UK Immigration and Coronavirus

Updated 27.05.2020: 15:30.

Not long ago, we were faced with political uncertainty with the UK’s departure from the EU. Currently, we are facing a different kind of uncertainty with the coronavirus which knows of no borders and has affected so many people across the globe. We are regularly updating our Coronavirus related articles which can all be found here; this immigration article considers recent Home Office guidance.

FOR INDIVIDUALS IN THE UK

If you are in the UK, and your visa will expire between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020, there are currently 2 main options available during the current crisis.

1st option – short visa extension until 31 July 2020

You can complete a short, online form at https://gov.smartwebportal.co.uk/homeoffice/public/webform.asp?id=199&id2=5C97E7 to request an extension to your visa IF:

  • you cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to COVID-19
  • you were not planning to stay in the UK

It is NOT AN AUTOMATIC extension and you should provide as many details as possible such as:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Nationality
  • Previous visa reference number
  • Why you can’t go back to your home country e.g. the border has closed

It is recommended that you take a screenshot of the online form BEFORE and AFTER submission. Once approved, your visa will be extended to 31 July 2020. The online form currently advises that if your visa expires between the abovementioned periods, and you can’t leave the UK because of COVID-19, then you will not be considered an overstayer nor face detriment in the future. It is unclear on what legal basis this statement is made, but we are hopeful that if there any legal issues that a sympathetic and pragmatic view is taken, including when you make visa applications for other countries.

The Home Office have also added that “You will be expected to return to your home country as soon as it is safe and possible to do so.”

2nd option – applying to stay in the UK long-term

It is possible to submit a visa application from within the UK (until 31 July 2020) to a longer term visa – even where such an application should normally be made from outside the UK.

The visa requirements for the route you want to switch to must still be met. This suggests that it may for instance, be possible to apply for a Tier 2 (General) work visa whilst currently here as a visitor (which is not usually permissible).

The application is made online in the usual way. As such, by automatic operation of the law, your most recent immigration status is preserved and you will not become an overstayer if all the criteria are met.

As the Application and Service Centres in the UK are temporarily closed, it is not possible to book an appointment and the Home Office confirms that “Your immigration status in the UK will not change as a result of your not being able to attend an appointment”. However, they will re-open on 1 June 2020 to “existing customers”.

Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) migrants

It is not necessary to employ at least 2 people for 12 consecutive months each. The 12-month period can be made of multiple employees across different months. However, employees who have been furloughed will not count towards the 12-month period.

The Home Office will allow a temporary extension if you have not been able to employ staff for 12 months in total by the time your visa expires.

If you’re working for the NHS or independent health and care providers

If your (and your dependants’) visa(s) is/ are due to expire before 1 October 2020, your visa will automatically be extended by one year. This is free and the immigration health surcharge is waived.

There is no application necessary as the Home Office will contact employers to identify staff who might be eligible. The Home Office will inform you and your employer if you have received an automatic extension.

This concession only applies to migrants WORKING IN CERTAIN OCCUPATIONS such as: biochemist, health professional, medical practitioner, nurse, and social worker. The full list can be found here.

The Home Office has also created the bereavement scheme for family members of NHS and health and social care workers. The scheme provides that “If you’re a non-EEA family member of any NHS worker, including support staff, or a healthcare or social care worker who has died as a result of coronavirus, you will receive immediate indefinite leave to remain, free of charge”.

Removing the number of hours you can work or volunteer

The Home Office has removed the number of hours you can work or volunteer each week IF you are:

  • Tier 4 (General) student
  • Tier 2 worker and your NHS job is a second job
  • visiting academic researcher
  • holder of a short-term visa and are permitted to volunteer

The deadline for pre-registration nurses to sit the Occupational Structured Clinical Examination has been extended to 31 December 2020.

FOR INDIVIDUALS OUTSIDE THE UK (INCLUDING BRITISH NATIONALS)

It is possible to continue to submit online applications for a visa to come to the UK. Some of the Application Centres abroad are slowing re-opening, where local restrictions permit, so it may be possible to attend appointments.

Where your local Application Centre remains closed, you may still wish to submit an online application as this will likely “lock-in” any time-restricted requirements (for example, see below re CoS and CAS). Once the Application Centres are re-opened, there will likely be a backlog and/or surge in applications, so submitting a visa application sooner rather than later seems to be one of the better strategies.

