In country UK Skilled Worker visa applicants may have been hit by COVID-19 related concessions, according to a report published by Personnel Today. It’s understood that Home Office guidance issued for Skilled Worker visa applicants was amended on 23 December at 5.32pm, when many British businesses would have closed for Christmas.
The guidance was changed to read: “People still awaiting a decision on their visa application can only begin working for a new employer if they have been assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) before 1 January 2021, or are applying under the new Health and Care Visa. They must also have submitted their application before their current visa expired.”
However, if a CoS was granted after 1 January, Skilled Worker visa applicants must now wait until their visa is approved before they are allowed to start work in the UK – unless a current visa allows them to work in a new job role.
New guidance affects non-UK citizens
The amended guidance affects non-UK nationals currently living in the country who are switching to the new Skilled Worker visa or changing employer.
It seems the amendment to the guidance reverses a coronavirus-related concession that the Home Office announced in 2020, enabling visa applicants to commence work prior to their visa application being approved.
The change left employers with just nine days – some of which were weekend days and bank holidays - to ensure that that they had assigned a CoS to new hires.
As a result of the last-minute guidance change, it’s likely that many HR departments have returned from the Christmas and New Year breaks to find that their international hires are not legally entitled to work in the UK.
Businesses had been relying on the concession, introduced last year amid the coronavirus, to support them through the pandemic. However, it seems the Home Office has ruthlessly withdrawn the concession as COVID-19 cases and deaths reached a record high on 8 January 2021.
New hires left in limbo
Meanwhile, the withdrawal of the concession has left many international new hires already in the UK in limbo. They now face significant delays in starting work and are left unable to bring in an income in the middle of a global pandemic.
The change to guidance is likely to cause a great deal of stress for employers and new hires alike.
At the moment, there is nothing that UK businesses or migrant workers can do to speed up the Skilled Worker visa application service because priority and super-priority visa services remain suspended.
Employees currently have to submit a visa application for standard processing and must attend a biometric data appointment – despite the UK now being under another national lockdown. However, securing a biometric appointment is likely to prove difficult as a reduced number of timeslots will be available.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “This was a temporary concession, which was in place earlier in 2020 when there were delays to visa processing, as we adjusted to safer ways of working as a result of the national lockdown.”
“Service levels have since returned to normal, and workers should have permission to work in the UK before they undertake employment,” the spokesperson added.
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