Coronavirus (COVID-19) has impacted visa applications and led the government to make temporary changes to the rules for businesses and their employees.
This guide explains the changes that immigration solicitors should be aware of.
UK visa applicants and temporary residents
Some UK visa application centres have reopened for existing customers.
The UK government has released advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents affected by the current travel restrictions.
The Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre can advise on how immigration is affected.
There are also delays in processing applications to the EU Settlement Scheme. People can still email questions or complete the identity stage of an application using the ‘EU Exit: ID Document Check’ app, but the Home Office is currently not accepting identity evidence by post.
Visas due to expire between 4 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 can be extended to 31 July 2020 if the visa holder:
- cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to COVID-19
- is not planning to stay in the UK long term
Those with visas already extended to 31 May will automatically have them extended further, but those who have not already asked for an extension would need to make a request for the extension to apply to them, by updating their records with the Coronavirus Immigration Team.
On 14 July, a senior Home Office official stated that it was not their current intention to provide any further blanket extensions to this policy, which has not been published on their website.
On 20 July, we wrote to the Home Office to raise concerns about this, requesting a formal announcement regarding the end of the policy and to issue clear communications to those likely to be impacted. Almost 65,000 visa extensions had been granted by the end of April.
The visas of people working in eligible professions will automatically be extended by one year if they’re due to expire before 1 October 2020. Family members are included and there are no fees involved.
Visa holders who were planning to stay longer can still apply for an extension online using the relevant form for their visa.
Switching to a long-term visa
For some visa applications, people would usually need to apply from their home country.
Until 31 July 2020, visa holders can apply to switch to a long-term UK visa from within the UK if their current visa expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020.
On 26 June, this concessions was extended to cover people whose leave expires after 31 July 2020 can apply from within the UK if they:
- urgently need to make a new application – for example, before they can start a new job, and
- cannot leave the UK to make an application from abroad
Tier 1 visas
If someone is on an Entrepreneur visa (Tier 1) and their business has been disrupted, the rules on employing at least two people for 12 months in a row each have been relaxed.
The 12-month period Tier 1 visa holders must employ someone for can be made up of multiple jobs across different months. However, if they furlough employees, the time on furlough will not count.
UK employers and sponsors
The government has relaxed the rules for employers on reporting change of circumstances for sponsored employees under Tier 2, 4 and 5 visas.
Employers do not need to notify the government if sponsored employees are:
- working from home or
- taking time away from work due to COVID-19
Other changes to working arrangements must still be reported.
In certain circumstances, employers can temporarily cut sponsored employees’ pay to 80% of their salary or £2500 per month, whichever is lower.
Right to work checks
While COVID-19 measures are in place, workers should submit a scanned copy of original documents for employers to check on a video call.
For a list of acceptable documents, see the government’s guide for employers.
If workers cannot provide any of the acceptable documents, employers can use the Home Office Employer Checking Service.
Once lockdown measures end, employers will need to complete retrospective checks.
International arrivals to England and Wales must self-isolate for 14 days unless they:
- travelled from a country or territory on the English or Welsh travel exemption lists
- travelled from within the Common Travel Area (ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Islands)
- are included on the list of travellers exempt from COVID-19 border rules