On Monday, SEMI led a statement from a coalition of industry groups calling on governments worldwide to harmonize their policies to safely allow essential international travel by essential workers. Cross-border mobility in the semiconductor and microelectronics industry is vital to maintaining manufacturing critical to the production of semiconductor devices that are the foundation of our modern economy, countless economic sectors and each nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Uniform cross-border travel rules impacting essential businesses in the electronics supply chain are crucial for semiconductor business infrastructure and supply chains to maintain effective operations.
To that end, SEMI is urging governments around the world to permit international travel by semiconductor supply chain engineers, technicians and executives with minimal disruption to ensure any fast-tracked procedures apply directly to the semiconductor industry and that any agreements negotiated among countries harmonize global travel procedures and processes.
Global supply chains require cross-border travel by key technical personnel and business continuity decision-makers to ensure that essential industry manufacturing and business operations remain efficient, effective and uninterrupted. While the industry continues to implement safety protocols and minimize non-essential travel to stem the spread of COVID-19, highly sophisticated equipment sets and materials usage from multiple nations will at times require specialized expertise that is not present in-country.
For example, technicians from a semiconductor manufacturing equipment company typically must travel to semiconductor factories in other countries to install or repair specialized tools in situations that are beyond the expertise of the local field office and too complicated to handle by video conference. Similarly, at times semiconductor-based solutions, such as cloud computing, must be implemented or optimized on-site for the equipment to achieve full capacity. After months of remote access to their overseas operations, it also is critical that executives are able to visit their facilities to evaluate and manage their ongoing operations.
In the past month, several countries central to the global electronics supply chain have engaged in both formal and informal talks to ease travel restrictions on personnel from essential industries. China, for example, is negotiating fast-track travel protocols with countries throughout Asia and Europe. On May 1, China and South Korea formalized an agreement that has made significant accommodations for semiconductor industry personnel to travel between the two countries. Last week, China and Singapore reached a similar deal – planned to take effect in early June – prioritizing travel for both executives and technicians.
Beyond China, several ad-hoc negotiations are underway involving countries as varied as Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Multilateral discussions are also afoot with the aim of setting up bubble travel zones featuring standard health and travel protocols within the country blocs. As these disparate agreements between individual countries or small blocs of countries take shape, however, they are likely to create divergent standards that may complicate efforts of global businesses to effectively service their operations and customers, even if such travel is and has been deemed essential.
In March, when U.S. states and many governments around the world began implementing stay-at-home orders and closing non-essential business operations, SEMI immediately took a lead role advocating to ensure that that the entire microelectronics supply chain was deemed essential and able to continue operations. In the U.S., nearly every state followed SEMI’s recommendation to adhere to the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) guidelines that included semiconductor manufacturing and its supply chain as essential, or specifically highlighted semiconductor supply chains as essential. Overseas, SEMI advocacy worked to ensure the semiconductor supply chain was deemed essential in every key jurisdiction.
The mobility of essential workers is critical to essential business operations in the electronics supply chain. Just as SEMI led the effort to ensure that critical electronics supply chain operations were deemed essential as economies were closing down, SEMI will continue to advocate for uniform essential travel guidelines for critical infrastructure workers as economies reopen.
Karl Kailing is manager of Public Policy and Advocacy at SEMI.