In certain jurisdictions, employers are also facing difficulties in obtaining renewal of work visas. Other employers are finding it impossible to meet previously committed project timelines due to the challenge in deploying teams overseas who have the necessary skills required in order to execute on deliverables.
The below summarises soe of the measures recently implemented in Singapore and Southeast Asia that are of specific relevance to foreign employees.
• Vietnam has taken prompt action to support its economy, including easing restrictions on credit and similar measures. Vietnam has also implemented strict entry restrictions and as of 22 March, subject to very limited exceptions, will bar entry to all foreign nationals, including persons of Vietnamese origin and their relatives who hold visa exemption documents. All returnees will be subject to additional measures for isolation, quarantine or other measures as appropriate and all arrivals since 1 March 2020 who have not already been quarantined have been advised to self-isolate for a period of 14 days from their date of entry into Vietnam. Additionally, work from home policies are being implemented by a number of employers for their workforce.
• Thailand has approved further cuts to interest rates to record lows to support its economy. On entry restrictions, it has also implemented a policy, taking effect from 22 March 2020, requiring foreigners to present a medical certificate confirming that the individual concerned poses no risk of being infected by COVID-19, which has been further clarified as confirmation that the individual concerned has undergone a COVID-19 test with negative results. This is distinct from the requirement for Thai nationals to present a fit to fly certificate. All travellers will be subject to additional isolation, quarantine or other measures deemed requisite. Amidst wider lockdown measures on public places, the governor of Bangkok has also suggested that companies should ask employees to work from home.
• For Indonesia, from 20 March 2020, visa on arrival has been suspended for travellers from all countries for a period of one month and those who wish to apply for a visa must do so at an Indonesian consulate with accompanying health certificate. Entry / transit is prohibited for passengers who have visited certain destinations in the past 14 days, including a number of European countries, China, Iran, Italy and South Korea. The Jakarta Governor has declared emergency status and urged all companies to close down their offices and operational facilities and to arrange for their employees to work from home. For companies unable to close their offices, they have been urged to reduce the number of employees working in offices to a minimum. Measures to mitigate the use of public transportation are also to be implemented.
As of 23:59 on 23 March 2020, it will no longer be possible for short term visitors to enter or transit through Singapore.
Workplace returnees from abroad
Effective from 23:59 on 23 March 2020, the Ministry of Manpower (“MoM”) will only allow work pass holders providing essential services, such as healthcare or transport (including dependants) to enter or return to Singapore.
All returnees, including Singapore citizens, permanent residents, and long term pass holders, including those work pass holders who have been given approval to return, will be issued a 14 day Stay-Home Notice (“SHN”).
For those work pass holders who are permitted to return, the employer and work pass holder have a joint duty to ensure that the entry approval and SHN requirements are complied with. Additionally, if the work pass holder is unable to make his own arrangements for meals and other daily essentials, the employer must make such arrangements. MOM may take enforcement measures against employers or employees who do not comply with these requirements, including the revocation of work passes and withdrawal of work pass privileges.
As a precautionary measure, employers are also encouraged to issue a company Leave of Absence (“Company LOA”) for all employees who have returned to Singapore between 14 and 20 March 2020 if they have not been issued with a SHN. MOM will allow employers to claim an allowance for daily support and levy waiver, if applicable, for any such Company LOA implemented, subject to certain exclusions.
Generally applicable workplace self-distancing measures
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) have urged employers to adopt safe distancing measures at the workplace, as far as is reasonably practicable.
a) Reduce duration and proximity of physical interactions:
b) Stagger working hours
c) Defer non-critical work events and scale down critical work events
d) Implement or enhance shift arrangements
It would therefore be advisable to first consider which employees can feasibly work from home and facilitate telecommuting for those. Where it is not possible to do so, 2(a)-(d) should be adopted. This is an advisory at this stage but it is likely that a large number of companies will be adopting such plans.
For further information on the above or any related matters, please contact:
Babita Ambekar, Partner
Current as at 22 March 2020
* The above is a summary of information extracted from publicly available information on government websites, the online sites of mainstream newsmedia and the website of Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower and is intended to provide reference for foreign nationals in the context of recent guidance issued in relation to COVID-19. It is not intended to constitute legal advice and should not be construed as the same.