Coronavirus Update: Awareness and Guidance as it Relates to Mobility
As the world watches the development and global response to the coronavirus (COVID-19), SIRVA and its employees want to keep our clients updated on how the issue is impacting on mobility and to share the latest suggestions provided by Worldwide ERC on steps that employees can take regarding their health and safety. The virus was announced as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization on 1st of January of this year; mobility and HR leaders are encouraged to, therefore, take steps to educate and protect their employees regarding their health and safety during this critical time.
Health and Safety
Worldwide ERC’s article provides readers with a list of credible sources of information regarding the virus and valuable information on providing accommodation to travellers and to relocating individuals whose plans have been affected by the recent outbreak.
To learn more, please read Worldwide ERC’s article, Steps to Health and Safety for Employees During the Coronavirus.
For up-to-date tracking, the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering has created – and regularly updates – an online dashboard with statistics regarding confirmed cases of the virus and the locations in which these cases have occurred, globally.
Coronavirus: It’s Impact on Business Priorities and Mobility
Organisations are facing significant challenges that have resulted from this world health issue, from putting remote work processes in place to examining and stepping up cashflow management. Below, we take a look at impacts and some best practices for key functions of global mobility while the coronavirus is a concern.
Visa and Immigration
All physical submissions of paper documents related to work permit renewals and cancellations in Shanghai have been suspended. These applications should be processed online only, with a commitment letter provided by the Chinese employer. Beijing has also adopted an online submission and commitment letter process for work permit renewals and cancellations.
Given the severity of COVID-19, Chinese immigration authorities are taking measures to ensure the least disruption to foreign nationals’ entry and exit movements. Foreign nationals are strongly encouraged to consider health risks and travel warnings before making their visa and immigration decisions. Those whose visa and immigration applications are affected during this period are encouraged to contact their immigration provider for assistance.
Governments around the world have also implemented immigration and entry restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19.
In Singapore, the Ministry of Manpower has imposed a number of restrictions including:
- New work pass applications for foreign workers from mainland China will be rejected until further notice.
- All employees returning from mainland China (excluding Hubei province) on or after 31 January 2020 must take a 14-day leave of absence (LOA), in which employees must stay at home, minimise contact with others and monitor their health closely upon returning to Singapore. Moreover, work pass holders with travel history to mainland China within the 14 days prior to their arrival in Singapore may be contacted by the Ministry of Manpower via SMS, video calls or inspections to verify the worker’s location.
- All employees with a recent travel history to Hubei (within the 14 days before arriving in Singapore) must be quarantined at home or other suitable facilities.
- Employers with foreign employees or dependents, who have been in mainland China (outside Hubei) within the last 14 days, are required to obtain an approval from Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) through an online facility before their employees can commence their trip into Singapore. However, this approval is not guaranteed. In a Facebook post on Friday, 14 February 2020, Josephine Teo (Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs) stated the following in regard to the requirement to obtain approval prior to travelling to Singapore:
“In the first week of implementation, we approved about 200 applications daily for planned arrivals. During the same period, we rejected about 400 applications daily.
The two key reasons for rejecting the applications are the need to stagger workers’ return to Singapore, and employers not being able to arrange for accommodation for returning workers to comply with Leave of Absence (LOA).”
Organisations should therefore take this into account when planning and be flexible in travel arrangements.
In Hong Kong, a 14-day mandatory quarantine has been imposed on anyone travelling from mainland China. Moreover, the immigration authorities are operating in a limited capacity with only the renewals section accepting applications.
As the authorities’ responses remain extremely fluid, frequent changes in visa and immigration policy and processes are to be expected. Organisations who are deploying employees in or out of mainland China will have to take these into consideration.
Household Goods Moving
Shipments will continue to be delayed due to the backlog from the Lunar New Year followed by COVID-19. Shipping lines have been reducing their frequency. According to the Wall Street Journal, fifty vessel sailings have been cancelled since late January, which will delay imports of containerised goods into the United States and Europe. These delays have been caused by a reduction in industrial production and an inability to move freight around China, to and from ports. The result is a slowing of household goods imports and exports being serviced within normal time periods. Additionally, according to Lloyd’s List, many drivers and workers have been restricted from returning to their places of employment because of travel restrictions and quarantine regulations enforced by the authorities. Highways, public transport routes, and cities are also currently under a controlled environment. Moving companies are facing major challenges in the wake of these circumstances, in addition to the fact that many buildings and condominiums/apartments are not allowing outside workers and vehicles to enter. Due to these complications, companies and their relocating employees should expect the following:
- Moving services will be operating in a limited capacity compared to normal service.
- Packing and delivery will be subject to the approval of each building’s Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST) – the individual or company appointed to manage the estate/property. SIRVA and its moving brands will work with shippers and collaborate with landlords and/or building management on approvals.
- Delays in packing or delivery may result in extra charges being incurred at port, demurrage and storage, etc.
- Export shipments which require original client documents may require a longer period to return, which could result in departure delays. Some sources are reporting that documentation is being requested via online portals.
- Import shipment delays at custom clearance may be subject to extra costs incurred at the port.
- Domestic haulage is currently under travel restrictions and quarantine rules.
- All required moving personnel are subject to availability.
Allied Pickfords will continue to take precautionary measures including utilising recommended masks, assessing their health, utilising temperature screenings, and using sanitiser.
School – Education Consultancy: Both international and local schools in mainland China will stay closed until the end of February, while many British universities have delayed the return of their academics and students to their Chinese campuses until 2 March. The China Education Commission (CEC) will make further judgements regarding the reopening of schools in the coming weeks. The Education Bureau (EDB) in Hong Kong has also announced that all schools will remain suspended and classes will not resume until March, 16, 2020 (with this date of class resumption being subject to further assessment). They have adopted a range of online tools to keep students learning.
Home-Search, Orientation and Settling-In Services: As many compounds and housing developments have banned or restricted entry from non-tenants, home search, orientation and settling-in services have been postponed. Our Destination Service Team is working closely with organisations to postpone plans and focus on departure services of expatriates returning to their home countries. Remote destination services support has also been set up to assist expatriates who remain in mainland China, with matters such as handling the local registrations required by their accommodation compound, doing grocery shopping, and facilitating communications between local authorities.
Relocation Best Practices
As we are confronted with the challenges of our global economy, organisations should continue to stay agile and vigilant. As the global leader in Mobility, SIRVA is working closely with our clients and supply chain to establish effective communication channels and support their business contingency planning (BCP), including:
- Tracking and reporting of employees in all the affected locations
- Providing cost analyses and reviewing next steps regarding impacted relocating employees and entering new markets
- Providing benchmarking on how organisations anticipate impact to their talent mobility programme
- Offering repatriation service support
- Staying abreast of changing protocols for any face-to-face meetings with assignees
Until the virus is fully contained, it is advisable that companies be fully aware of their employees’ whereabouts at all times and maintain clear communication with them regarding updates, company protocols, resources and next steps. As travel bans and restrictions will continue to affect relocating employees, residents in affected regions, and the services of destination service providers, SIRVA encourages companies to work closely with their account managers to navigate the complexities and concerns surrounding the coronavirus and to keep their employees informed regarding their health and safety.