Arrivals to the UK from 8 June 2020

The Home Secretary announced  that contact details will need to be provided and individuals arriving from 8 June 2020 will need to self-isolate. Breaching the mandatory rules may result in a fixed penalty notice of £1,000 if you are in England.

There is a separate list exempting certain groups of people arriving in the UK from the new rules.

British nationals

As the Application Centres are closed, British nationals abroad cannot apply for a British passport but they can still apply for an emergency travel document instead for urgent travel back to the UK.

Global Talent, Start-up, or Innovator visa applicants

If your endorsement has expired as you have not been able to travel to the UK, you may still be eligible for a visa. The Home Office will consider applications on a case-by-case basis.

Approved 30-day visa

Where your passport has been endorsed with a 30-day entry visa sticker for work, study or to join family, and has expired or is due to expire, you can contact the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre to request a free replacement entry visa sticker with new validity dates. The process will be available until the end of 2020.

When contacting the Home Office, we suggest emailing them at CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk with the subject “REPLACEMENT 30 DAY VISA” and including:

  • your name
  • nationality
  • date of birth
  • GWF reference number

FOR TIERS 2, 4 AND 5 SPONSOR LICENCE HOLDERS

The Home Office has confirmed in new guidance that:

  • there is no need to report student or employee absences related to coronavirus (including absences due to illness, need to isolate or inability to travel due to travel restrictions)
  • there is no need to withdraw sponsorship if because of coronavirus:
    • a student will be unable to attend for more than 60 days
    • an employee is absent from work without pay for four weeks or more
  • no enforcement action will be taken as a result of the above

In addition, distance learning and working from home are not, due to the current Covid-19 outbreak, activities which need to be reported.

Sponsored workers

Sponsoring UK employers can temporarily reduce the pay of their sponsored employees to 80% of their salary or £2,500 per month, whichever is the lower. This must be in line with company-wide policy to avoid redundancies.

Issued CoS and CAS

The Home Office confirms that workers and students can still apply for a visa. They further confirm that they will not automatically refuse cases where the start date for the course or employment may have changed as the individual has not been able to travel as a result of coronavirus. All applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Sponsors will still need to observe all other obligations and should seek advice if in doubt. In any event, sponsors may still wish to contact the Home Office/ their immigration adviser in the usual way and/or to contact the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre for further clarity.

Outstanding Tier 2 or Tier 5 visa application

UK sponsors may allow Tier 2 or Tier 5 employees to start work before their visa application has been decided if:

  • you have assigned them a CoS
  • the employee submitted their application before their current visa expired
  • the role they are employed in is the same as the one on their CoS

Sponsors should remember that reporting obligations begin at the date the CoS is assigned. While it won’t be possible to report information via the SMS, sponsors should ensure that good records are kept and maintained securely, containing all the relevant information set out in the sponsor guidance. Changes that will impact the eventual consideration of a migrant’s visa application can however be updated on the CoS in the usual way.

FOR ALL UK BUSINESSES/ EMPLOYERS

Home Office issued temporary guidance relating to right to work checks. In observation of social distancing practices, UK employers can now follow these temporary measures:

  • Ask the worker to submit a scanned copy or a photo of their original documents via email or using a mobile app
  • Arrange a video call with the worker – ask them to hold up the original documents to the camera and check them against the digital copy of the documents
  • Record the date you made the check and mark it as “adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19”

Where possible, UK employers can still undertake online checks in the usual way. If you have already carried out compliant right to work checks in the usual way, and these remain valid, you do not necessarily need to follow these temporary measures.

The Home Office will advise when these temporary measures will end, at which point, right to work checks must be conducted in the normal way. UK employers will also be asked to carry out retrospective checks on existing employees who:

  • started working for you during these measures
  • required a follow-up right to work check during these measures You should mark this check: “the individual’s contract commenced on [insert date]. The prescribed right to work check was undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19.

The retrospective check must be carried out within 8 weeks of the COVID-19 measures ending. Both checks should be kept for your records.

Similar guidance also applies to landlords in relation to right to rent checks.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

As new guidance is released and/or replaced, we will update this note.

If you have any questions about this article or any of our other areas of specialism, please feel free to get in touch. We are here to help – so let’s talk.

The data contained within this document is for general information only. No responsibility can be accepted for inaccuracies. Readers are also advised that the law and practice may change from time to time. This document is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute accounting, legal or tax advice. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.