The first case of COVID-19 appeared in Europe at the end of January. It continued to be regarded as largely an Asia Pacific phenomenon until it exploded with warp speed across Europe in early March. As the pandemic accelerated, Italy, Spain, France and the UK were especially hard hit. The Europe-wide COVID count peaked on April 4 with the highest number of new cases recorded in Europe in a single day: close to 41,000. As May came to a close, the number of cases across Europe stood at just over 2 million.
With signs that the curve is finally flattening in much of Europe (with the exception of Russia, where cases continue to soar), several European Union (EU) countries are starting to take steps to loosen up the lockdown and other preventative measures aimed at containing the virus.
While decisions about reopening borders ultimately fall to national governments, the European Commission is urging its 27 EU member states to take a coordinated approach to lifting restrictions – after a disjointed initial approach to the COVID crisis which saw member states close borders with little or no consultation.
The EU has continued to prioritize travel within EU internal borders and the visa-free Schengen area over what is considered non-essential travel from non-EU member countries. Buoyed by declining infection rates across much of continental Europe and driven by the desire to salvage something of the summer tourism season, the EU has recently proposed a three-stage approach to promoting travel within the EU for its citizens. Travel restrictions for non-EU nationals, however, will remain in place at the EU’s external borders until June 15.
The EU-exiting UK has continued to allow arrivals from abroad during the pandemic and only last week announced the introduction of quarantine-on-arrival for all travelers including returning citizens arriving from abroad effective June 8, a strangely late move for a country more greatly affected by COVID than any other in Western Europe.
Regarding posted workers, several EU countries — including Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, France and Germany — have confirmed that for cross-border workers who are currently working remotely, there will be no changes to the applicable social security legislation during what is regarded as the COVID emergency period.
Additionally, for posted workers who are unable to return home yet have an expiring A1 certificate and who continue to work in the host location, no new A1 certificate needs to be applied for during what is regarded as the COVID emergency period.
If an intended posting was interrupted or postponed due to COVID, there is no requirement to notify relevant authorities and the already issued A1 certificates remain valid. However, if the delay to the posting goes beyond two months, relevant authorities need to be notified and will determine whether a new A1 certificate should be applied. A planned posting needing to be terminated requires relevant authorities to be notified accordingly.
For frontier workers (defined under EU law as cross border workers who must return to their home country at least once a week, thus essentially “commuters”) who are remaining at this time in their EU home country or country of residence due to COVID, there is no change to their social security contributions. These remain due in the host country and according to host country rules, while the authorities of their EU home country or country of residence will not require their employers to obtain an A1 certificate.
For multi-state workers (defined under EU law as those who work in more than one EU state, either simultaneously or in rotation and have only one employer, with the registered office or place of business of that employer being in the home EU State) no change in applicable social security obligations will occur for the duration of the EU COVID emergency measures, even if their work activity is temporarily carried out exclusively from their home country. Their issued A1 certificates will remain valid and the entire COVID-19 period will be “neutral” from an applicable social security legislation perspective.
Regarding non-EU nationals, a number of global mobility experts anticipate that before normal immigration processing can be resumed across the EU, the hitherto little-known Van Der Elst Visa may come to the fore. A Van Der Elst Visa allows a national of a Non-European Economic Area (EEA) country who is employed by an EU company but does not fully satisfy the terms laid out for eligibility for a “Business Visitor Visa” in the EU to work and travel within the EU. The EEA comprises the 27 EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
Negotiating an entirely new trade deal with the EU in less than a year was already ambitious; COVID brings yet another potential delay to this seemingly endless disengagement process. The thorny issue of how both the UK and the EU treat one other’s citizens will likely escalate once more, given the unexpected and severe restrictions in movement for both UK and EU nationals brought on by COVID, making individual repatriation decisions virtually impossible for an extended period.
At this time the UK staunchly vows that it will neither request nor accept an extension to the transition period in June, which is the present deadline for establishing the transition measures. We can expect political brinksmanship and pandemonium to exacerbate the issues of a continent still grappling with a pandemic.
Ultimately, a return to “normal” in the EU seems distant. Global mobility faces a similarly bumpy future as the EU and the UK pursue settlement of their parting of ways.
Despite numerous remaining challenges, the resumption of business travel and workforce mobility is necessary for many companies to keep business running… and growing. The next several weeks will be a crucial period for EU employers to ensure they have a plan in place for when the global economy and borders begin to re-open. To that end, our next webinar will offer perspectives of two corporate program managers sharing their own roadmaps to remobilization. You should consider it required viewing.