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Implications of coronavirus for UK Immigration

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to unfold, overseas workers and their employers should be aware of the possible consequences of global travel restrictions on UK immigration.

In this update we discuss the immigration concessions and guidance provided by the UK Government in response to the coronavirus outbreak and discuss what further changes may be made.

My employee’s visa to live and work in the UK is due to expire but they can’t travel or have to self-isolate, what can they do?

If you are in the UK, have complied with your visa conditions prior to the coronavirus outbreak, and your visa expires between 24 January 2020 and 30 May 2020, you can be granted further leave until 31 May 2020. As the situation changes, this leave may be extended further.

To obtain this leave you must contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) by email to update your records if your visa is going to expire. You will need to explain why you require the extension to your stay (for example because of a restriction on travel). More information about the information you need to provide and the CIT email address can be found here.

You will not automatically receive a new visa or biometric residence permit (BRP) but the new expiry date will be added to UK Visas and Immigration’s systems. The Home Office has been clear that where an individual extends their visa through this route, they will not be subject to enforcement action and this will not impact them negatively for any future visa applications.

Will visa holders still be able to switch to a different category in the UK?

Yes. “Switching” is where you can transfer from one visa category to another without leaving the UK.  However, in many instances where an individual wants to change from one visa category to another, they have to leave the UK and apply from the country they normally reside in. For example, under the Immigration Rules those on a Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) visa will normally have to apply from outside the UK to change visa category into Tier 2 (General).

Individuals will no longer be required to make their application overseas from their country of residence to switch into a different visa category. Therefore, as long as the other normal conditions are met, individuals will be able to make their visa applications online in the UK.

What about booking/ going to a biometric submission appointment?

The Home Office has been clear that applicants should be able to book appointments as usual online. However they state that applicants should only attend to provide their biometric details as part of the application process if this is in line with public health guidance. As such, it appears that individuals should not be attending appointments at present, although the Home Office has not explicitly confirmed this.

However, it has stated that if an applicant is unable to attend their appointment because of coronavirus or there are delays in processing their application, they will not be regarded as an over-stayer or be subject to enforcement action. Their leave will not be curtailed until a decision has been made on their application.

If my organisation sponsors workers, will I need to report absences from work/study due to coronavirus?

If you sponsor migrants under Tier 2 or Tier 5, you will not be required to report a sponsored employee’s absence if it is linked to coronavirus and you have authorised this absence e.g. they are self-isolating and you have received an online isolation note.

The Home Office has confirmed that sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship for affected employees who have been absent from work for more than 4 weeks if they consider these are exceptional circumstances, which would include absences related to coronavirus.  It does however remain extremely important to know where your sponsored workers are and to have up to date contact details.

If I am a sponsor, and we have migrants working from home, do we need to report a change in their normal workplace?

No. The Home Office has confirmed that sponsors do not need to report sponsored workers as working from home, where this is directly related to the coronavirus outbreak.

However any UK employers who sponsor overseas workers, should also ensure that they remain compliant with their other sponsor licence duties, which includes reporting any change to an employee’s salary and duties.

Can the employer ‘furlough’ sponsored workers?

There has been no clear guidance on this point from the Government however our view is that choosing not to furlough staff based on their immigration status is likely to be discriminatory.  We are awaiting guidance from the Home Office on what sponsors should do if the reduction in wages from 100% to 80% whilst on furlough takes the sponsored worker below the minimum salary threshold for their role and will provide a further update on this once received.

For further information or advice on dealing with the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on your global workforce, please contact a member of our immigration team.

Click here for further information about our Sponsorship Management Service.