Tier 2 visa holders come under new Coronavirus furlough scheme

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Sanwar Ali comment:

Applications can be made under the coronavirus furlough scheme from Monday 20 April as announced by Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer whose grandparents were born in Punjab, India.  The right-wing Boris Johnson UK Conservative Government is handing out enormous State subsidies to keep businesses afloat.

The Government is expected to spend 30 to 40 billion pounds on the furlough scheme paying 80% of staff salaries, so that employers will hopefully continue to employ people who would otherwise be made redundant.  According to recent reports perhaps as many as 9 million people may be “furloughed” instead of being made redundant.  Tier 2 Sponsor Licence employers and Tier 2 visa holders can also come under this scheme.

The UK furlough scheme went live on Monday, 20 April, with millions expected to claim. According to HMRC chief, Jim Harra, 67,000 claims had been made by employers within the first 30 minutes. The Treasury claims that the system can process up to 450,000 applications per hour and employers should receive money with six days of making an application.

It’s understood that under the scheme, the minimum amount of time that an employee can be furloughed is three weeks, with pay outs to firms expected to start by the end of April, according to a BBC report. The scheme was recently extended to 30 June, 2020.  Some estimate the total cost of the furlough scheme to be as much as £50bn.

Now that the furlough scheme is live, many Tier 2 visa sponsoring employers and Tier 2 visa holders have questions about how the scheme works for them.

The Home Office has seemingly made provisions for the furlough scheme to be made available for Tier 2 visa sponsored workers. However, more details should be provided.

The provision for furloughing Tier 2 visa holders was first outlined on 3 April, 2020 as an update to the Home Office’s COVID-19 guidance for sponsors.

Concessions to Tier 2 visa holders

Under the scheme, Tier 2 visa sponsors can temporarily reduce the salary recorded on the Tier 2 Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) of a sponsored worker to 80% or £2,500 per month, whichever is the lowest. Any change in salary must be reported on the sponsor management system (SMS) within 10 working days of the salary adjustment.

Any reduction in salary must be in accordance with a company-wide policy to avoid redundancies, where all workers are treated equally. The Home Office states that Tier 2 visa sponsored workers cannot be furloughed if non-sponsored workers are not placed on the furlough scheme, simply because of their UK visa status.

Home Office guidance further indicates that Tier 2 visa holders should not be treated more or less favourably than non-sponsored employees.

At the end of the furlough period, any salary reduction must be returned to at least the income rate specified on the CoS of a sponsored employee. A return to or an increase in the salary specified on a CoS once the furlough period ends, must be reported on the SMS within 10 working days of the salary adjustment.

Voluntary work and training allowed

While the UK furlough scheme is active, Tier 2 visa employees are allowed to undertake any voluntary work or training in some circumstances. Supplementary employment is also allowed, but only in a role that features on the UK Shortage Occupation List or in the same role and at the same level as their existing sponsored job.

Supplementary employment cannot exceed more than 20 hours per week and cannot occur outside of the working hours specified on sponsored employee’s CoS.

Tier 2 visa applicants allowed to benefit from coronavirus furlough scheme

Under normal circumstances, the furlough scheme would be off limits to Tier 2 visa workers as the funds derive from the public. Under the conditions of a Tier 2 visa, workers and their dependants are prohibited from accessing public funds.

However, according to government guidance to employers concerning the furlough scheme, the funds made available to employers will not be classified as ‘recourse to public funds.’

Access to other welfare payments not available to Tier 2 visa holders

Amid the coronavirus, any worker suffering a reduction in salary is allowed access to a number of welfare payments to top up their income. However, access to welfare benefits is not available to Tier 2 visa sponsored workers or their dependants as claiming benefits would breach UK immigration rules.

Government guidance states that unlawful access to welfare benefits could result in an immigrant’s visa validity being reduced or future UK visa applications being refused.

If you’re a Tier 2 visa sponsoring employer that’s thinking about furloughing Tier 2 visa holders, talk to the specialist immigration team at Workpermit.com for assistance on the specific actions you will need to take, including:

  • Reporting all salary changes or working hours on the SMS as a change in migrant circumstances
  • Keeping detailed records of what has occurred, including records of the actions you have taken across the business to avoid redundancies, in case of future audits
  • Reminding any Tier 2 workers who are furloughed of the immigration conditions they have that restrict work, training and volunteering

Tier 2 visa applicants awaiting visa approval

The government’s COVID-19 guidance for Tier 2 visa sponsoring employers was recently updated to accommodate the circumstances of Tier 2 visa applicants awaiting a decision on their application.

The latest coronavirus immigration guidance states that an employer may allow a Tier 2 visa applicant to start work while a decision is made on their application, provided that the following conditions are met:

  • The employer has assigned the applicant a CoS
  • The employee submitted their application prior to the expiration of their current visa
  • The role for which the applicant is employed is in the same role as the one specified on their CoS

If an applicant’s visa is refused, an employer must terminate the employee’s contract with immediate effect.

If you’re an existing Tier 2 visa holder looking to extend your stay in the UK, please see this Workpermit.com report

Furlough scheme welcomed

Commenting on the furlough scheme, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “We promised support would be available by the end of April – we have delivered on that promise.”

Economist at the Resolution Foundation, Daniel Tomlinson, said: “The government's welcome Job Retention Scheme is what stands between Britain experiencing high unemployment over the coming months, and catastrophic depression-era levels of long-term joblessness.

“It is proving particularly essential in big, low-paying sectors like hospitality and retail, where around half the workforce are no longer working.”

Chief economist at the CBI business lobby group, Rain-Newton Smith, also welcomed the launch of the online application system for UK companies.

She said: “Rolling out the job retention scheme will make a huge difference to tens of thousands of firms and millions of people, protecting jobs and living standards throughout the UK. Ensuring support gets to where it's needed most - fast - is of the utmost importance.”

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.

To apply for a UK visa extension amid the coronavirus pandemic, see this recent Workpermit.com news report.

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