UK Immigration and COVID 19 – Coronavirus CRISIS: Its impact on your UK visa and TIER 2/5 sponsorship duties
The coronavirus crisis has led to considerable changes in society, and in the way, people work and travel. There are considerable implications for UK visa holders, potential visa holders, businesses employing foreign workers and businesses that aim to employ migrant workers in the future.
Here, we answer some of your questions:
Can I apply for a UK visa at present?
Currently, all visa application centres in the UK and abroad are closed. You can still start the process by submitting online applications or engaging the services of a visa expert. It is anticipated that once restrictions are lifted there will be a surge of applications. However, to complete the process applicants are required to attend a centre to hand in passports and record biometric details.
The UK uses two companies to process visa applications in other countries. Currently, their offices are closed. You can monitor the status of these on their websites. Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East: https://uk.tlscontact.com/. Rest of the world: https://www.vfsglobal.co.uk/en.
Centres are endeavouring to contact those with appointments already booked, but no new appointments can be made until centres re-open.
I am in the UK and have a UK visa that will expire soon, what should I do if I can’t leave due to travel restrictions?
The Home Office is granting visa extensions on request to those with visas that expire before 31 May 2020 and who cannot leave the UK because of coronavirus travel restrictions. Visas will be extended to 31 May 2020. You will need to contact the Home Office’s Coronavirus Immigration Team / Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre to request the extension.
Our company has a new employee who has been issued with a 30-day Tier 2 (General) visa and can’t travel to the UK to start work on time. What should we do?
Normally the work start date for a Tier 2 (General) worker can’t be postponed beyond 28 days from the start date on the certificate of sponsorship or from when the visa was issued. The Home Office has not said if this rule will be waived and you should contact the Home Office through the Sponsorship Management System to inform them that the start date has been delayed.
I am a Tier 2 sponsor licence holder; how can I meet my Home Office obligations?
The Home Office has stated that it will not take enforcement action against sponsors who continue to sponsor students or employees despite absences due to coronavirus. Indeed, sponsors are not currently required to report any absences from students or employees sponsored under Tier 2, Tier 4, or Tier 5, where those absences have been the result of the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak.
What happens about my Right to Work checks?
These are now being conducted by video link. You will need the employee to send you a scanned copy or photo of the relevant right to work documents – usually a passport photo page and/or biometric residence permit. They should show the original document to you on a video call before they start work. Record the date of the check and mark it as “adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19”. When restrictions are lifted, employers have eight weeks to carry out retrospective checks.
You can also carry out an online right to work check if the person has a biometric residence permit or card or pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. The employee must provide you with their work share code and date of birth. You will then be able to carry out an online right to work check here.
I’ve been issued with a visa but can’t travel to the UK, what do I do?
If you have a 30-day visa in your passport and can’t travel to the UK before it expires you normally have to apply for a replacement visa. The Home Office has not said if this rule will be waived because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tier 2 migrants unable to return to the UK before their visa expires may be caught by cooling-off period rules which prevent returning to the UK on a Tier 2 visa for 12 months. There are exceptions if they are applying for a Tier 2 General visa and their salary is above £159,600, if they are applying for a Tier 2 Intra Company Transfer visa and their salary is above £120,000 or if their original certificate of sponsorship was granted for three months or less.
Our sponsored workers are working from home, what are our obligations to the Home Office?
Many Tier 2 workers will now be working from home as offices encourage remote working. Tier 2 and 5 sponsors do not need to update the Home Office if workers are now working from home due to the coronavirus. Sponsors should continue to report any other changes and should also ensure they continue to monitor attendance at work as part of their other ongoing reporting and monitoring duties.
Can we use the Corona job retention scheme for our sponsored workers?
Yes. The Home Office has said that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can be used for migrants. Migrants must meet the same eligibility requirements as other employees. The Home Office has published guidance stating that employers can temporarily reduce the pay of sponsored workers to 80% of their salary or £2,500 per month, whichever is the lower. This should cover sponsored workers who are furloughed.
Is it still possible to recruit Tier 2 workers?
You can start the process and the prospective employee can apply for a visa but to complete the process the prospective employee will have to attend a biometric appointment, and this is not possible at the moment.
I’m an EEA/Swiss worker and want to remain in the UK, has my situation changed?
You still have until the end of June 2021 to register under the EU Settlement Scheme for either pre-settled or settled status. To qualify you should not be absent for over six months in any 12-month period. There is some discretion for ‘important reasons’ however and disruption caused by corona virus restrictions may qualify. Free movement arrangements between the UK and EU are due to come to an end after December 2020. It is possible that this deadline may be extended due to the disruption caused by the pandemic.
I have a visa but left the UK and have not been able to return because of travel restrictions. How will this affect any future indefinite leave to remain application?
If you have a visa which leads to indefinite leave to remain you cannot normally spend more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12-month period during the five-year qualifying period. This rule does not apply to every visa category and the way it works depends on the date when your visa was issued. The Home Office will consider granting indefinite leave to remain if the absences were due to serious or compelling reasons such as serious illness, conflict or a natural disaster. There is no guidance yet that the coronavirus pandemic qualifies as a serious or compelling reason, but it is likely that it will.
I’m an NHS worker and my visa expires soon. How am I affected?
NHS workers and their families are to get a one-year extension automatically. Family members are included and there are no fees. Restrictions have also been lifted on the amount of hours student nurses and doctors can work in the NHS.
I have a Tier 1 entrepreneur visa but can no longer employ more than 2 people for 12 months, will my visa be taken away?
People on a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur visa) whose business has been disrupted by the pandemic no longer need to employ at least 2 people for 12 consecutive months each. Multiple employees across the 12 months will do, although time on furlough will not count. If you have not been able to employ staff for 12 months in total by the time your visa expires, you will be allowed to temporarily extend your stay to give you time to meet the requirement.
Where can I get advice from?
Home Office Guidance is available here https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-uk-visa-applicants-and-temporary-uk-residents#inside-UK
Please contact us at [email protected] or call +44 20 7404 7933.
A Y & J Solicitors are specialists in immigration law based in central London.
Disclaimer: Please be informed that at the time of writing this blog, the data was factually correct. We endeavour to update this blog as soon as we can, receiving the latest advice from the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).