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On 12 December, Switzerland added its name to the list of countries that have adopted the Schengen Agreement and in doing so became the 25th member of the group, which has no border controls for people passing between member states and a single external border.
Originally signed in the Luxembourg town of Schengen in 1985, the Agreement was incorporated into the framework of the EU as part of the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997, at which time the European Commission took over its administration. Whilst the non-EU members, Norway, Iceland and now Switzerland have an input into the development of Schengen policies they do not have decision-making powers.
If a person from outside the Schengen area wishes to enter then it is necessary to obtain a short stay visitors visa at a cost of 60 Euros, except for Russian and Ukrainian citizens and those of the non-EU Balkan states who pay 35 Euros. The visa allows freedom of movement within all Schengen countries for a stay of up to 90 days in a 6 month period. Renewal of the visa can be difficult and necessitates leaving the Schengen zone.
A net inflow of migrants helped push the population of the European Union close to half a billion people in 2008 according to figures released this week in Brussels.
The data released by the bloc's statistical office, Eurostat, indicated a combined population of 499.7 million people on 01 January 2008, an increase of 2.2 million over the previous year. Some 30 percent of this rise can be directly attributed to immigration.
The country registering the greatest population increase was Ireland, which also had the highest net migration rate and saw the number of people living there rise by 120 000 to 4.52 million.
Bulgaria had the largest outflow of migrants and also the largest decline in population.
According to new rules which came into effect on 27 November 2008, the minimum age at which a spouse can join their migrant partner in the UK has been raised from 18 to 21 for both parties.
As a limited concession, the change in minimum age to 21 will apply only to cases where the UK-based sponsor is present and settled in the UK, or is being admitted for settlement on the same occasion as the applicant.
The minimum age of 18 will continue to apply to sponsors and their partners in those cases where the stay of a sponsor is subject to a time-limit (for example, students, work permit holders).
Despite the global financial crisis, Australia’s Immigration Minister Chris Evans has indicated that he expects only modest cuts in next years migrant intake program which is currently at an all time high level of more than 200 000 new immigrants per year.
Whilst Senator Evans admitted that a small reduction to the skilled migrant quota was still "more likely than not", he was very conscious of the damage that could be done to Australia’s image as a result of a ‘knee jerk reaction.’
Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said ‘We'd be disappointed if there was anything other than a shallow cut,’ adding that ‘a deep cut would be about politics, not about policy.’
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services is opening four new immigration facilities in South Florida to replace the one that it currently operates.
‘The conditions at the old location were just not acceptable any longer,’ said Michael Aytes, acting deputy director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. ‘The idea is to have a welcoming, comfortable place that demonstrates to our customers how much we value them.’
But the changes have come at a price to the would be immigrant. Last year the fees for a Green Card application increased from $325 to $905 and those for a citizenship application from $330 to $595. According to Aytes, however the higher fees will enable shorter processing times.
Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney has announced the introduction of 3-year renewable work permits for professionals seeking to enter the country under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
‘This extension, along with our Action Plan for Faster Immigration, will greatly benefit the Canadian economy by helping ensure greater continuity and stability for both employers and workers,’ said Minister Kenney. ‘In a time of economic uncertainty, highly skilled migrants encourage innovation and economic growth, making us more competitive economically.’
Minister Kenney, has also announced the appointment to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) of a leading figure in the Indo-Canadian community in Vancouver.
Ms Rena Dhir was appointed for a term of 3 years in accordance with the IRB’s merit-based selection process.
The appointment is in line with the Minister’s commitment to fill vacancies on the board with qualified individuals as quickly as possible, this being one of the measures deemed necessary if the processing time of cases brought before the IRB is to be reduced.
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