling out a confinement strategy. The measures taken to protect public health have severe consequences for the national economy, entrepreneurs and workers. Many of the Luxembourg-based companies employing third country nationals are more heavily affected as their employees are stranded in Luxembourg or abroad after some countries imposed travel restrictions to and from their territories. The European Union has recently reevaluated entry regulations at its external borders which are maintained until 15 June 2020.

As Luxembourg is entering the next stage of easing confinement rules, the Immigration Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs is well aware of the impact of the measures, which had to be taken, for entrepreneurs and understands their concerns, concerning both human resources management and talent attraction to the Grand Duchy. In order to alleviate the situation, the following immigration procedures concerning third country nationals employed by Luxembourg companies, entrepreneurs, researchers and their family members have been put in place:

The Règlement grand-ducal of 18th March 2020 introducing a series of measures aimed at tackling the COVID-19 crisis has introduced – for the duration of the crisis – a derogation to the law of 29 August 2008 on the free movement of persons and immigration by prolonging the validity of visas, temporary residence permits, residence cards and permits expiring after 1st March 2020. Likewise, the stay of third-country nationals not subject to the visa requirement and whose stay has just exceeded 90 days has been authorized for the duration of the state of crisis. Now the return to normal is currently prepared even if some uncertainties regarding the precise timeline persist. It is advisable to follow the official communication by the Government in that regard. Thus the processing of files submitted before, during and after the state of crisis will be ensured by priority system; once the backlog is cleared, new requests will be processed.

In parallel to the cessation of visa issuance, procedures in view of granting permanent and temporary residence permits were stopped. However, the Administration continues to process urgent requests (for family or medical reasons). Processing of requests for researchers urgently recruited by research centers, especially for COVID-19 related research has, of course, also continued.

In order to allow a resumption of the usual procedures, temporary residence permits  (“autorisation de séjour temporaire”)  that have been granted are reshipped on demand after the end of their period of validity. Those concerned are advised to inform themselves in their country of origin (local authorities, Embassies, consulates, airlines) about the timing of the lifting of the confinement measures. The procedure for the enrollment of residence permits has been revised in order to allow the control of the flow of people at the counters. Those concerned will receive letters indicating an appointment for the enrollment. First appointments will be available for mid-May. Needless to say that of course all temporary residence permit holders are allowed to work during the validity period of their permit. Thus third country nationals will be able to work in Luxembourg right after their arrival in Luxembourg.

Current staffing allows the “Service Etrangers” to reach out to the public, primarily via email. Even if processing times being inevitably longer during the sanitary crisis, the department of “travailleurs salariés, entrepreneurship, chercheurs, regroupement familial” strongly bothers to maintain the usual flexibility towards urgent requests by those in need for assistance in the context of their arrival in Luxembourg.

Further the validity period of residence and work permits expiring shortly before or during the „state of crisis“ has been automatically prolonged until the end of the “state of crisis”. Further extensions are currently planned concerning the applications for the renewal of residence permits as well as the handling of overstayers.

The Administration stays in close contact with Luxembourg Embassies and consulates abroad in order to facilitate the return of workers to Luxembourg. Regular exchanges between the Immigration Directorate, the Ministry of the Economy, the Department for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises, the Ministry of Labour, Employment and the Social and Solidarity Economy as well as other local partners allow to identify the respective needs of the employers and to sketch pragmatic solutions to their concerns.

I strongly recommend that, as in the past, companies or their agents should contact their file manager and report any “emergency” or concern related to a request for a residence permit for a third country national whose recruitment is essential for the company’s activity.

If it is impossible to submit the documents because of the current situation, sending by email is accepted. Likewise, if certain documents cannot be obtained, the applicant is invited to contact the Immigration Directorate in order to agree on a temporary solution. In addition I estimate that the respective advisory committees (the Advisory committee for salaried workers and the Advisory committee for entrepreneurs) will reconvene as soon as possible.

In conclusion, I would like to stress that in terms of immigration procedures in general, the constraints linked to the exceptional situation, such as the exceptional aid granted to the self-employed, will not be prejudicial in the analysis of the requests for residence permits of the employee, his or her employer, the self-employed person or the family members. In terms of immigration procedures, all efforts aim to contribute to the smooth running of businesses. Finally, let me emphasize that talent attraction by local partners will also be decisive in ensuring the relaunch of the Luxembourg economy.

We are headed towards better times and meanwhile stay safe and healthy."

Anne-Catherine Thill, Advisor at MAEE Immigration Directorate and representative of the service "Salariés, entrepreneurship, chercheur, sportif,regroupement familial, vie privée, résident longue durée".