WHEN my flight from London’s Heathrow landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 at the end of February, Italy was in the cusp of a lockdown; London was to follow in March; so did the rest of Europe and the United States.
My youngest sibling (I call her Sister Sister) who works at the Vatican Communication Center, graciously took time off and acted as my host and tour guide up to the time that Venice canceled the annual Carnival because of the coronavirus.
The bullet train from Rome to Venice and back to the Vatican was then still full of domestic and international tourists, many of them already masked like us. So was my February 26 flight from Rome to London.
The next day as I prepared for my flight home, Italy’s cases and deaths hit the double digits. As Italy’s coronavirus infections ticked above 400 cases and deaths hit the double digits, the leader of the governing Democratic Party announced that he had contracted the virus.
On March 23, Italy emerged as the epicenter of the pandemic with more than 53,000 recorded infections and more than 4,800 dead. Within the week, Italy had “surpassed China as the country with the highest death toll.”
In 2017, the total number of Filipino immigrants in Italy was almost 80,000.
In March 2020, death rates zoomed up and Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte declared a national quarantine. At the same time, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs report shows the number of Filipinos – whose movement in and out of Italy – has doubled.
The good news is that overseas Filipino workers and kababayan (countrymen)-permanent residents forced to stay in Italy, the United Kingdom and Europe are not in danger of losing their resident status.
The usual residency visa in Italy is valid for two to five years. During that time, they only needed to live in Italy for at least six months and one day until their residency visa expires. Hopefully by the time those who need to renew their permanent resident visas would be able to move freely.
There is less danger of losing permanent residency status in the UK.
For the 200,000-plus Filipinos in the UK (DFA data: https://dfa.gov.ph/distribution-of-filipinos-overseas), especially those who are eligible to apply for permanent resident status after having lived in the UK for five years, British citizenship is just another 12 months away.
How PR may lose status
Of the average 10,000 Filipinos granted residency in Australia since 2015, many would have applied for citizenship after living Down Under as a resident for the last four years. Those applying for Australian citizenship must not have been away from Australia for more than 12 months in total during that four-year period,including no more than 90 days in total in the past 12 months.
Kababayan granted permanent residency in Australia in 2016 could be losing sleep due to the probability of not being able to apply for citizenship if they remain unable to return to Australia within three months if they came for a visit to the Philippines this year before visa and travel restrictions prohibited travel between Australia and the Philippines.
Filipinos who were granted permanent visas in 2015 usually would have a five-year travel facility allowing him/her to leave and re-enter Australia as many times as necessary or wanted as long as the visa remains valid.
After five years, the travel facility expires, and the Australian permanent resident visa holder may either apply for Australian citizenship (especially if in Australia) or obtain a resident return visa.
Assuming the Department of Home Affairs is working at full capacity, the travel facility expiry reminder service will remind affected permanent residents that the travel facility on their permanent visa is expiring in 60 days.
The email reminders are currently limited to holders of the partner visa (subclass 100); employer nomination scheme visa (856); skilled sponsored visa (176) and the other partner visa (subclass 801)
Australian PRs should therefore update their email and residence addresses with the Department of Home Affairs.
New Zealand’s closed borders
For Filipinos with New Zealand permanent resident visas, their residence status will not be affected even if they traveled overseas (e.g., visited the Philippines and got caught in the travel restrictions of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and border closures of New Zealand).
Similarly, those with valid returning resident visas with valid travel conditions (granted prior to Nov. 29, 2010) may be allowed to return to New Zealand as a resident, unless there are travel conditions that need to be complied with such as an expiry date allowing legal entry and resuming residency in New Zealand.
Leave to remain
The British have a different description for permanent residency in two stages, period of leave to remain on a specific visa and the time required to qualify for indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
The first five years of having worked legally in the UK qualifies a migrant to apply for the residence card, also valid for five years. After living in the UK for another five years, the migrant then could qualify to stay in the UK indefinitely (indefinite leave to remain) which has less time restrictions.
The total 10-year qualifying period starts from either the date of arrival in the UK with a visa or when permission to stay in the UK was granted.
Continuous residency during this 10-year period could be broken if the migrant has been out of the UK for 180 days at a time or 540 days total during the qualifying period.
US and Canada more liberal
Between the US and Canada, the latter gives more leeway for permanent residents to maintain their status. To keep a person’s permanent resident status, he/she must have been in Canada for at least 730 days during the last five years. The 730 days may be cumulative or continuous.
On the other hand, absence of a year from the US without a reentry permit could be considered as abandonment of the residency status. In several documented cases, green card holders who have been out of the US for 180 days at a time could be denied admission at a port of entry for failure to maintain residency.
A US green card holder, therefore, who left the US after Thanksgiving in 2019 would be in dangerous waters if return to the US is not possible because of coronavirus conditions, or restricted either by the US permanent resident’s travel or health conditions or family emergency.
An option would be to apply for a returning resident visa which could be submitted to the US Embassy in Manila. The chance of approval is great if the green card holder was a permanent resident when he/she left the US, had no intention of abandoning such residency; has continuing permanent, family ties in the US, and the failure to return was due to circumstances beyond his/her control.
By now it is public knowledge that the pandemic is beyond anybody’s control, not even that of the president of the United States.
However, if he loses and makes good on his threat to leave the US for another country (Russia?), Mr. Trump should have no fears about long-term absence from the US because he is a citizen, born in the US, albeit the grandson of a German immigrant.