SLG Newsletter: May 2020
Dear Friends and Clients,
In the meantime, the Covid ghost has lost some of its terror and showed its true face. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but if you follow clever people, at least part of the reason for the scare is probably different from the mere healthcare for the population. In my 70 years of life I have always stayed away from politics, demagogy and populism, and I have no desire to influence you in your opinion of Covid.
Ultimately not everything that happens is bad. Good and bad is only a valuation from our mind’s subjective world view. The rapid spread of e-conferencing, e-learning and communication in general also has its good sides. In order to listen to an interesting lecture, I no longer have to travel from Ras al Khaimah to Dubai, but enjoy the lecture in my living room over a coffee. And holding a webinar myself, I have more listeners than in the most fancy hotel.
My lectures on UAE insolvency and bankruptcy law were very well attended and the first mandates to initiate the debt relief process have already been granted.
Furthermore, I was invited at short notice to hold a webinar about the second residence with 300 attendees. This opportunity is finding more and more interested parties, on the one hand to avoid taxation in high-tax countries but also for reasons of asset protection, choosing the right place to spend your retirement, etc. We work in the field of immigration law at all locations of our law firms and advise the international branches of large companies with several hundred employees. We arrange all types of visas, residence permits, work permits, retirement visas.
Did you know that in the Philippines and Thailand you can get a retirement visa at the age of 50? That you can have a business visa in Myanmar within 1 day, which entitles you to work independently, live in the country and open bank accounts? You even don’t have to apply in person, just send us your passport, we get the residence for you.
Cambodia is almost as easy, Thailand a little more difficult. That is why we established a new consultancy in Rayong, Thailand under the name Strohal Consulting Comp. Ltd.
We offer not only immigration service, but also business consulting, construction and insurance. Thailand is the second largest economy in the ASEAN region with stable economic policy and currency.
There is no doubt that we are sliding into a global economic crisis and have now found a new, tiny little scapegoat in the person of the Corona virus. This scapegoat takes the place of the political and economic mismanagement of the world powers, the trade wars and tariff barriers, the outdated currency systems and shortages of cheap oil. It is quite remarkable what such a tiny virus can do.
So – let’s arm ourselves for the crisis, let’s take the right measures – we are at your disposal.
Covid-19: Bank initiatives for customers
Abu Dhabi launched 10 banking-related initiatives specifically for the benefit of individuals and small & mediums enterprises to protect them from the economic impact of the COVID crisis.
Initiatives for individuals impacted by COVID-19
Banks may inter alia:
- Defer installments on existing loans (personal, auto, mortgages) and credit cards for up to 3 months until 30 Jun 2020 with no additional charges
- Halt foreclosures on mortgages until 30 Jun 2020
- Halt suspension of bank accounts for retrenched customers until 30 Sep 2020
- Make available installment programs with no service fees for utility bill payments until 30 Jun 2020
Initiatives for all individuals
- Defer installments on new loans (personal, auto, mortgages) and credit cards for up to 3 months until 30 Jun 2020 with 50 % reduction in associated bank charges
- Reduce interest on new loans (personal, auto, mortgages) and credit cards
- Reduce bank charges by 50 % on early settlement of existing loans (personal, auto, mortgages) until 30 Jun 2020
- Reduce required down-payment by 5 % for first-time home buyers
- Provide interest-free installment plans for school tuition until 30 Jun 2020.
Initiatives for SMEs impacted by COVID-19
- Defer installments on existing borrowing for up to 3 months until 30 Jun 2020
- Reduce merchant service fees (credit card transactions) by 50 % with usage below AED 5 million p.a. until 30 Jun 2020
- Reduce banking fees and charges on ‘zero balance’ accounts by up to 50 %
- Reduce the requirements for maintaining minimum average balance for all SME account categories to up to AED 10,000 p.m.
For all SMEs
- Defer installments on new borrowings for up to 3 months until 30 Jun 2020 with 50 % reduction in associated bank charges
- Reduce interest charges on new borrowings
- Reduce bank charges by 50 % on early settlement of existing borrowings until 30 Jun 2020.
