New visa rules implemented for defense contractors and employees

16 Jan 15

AFGHANISTAN

IMPACT – HIGH

What is the change? Afghanistan has implemented new requirements and procedures for defense contractors and their employees under the U.S.-Afghanistan bilateral security agreement and the NATO Status of Forces Agreement.

What does the change mean? During a transition period that ends June 1, it is critical that defense contractors apply for business licenses so that they will be able to sponsor visas for employees before June 1. During the transition, defense contractor employees must obtain letters of certification indicating their status in order to enter and exit Afghanistan. After the transition concludes, all defense contractor employees will require a multiple-entry visa to enter and exit Afghanistan.

  • Implementation timeframe: Jan. 1 to June 1, 2015.
  • Visas/permits affected: Letters of certification, business licenses, multiple-entry and exit visas.
  • Who is affected: U.S. and NATO contractors and their employees.
  • Impact on processing times: Processing times will be set by the Ministry of Interior Affairs. Business licenses are to be issued in six working days.
  • Business impact: The new rules provide greater certainty to defense contractors and their employees for conducting their work in Afghanistan. While business licenses and visas will be required, work permits will not.
  • Next steps: Defense contractors who do not have valid business licenses should immediately apply for them with the Afghan Investment Support Agency (AISA), because the legalization of supporting documents is a lengthy process. Only registered defense contractors will be able to apply for visas for their employees at the end of the transition period. Employees should immediately obtain letters of certification so they can continue their duties during the transition period. Upon obtaining a business license, defense contractors should prepare to apply for multiple-entry and exit visas before the transition period ends on June 1; as of that date, their employees will not be allowed to enter or work without visas.

Background: The new rules are contained in Presidential Decree #38 issued by President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani on Dec. 31, 2014. Below is a summary of key provisions of the decree.

Business licenses
Defense contractors are required to apply for business licenses during the transition period or when their existing business licenses expire. The licenses will be valid for three years. The AISA will establish application procedures to issue business licenses within six working days, and these licenses will exempt contractors from other licenses and requirements while performing contracting services in Afghanistan. Contractors currently holding AISA-issued business licenses that are valid beyond June 1 may continue using them until they expire; those holding current business licenses that expire earlier must apply to renew them based on the expiration date.

U.S.-issued Letters of Certification
During the transition period, U.S. defense contractor employees must obtain a U.S. Letter of Certification establishing that they are a U.S. defense contractor employee. As long as they have this letter and a valid passport, contractor-employees may enter, exit, work and be present in Afghanistan until the end of the transition period. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has informed BAL that a Letter of Assignment/Invitation may satisfy the “U.S.-issued certificate” requirement. All contractor employees should enter through designated airports. Defense contractor employees currently in Afghanistan can continue to work without visas until the end of the transition period, but beginning June 1, they will not be allowed to enter Afghanistan or continue their work without having multiple-entry and exit visas.

Deadlines
At the end of the transition period June 1, defense contractor employees must have a visa in their passport in order to enter Afghanistan. Contractor employees currently in Afghanistan without a visa or with an expired visa will be able to apply for one-year, multiple-entry and exit visas without having to leave Afghanistan. The procedures will be established by the Ministry of Interior. Contractors and their employees will be exempt from financial penalties or prosecution for lacking visas until June 1.

Work permits
Defense contractor employees will not be required to obtain work permits to perform their duties.

Visa procedures
Defense contractors may submit group applications for their employees to the passport/visa section of the Ministry of Interior. First-time applicants must pay a one-time government processing fee of US $200 in addition to government visa fees. Other visa procedures will be set by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

BAL Analysis: The decree clarifies the status of defense contractors and their employees in Afghanistan, but procedural details must still be established by the ministries. To avoid interruption of work, contractors should begin the process of registering for their business licenses as soon as possible, so that they can apply for and obtain the new one-year multiple-entry and-exit visas for their employees no later than June 1.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group and our network provider located in Afghanistan. For additional information, please contact your BAL attorney.

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