Across the globe, measures are being taken to combat the spread of coronavirus (“Covid-19”). This is causing mass disruption to inbound and outbound UK travel, in particular to migrants who are currently on temporary leave in the UK or who are in the process of applying to come to the UK.
Gherson have been receiving an increasing number of enquiries from Tier 2 sponsors concerned about various issues arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. We therefore set out below a guide to the current Frequently Asked Questions from both Tier 2 sponsors and migrants.
Has specific guidance been released about UK immigration and Covid-19?
Guidance was published on 17 February 2020. However, the guidance focused predominantly on Chinese nationals who are stuck in the UK, as at the time of publication they were the group that was most affected. The guidance has not yet been updated to cover the immigration implications of Covid-19 for other nationalities, although this will hopefully be released soon.
My visa is due to expire shortly in the UK. Will it be temporarily extended?
On 17 February, the UK Home Office introduced a temporary visa concession for Chinese nationals living in the UK, to allow their visas to be extended to 31 March 2020 if they are due to expire shortly. This also applies to visitors who are at or close to the normal limit of 180 days in the UK in a 12-month period.
The Home Office also provided guidance to Chinese nationals who are allowed to switch immigration status whilst in the UK. For example – those who are on a Tier 2 (ICT) and meet the relevant requirements can switch to a Tier 2 (General) visa.
We are currently awaiting further confirmation from UKVI as to whether this will apply to all nationals. However, if you are in this situation currently, UKVI have a free helpline which can be reached on 0800 678 1767 or CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm).
How will absences from employment due to Covid-19 affect a sponsored migrants’ visa?
Usually, sponsors must report to UKVI if a sponsored worker does not ‘turn up for their first day of work’. Once they have started work, the sponsor must then report if the worker is absent from work for more than 10 working days without permission.
However, UKVI have confirmed that sponsors will not be required to report any absences from students or employees sponsored under the Tier 2, Tier 4 or Tier 5 categories where the absences have been a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Sponsors will also not be required to withdraw sponsorship for the following:
- Students who have been unable to attend for more than 60 days; or
- Employees who have exceeded 4 weeks of absence without pay.
It is recommended that the employer keeps records of all communication with the sponsored migrant as evidence of the period of absence.
Absences may be due to the following reasons:
- The migrant, or a relative, are unwell;
- The migrant is unable to travel to the UK;
- The place of work closes completely or partially.
Currently, UKVI have not provided any further guidance on any other change of circumstances that may need to be updated by the Sponsor.
Can a Tier 2 migrant work from home?
Sponsors have always had to report a change in work location. However, given the current circumstances, unless the migrant’s usual place of work changes, for the time being, a sponsor should not need to report if their workers are working from home. However, if a Sponsor would like to report this, they can do so.
We would recommend that before any employee works from home, the employer checks that their records are up-to-date with their current residential address and direct contact details.
What if there is a delay in the work start date?
There has been no update as regards the situation where there is a delay in the work start date, and therefore the current rules as to the start date should be abided by. The Certificate of Sponsorship should include the exact date that you/employer intends to commence employment.
Depending on when and how the Tier 2 visa is issued, this date may be delayed. If you would like further advice in this regards, please contact us.
What if the migrant is required to take unpaid leave or a reduced salary?
Sponsored workers have always been entitled to short periods of unpaid leave, which may include maternity leave, paternity leave, sick leave, assisting with a national or international humanitarian crisis overseas or taking part in strike action as part of legally organised industrial action.
Sponsors can also allow sponsored workers to take up to four weeks’ unpaid leave in a calendar year. However, if leave exceeds this period, the sponsor must cease to sponsor the worker.
The government has not yet stated if the absences set out above include situations where the sponsored worker has, or will, reach over four weeks of unpaid absence in a calendar year. However, it has stated very clearly that it will not take any compliance action against sponsors if they authorise absences during the current exceptional situation.
We therefore recommend not taking any drastic action to withdraw sponsorship relating to unpaid absences that exceed four weeks in a calendar year where it is clear that the coronavirus outbreak is a contributory factor. However, we still await further clarification from UKVI on this point.
A reduction in salary is permitted providing the new rate is not below the current appropriate rate requirements for the role sponsored under Tier 2.
I have been issued with a 30 day vignette. Am I able to enter the UK?
At present, the UK Government are not placing restrictions on people entering the UK in relation to the coronavirus.
It is highly likely, however, that the UK will move to implement inbound travel restrictions in the near future.
I am unable to travel and I have a 30 day vignette. Can this be extended?
At present, if you have been issued with a 30 day vignette and you are unable to travel within this period, you will be required to apply for a vignette transfer.
Are visa application centres open?
Within the UK
“If you have Coronavirus symptoms and should be self-isolating, or if you have Coronavirus, you must not attend your appointment. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘COVID-19’ and your UAN in the subject to say that you cannot attend. We will refund your fee and will tell the Home Office.’
‘If after your visit to us, you develop symptoms, or have Coronavirus, please email email@example.com with ‘COVID-19’ and your UAN in the subject and details of your appointment”.
Outside the UK
VFS has a dedicated coronavirus page listing application centre closures worldwide. As of 17 March 2020, it reported that:
“UK has stopped accepting visa applications in China (except Xi’an), Tehran (Iran), Kuwait City (Kuwait), Manila (the Philippines), Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia), Kingston (Jamaica), Georgetown (Cayman Islands), Bridgetown (Barbados), Nassau (Bahamas), Castries (St Lucia), Lima (Peru), Caracas (Venezuela), and Albany and, Fargo, Virgin Islands, Oakland, Santa Clara, San Francisco, Salinas, Santa Rosa in the (US), Quito, Guyaquil (Ecuador), North Mumbai (India), and Hamilton (Bermuda).
UK has stopped accepting Priority Visa applications in Japan, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Brunei”.
Please note that the information in this blog is current at the date and time of posting. The situation regarding policy and guidance based on the COVID-19 pandemic is subject to change at short notice. We shall be monitoring all aspects of UK immigration which may be impacted by the coronavirus closely, so please do keep updated with further blogs and articles which we will be posting on this site.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.
Consultant, Trainee Solicitor and joint head of our corporate team
(Please note that this article is also available in Polish)