Covid-19: UAE allows return of residents stranded outside the country
UAE residents outside the country can now return to the country starting June 1 as announced by the government. Those who wish to return to UAE are required to register at smartservices.ica.gov.ae for the Residents’ Entry Permit. This move aims to reunite separated families caused by travel issues caused by the pandemic.
UAE visa fine waiver
The UAE government has announced that people with entry or residency permits that expired before March 1, 2020 will not have to pay fines. Full waiver of fines should be granted to those who are willing to depart the country within 3 months starting May 18, 2020. Fines on expired work permits and emirates IDs will also be waived.
RAKICC and the National Economic Register
RAKICC has announced regarding Ministry of Economy’s mandate of making information publicly available on all legal entities in the UAE on the National Economic Register (NER). The NER serves as an integrated platform between the federal and local entities that enables government entities, businessmen, researchers and customers to get information about existing economic licenses, data statistics, activities and reports. RAKICC entities are informed that all active and inactive companies will appear on the NER from 25th June 2020. As for companies under RAKICC, the Registered Agent of the Company will appear as the designated Responsible Manager. However, there is an option to change this to an individual director of a company.
Update on Economic Substance Regulation (ESR) requirements
Companies are required to submit an ESR-Form, even if the companies don’t have one of the relevant activity mentioned under the law. As to the submit an Audit report, every company, which don’t have a warehouse are only required to submit such an audit report, if the authorities requesting it. For companies with a warehouse the report is mandatory and has to be submitted (as well as the ESR Form) until the 30th June 2020.
DLD introduces remote property registration system
Dubai Land Department introduced a new registration system for real estate transactions. It will allow sellers and buyers to complete transactions using audio-visual communication. Registration process will start with sending details of real estate transactions to the registration trustee, then verifying the details of the property, parties involved and the transaction amount. The transaction amount is transferred to a guarantee account managed by the DLD. The buyer and seller will be identified via an audio-visual call followed by authentication of both parties. The property deed will be transferred to the seller and the transaction amount will be sent to the seller’s account. Both parties can complete transactions without being physically present in the UAE and without the need of appointed representatives.
DIFC launches new work protocols due to Covid-19
On April 26, DIFC has announced DIFC Presidential Directive No. 4 of 2020, which seeks to help limit the impact of COVID-19 situation. It is effective from April 21 to July 31 (emergency period). The new directive will now allow employers to:
– Impose reduced working hours,
– Impose annual paid or unpaid leave,
– Reduce remuneration temporarily,
– Restrict workplace access,
– Impose remote working.
Above changes made are only applicable during the emergency period with at least 5 days’ notice to employees in writing. Any permanent modifications will require employee consent. The directive also implies that any DIFC-based employee, who contracted the COVID-19 virus that have valid sick certificate or has gone through quarantine, shall retain their full remuneration. Any COVID-19 related sick leave pay and sick leave shall not be counted towards their annual sick leave entitlement. Employers should also consider deferring visa cancellation processes for terminated employees and continue to provide basic medical insurance cover. Employees working in the retail, service and hospitality sectors must also be provided accommodation. Employers are required to maintain a list with the Government Services Office of terminated and surplus employees to be uploaded to the online portal prior to consent by employees. The portal can be used by employers to hire new employee. The new directive has also stated several guidelines and rules regarding Gratuity Payment Protection, Workforce Restrictions, Operations and Privacy, and Wrongful Trading Rules Suspension.
VAT increased to 15% in Saudi Arabia due to Covid-19
The Government of Saudi Arabia has announced that VAT will be increased from 5% to 15% starting July 2020. In addition to this, the cost of living allowance will also be discontinued from June 2020. A committee will also be established to review the financial benefits of employees, contractors, and the like who are not subject to Civil Service Law in government ministries, institutions, authorities, centers, and programs. The government has decided to take such measures due to several factors that are brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, UAE has reassured that it has no plans to increase its VAT. The UAE Ministry of Finance continues to study financial systems to manage and support all vital sectors in the country.
