COVID-19: Immigration FAQs for Employers

25.03.20

On 24 March 2020, UK Visas and immigration introduced special measures to take account of the Coronavirus outbreak and to alleviate the effects for those who have visas expiring in the next few months.  We set out below some frequently asked questions about these measures and also other important immigration issues which employers are asking about in light of the Coronavirus outbreak.

We are a licenced sponsor. In line with UK Government guidance, we now have all of our staff working from home (including our sponsored workers). Do we need to report this to UKVI as their place of work has changed on a temporary basis and what if we make other changes to Tier 2 sponsored employee's jobs as a result of Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

We understand that where a sponsored worker is temporarily required to work from home in these circumstances, you are not required to report this on the Sponsor Management System as a change of circumstances.   However, any permanent change to place of work does need to be reported so please keep that under review if it becomes long term. 

In addition, employers should remember that any change to a sponsored worker's job title, salary or working hours all need to be reported through the Sponsor Management System.  Significant changes to a Tier 2 employee's job role which involves a change in Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code would involve a change in employment application (and may require the resident labour market test to be carried out before the employee could commence a new role).  A redundancy would, of course, require to be reported to UKVI within 10 days of the termination of the contract.

We have an individual currently in the UK under a visitor visa for the purpose of business activities. What will happen if they are unable to leave the UK at the expiry of their visa due to COVID-19 travel restrictions or due to having to self-isolate? 

On 24th March 2020, the UK Government announced several temporary immigration measures to be put in place for individuals affected by travel restrictions and periods of self-isolation associated with coronavirus. Under these provisions, those who have UK visas which are due to expire between 24th January 2020 and 31st May 2020 and cannot leave the UK at the end of their visa expiry due to COVID-19 travel restrictions or because they are self-isolating are likely to be given a visa extension to the 31st May 2020 if they apply.

Such individuals must contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT), inform them that their visa is expiring and provide them with the following information:

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

The Home Office will then let the individual know when the request has been received and when the visa has been extended.  Employers who have business visitors whose visas are about to expire may wish to inform them of this option.   

Employers may also wish to carry out an audit of any employees who have visas that may expire prior to 31 May 2020 to consider whether a visa extension may be necessary as a result of COVID-19. We can advise further depending on the type of visa concerned and the reason that the extension is needed. Please contact us for more information.

We have an employee who is currently in the process of extending their Tier 2 visa – will they be able to continue doing this despite the recent lockdown restrictions? What will happen if an employee's visa expires and they have not been able to make an extension application?

At the moment, the majority of UK visa processing centres have closed, but some do remain open for now. We would also recommend that individuals only leave their homes in line with the recently announced guidance from the UK Government (which can be found here).

As mentioned above, the UK Government announced several temporary immigration measures for those in the UK with visas due to expire between 24th January 2020 and 31st May 2020 (but unable to return to leave the UK due to COVID-19 travel restrictions or self-isolation). Under these measures, such visas are likely to be extended to the 31st May 2020 (so long as the employee applies to UKVI in line with the guidance here).

Are UK visa processing centres still open outside the UK?

We understand that all processing centres in Europe are currently closed and that visa services are no longer running in most countries including China, the USA, Canada, South America and Asia Pacific. The list of centres which are open internationally is changing depending on the impact of the virus on other countries. Up-to-date information can also be found here.

A number of UK processing centres have also closed. The full list can be found here.

We sponsor migrant workers though our sponsor licence. We intend to utilise the Government's newly announced Job Retention Scheme for our staff (Furlough Scheme). Do we need to report to UKVI that our sponsored workers will have a temporary change in their salary (being 80% of their salary)?

Changes to salary remain to be a circumstance which should be reported to UKVI through the Sponsor Management System.

However, where a migrant worker will have a temporary reduction in salary (for example, through the Job Retention Scheme if the employer is not topping up salary to full pay), this will breach the conditions of sponsorship as the employer has confirmed through the sponsorship process that a particular salary will be paid.  We expect that UKVI may update its guidance for employers to accommodate for those who are furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. We recommend that specific advice is taken on this point.

How do we conduct a follow-up right to work check for those who have been granted visa extensions under the new government measures (due to the expiry of their initial leave)?

As mentioned above, those who have visas due to expire between 24th January 2020 and 31st May 2020 and cannot leave the UK at the end of their visa expiry due to COVID-19 travel restrictions or because they are self-isolating are likely to be given a visa extension to the 31st May 2020.

We understand that, once contact is made with the Coronavirus Immigration Team and the required information provided, UKVI will let your employee know if their visa has been extended. It is not clear when an updated Biometric Residence Permit will be issued or what evidence will be provided.  However, employers should ask for evidence that the application has been made and should ask the employee to provide confirmation of any decision that they receive.  We expect that the guidance on right to work checks will be updated to take account of these changes – so please check the latest guidance online.

How do we carry out right to work checks remotely when there is no-one in the office to meet the employee in person?

Right to work checks can be carried out through a live video link as long as the employer has been sent the original document. Therefore, there is no requirement to meet in person.  Full details can be found here.

We expect that we will need to sponsor EEA citizens under the new single skills system following the end of the transition period. Is it still the intention that this will come in to effect in January 2021?

Presently, the transition period is due to come to an end at 11pm on the 31st December 2020 and the new single skills system to be effective from the 1st January 2021.

However, in light of the spread of Coronavirus over the last few weeks across both the UK and Europe, it is expected that little progress (if any) will be made in relation to trade talks between the UK and EU (as both will be putting their efforts into tackling the virus). If these crucial trade talks do not progress, there is no agreement in place in relation to the future relationship between the UK and EU after the end of the transition period and therefore many stakeholders have voiced their opinion that the transition period should be extended in light of the Coronavirus outbreak. For now, there is no suggestion from the UK Government that they will ask for an extension to the transition period, but we will provide further updates on this as soon as we become aware of any.

Please get in touch with your usual Brodies contact if you have any questions relating to the immigration law implications of the Coronavirus outbreak.