Coronavirus for UK visa holders guidance and Tier 2 sponsors

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Coronavirus COVID-19 - Canary Wharf, London almost empty.

Sanwar Ali, workpermit.com

Sanwar Ali comment:

There were a number of complaints that the previous policy for those wishing to stay in the UK due to the coronavirus COVID-19 related travel restrictions, was limited to Chinese nationals.  Now any national can apply to remain in the UK if their visa runs out between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020.  PLEASE NOTE THAT WHERE RELEVANT THE TWELVE MONTH COOLING OFF PERIOD FOR MAIN TIER 2 ICT VISA HOLDERS WILL STILL APPLY. 

It also seems that from 24 March 2020 any national can apply to switch from within the UK into a visa category as long as their visa runs out by 31 May 2020.   This includes those who would not normally be able to switch to a visa from within the UK, and would normally need to apply from abroad.  Unfortunately, it seems that others who do not meet these requirements will need to apply from abroad.  There is currently great difficulty in applying for an UK visa from abroad as many UK visa centres around the World are either closed or are offering a limited service.  Please see details below on how to to apply if you are in the UK and your visa expires by 31 May 2020.

Contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) if your visa has expired or is expiring by 31 May 2020:

COVERS ALL NATIONALITIES NOW

You should provide:

  • your full name (include any middle names)
  • date of birth (dd/mm/yyyy)
  • nationality
  • your previous visa reference number
  • why you can’t go back to your home country, for example if the border has closed

email: CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk

The coronavirus outbreak has created uncertainty for immigrants and businesses around the world. In the UK, visa holders and employers sponsoring non-UK employees, have been faced with a number of challenges since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 12 March, 2020.

Many UK businesses have laid off non-UK employees, causing concern over the validity of visas for those affected. Meanwhile, employers with non-UK nationals on their books are worried about violating UK immigration rules due to employee absences as a result of the coronavirus.

Those whose UK visas were set to expire or have expired since Britain was effectively placed on lockdown, have also feared for their immigration status.

How do things stand with UK immigration?

The Home Office recently announced that people issued with a UK visa on or after 24 January, which has expired or is set to expire by 31 May 2020, will be granted a visa extension. This applies to non-UK nationals who are unable to leave the country due to travel restrictions, or on the grounds of medical advice, self-isolation.

UK visa validity has been extended up until 31 May, but this will be regularly reviewed by the Home Office in the event that further extensions are required.

Initially, visa extensions were only granted to Chinese nationals resident in the UK. These extensions were applied automatically. However, non-Chinese nationals currently stranded in the UK are required to contact a dedicated Coronavirus Immigration Team set up at the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) department of the Home Office to advise of their situation.

UKVI has specified that this is a measure put in place to update their records and any information provided will not be held against an individual in respect of future UK visa and immigration applications.

Tier 2 intra-company transfer visas

Initial UK government guidance granted Tier 2 intra-company transfer visa concessions to nationals from China whose visas were set to expire between 24 January and 30 March, which would allow them to switch to the Tier 2 general visa category from within the UK, rather than having to return to China.  Please note that this only benefits those who would otherwise be able to apply for an UK visa.  Therefore, where relevant, the one year cooling off period will apply.

The government has since expanded this concession to all non-UK nationals unable to leave Britain due to travel restrictions or self-isolation. Persons wanting to switch must change to an eligible visa route and will be subject to meeting certain visa criteria. A fee to switch will also be payable.

An application to switch visas can be made online, while applicants will be required to attend a biometric appointment, provided that these services are still available in accordance with public health guidance.

Expired UK visas

The Home Office has confirmed that persons with expired visas, and stranded in the UK due to travel restrictions or self-isolation, will face no immigration enforcement. Persons will not be treated as overstayers and future UK visa and immigration applications will not be affected.

In addition, people unable to attend biometric appointments due to COVID-19 or faced with delays in the processing of their UK visa renewal application, will not be considered overstayers and will face no immigration enforcement action.

Tier 2 visa sponsor advice

Guidance has been issued by the Home Office concerning Tier 2 visa sponsor licence responsibilities. With an increasing number of non-UK employees likely to be absent from work or working remotely, the Home Office has instructed Tier 2 visa sponsors to follow certain steps to remain compliant with their duties as a sponsor.