Kuwait: Replacement of expats with nationals has started
Kuwait’s Minister of State for Municipal Affairs has confirmed that the policy of Kuwaitisation is on the way. This decision will affect expatriates mainly in administrative jobs. The process of Kuwaitisation will be gradual and in accordance to the country’s administrative and legal procedures. Expatriates will be screened in the government sector, and whoever is hired by the outsourcing system in non-technical jobs will be laid off, contracts will not renew, regardless of their positions, especially advisers in government agencies. Replacement of foreign workers will take place 3 months after the corona virus dissipates. Moreover, marginal workers and residence visa violators who are granted a one-month grace period to leave the country will be exempted from fines. New laws will be introduced soon to avoid excessive increase in the number of communities with the largest community not exceeding 20 per cent of the number of expats.
Myanmar: New Trade Mark Law
The soft launch of the new electronic trademark registration system has yet to commence. It was previously announced to be ready by January 2020. Although the soft launch of the system remains imminent, under the new Trade Mark Law a new registration of all trademarks is compulsory.
Trademarks already registered at the Register of Deeds can be re-registered to receive protection. In other words, marks recorded under the Trademark Law will not be automatically re-registered. Rather, trademarks owners of currently registered marks will be able to file an application for re-registration within a specified period that has yet to be determined. The re-registration will give trademark applicants priority over potential competitors as the re-registered trademark marks have priority going back to the date of the earlier applications filed under the current system.
We offer to assist you with the new registration at a discounted fee.
Myanmar: Over 800 companies struck off register
Myanmar government has struck off more than 800 companies from the register for failing to file their annual returns via its online platform. Myanmar Companies Online (MyCo) is the official electronic system of Myanmar which was enforced in 2018 and established under the Companies Law. The Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) can place a company under suspension for not filing its annual return and can strike it off within 6 months.
Thailand: EU Keeps Thailand on Greylist of Non-Cooperative Tax Jurisdictions
In February 2020, the European Council issued the results of a progress review of tax jurisdictions and their progress toward delivering on commitments regarding the signing and ratification of the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance (“MAC”).
Thailand is currently on a watch list, (i.e., grey-list) along with twelve other countries including: Anguilla, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Eswatini, Jordan, Maldives, Mongolia, Namibia, Saint Lucia, and Turkey. These countries were recognized as having made “meaningful progress” towards meeting their obligations to implement the provisions of the MAC, yet they were all noted as not having formally signed and submitted the related instruments of ratification of the Convention. Accordingly, these countries were given specific deadlines for signing (31 August 2020) and ratifying (31 August 2021) the agreement or risk being moved from the grey-0list to the blacklist.
It is anticipated that Thailand will meet its commitments to avoid inclusion on the blacklist as non-cooperative. Inclusion on the blacklist could impact on Thailand’s image as a center for trade and an EU investment destination. Thailand has expressed its intention to implement the provisions of the MAC through signing and ratification but these deadlines loom unfulfilled.
Thailand: Small steps for reopening businesses
More businesses and venues opens in Thailand as the country starts to ease its restrictions since the closures. However, the government has issued guidelines to impose safety and health measures. The sectors that can now resume businesses are as follows:
– restaurants and other types of eateries,
– open-air markets, wet markets, water markets, and community markets,
– beauty and hair salons,
– medical clinics and health care facilities,
– golf courses and golf-driving ranges,
– outdoor and indoor sporting facilities,
– public parks,
– pet grooming shops,
– supermarkets, convenience stores,
– retail shops.
Above sectors are allowed to open but with limitations and are required to follow the issued guidelines.
Singapore: Less restrictions for businesses because of Covid-19
Singapore will gradually implement 3 phases as they reopen the country after the virus hit. Starting June 2, restrictions will ease and the following can be done for:
– some businesses will reopen with safety measures in place,
– households are allowed up to 2 visitors a day – must be children/or grandchildren from the same household,
– Pri 6, Sec 4 and 5 students to attend school daily. Other students may alternate between home-based learning and school,
– Preschools will fully reopen on June 10. Student care centers will also reopen,
– Places of worship will reopen for private use only,
– Marriage ceremonies can take place in person with 10-person attendees.
Phase 2 (Over a few months):
– F&B dine-in, retail outlets, gyms, fitness studios, tuition, and enrichment centers will reopen,
– All students will return to school,
– Sports, recreation and outdoor facilities will reopen with safe management practices.
Phase 3 (Singapore enters a new normal until a vaccine is available):
– Social, cultural, religious and business gatherings and events would be allowed with limited crowd sizes.