Current Home Office guidance states that:

  • Any employee absence that has been authorised due to coronavirus does not need to be reported
  • Tier 2 visa sponsorship does not need to be cancelled should an employee be absent without pay for four weeks or more due to COVID-19

The guidance, issued on 24 March, also specified that while a change in working location should typically be reported within 10 working days, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Tier 2 visa sponsors will not be required to notify the Home Office of an employee’s working location.

Sponsors are being advised that any issues that arise as a result of the pandemic, which affect a Tier 2 visa holder’s ability to come to the UK or requires them to leave the country prior to the expiration of their visa, should be reported to the Home Office within the normal 10 working days.

While the Home Office offers some basic guidance for Tier 2 visa sponsors in the UK, several questions remain unanswered. For example:

1. Can the salary of a Tier 2 visa holder be reduced for a short-time amid the coronavirus?

This depends on the type of Tier 2 visa sponsorship a non-UK employee has. If an employee is sponsored under the Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship (RCoS) route, then no reduction is possible if it takes an employee’s salary below the minimum income threshold.

However, if a migrant employee’s salary has increased following issuance of their RCoS, a sponsor can reduce the salary to the amount specified on the RCoS. This reduction would need to be reported to the Home Office.

Equally, for employees sponsored under the Unrestricted Certificate of Sponsorship route, any salary reduction would still need to keep the employee’s income above the minimum threshold, and would need to be reported to the Home Office.

2. How can right to work compliance checks take place if staff are working from home?

Tier 2 visa sponsors are typically required to meet new, non-UK employees in person to verify their identity and see an original copy of that person’s passport.

A Home Office portal can be used to verify a person’s right to work in the UK. If they’re a non-EU national, they will need to provide a biometric residence permit card or biometric card, while an EEA national must hold a status under the EU settlement scheme.

This will allow employers to carry out the necessary right to work checks using a Home Office portal when they don’t have access to any original documentation. The portal will then generate a picture of a job applicant or employee that an employer needs to verify, along with any conditions applicable to the employee’s visa.

This information will need to be kept on an employee’s file in the event that a defence is needed against a claim of illegal employment.

It is possible to conduct right to work checks using external companies (provided they’re operating under current government guidelines in respect of the coronavirus), while video calls are also an option, with a view to conducting an in-person check at a later date.

However, it’s advised that an accurate record is kept of such actions, in case they’re requested in the future.

Indefinite leave to remain

While the Home Office has issued no specific guidance on indefinite leave to remain (ILR) and coronavirus, it’s recommended that absence from the UK is kept to a minimum as it could affect an ILR application.

Suspension of UK visa services worldwide

UK visa services in much of the world has been temporarily suspended. For visa applicants who have not yet attended a biometric appointment, it means applications will be delayed until biometric centres are reopened.

It’s understood that the UK has suspended visa applications from several countries, including – but not limited to:

If a person has already successfully applied for a UK visa outside the country, they are typically granted a temporary 30-day visa, which under normal circumstances, must be used within its 30-day validity period.

Generally, visa holders who are unable to travel within the 30-day period, would need to apply for a replacement vignette from within their country of residence, which would allow a person to enter the UK at a later date.

However, the Home Office has not issued any guidance in respect of exemptions to this rule if people are unable to travel to the UK on the temporary 30-day visa because of the coronavirus.

It is understood, however, that VFS Global – the outsourcing company used by the Home Office to schedule visa appointments overseas – has stated on its website that applicants whose 30-day temporary visas have expired can reapply for visas following the reopening of visa appointment centres.

Latest coronavirus updates, visa and immigration restrictions

For the latest updates on the coronavirus, plus details of visa and immigration restrictions worldwide, check Workpermit.com’s news section to stay informed.

Workpermit.com can help with Tier 2 Visa Sponsor Licence and Tier 2 Visa

If you need help with a Tier 2 visa, or a Tier 2 Sponsor Licence, including help with complying with your Tier 2 Sponsor Licence obligations, workpermit.com can help.

For more information and advice on Tier 2 Sponsor Licences, UK immigration law and UK visa applications please contact us on 0344 991 9222 or at london@workpermit.com