Immigration Update during COVID-19 Pandemic

6th April 2020

In this update, we consider the recent updates published by the Home Office today on immigration.

Tier 2, 4 and 5 visa

Duties of sponsors in the UK towards reporting absences of employees or students who are affected by coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Home Office has confirmed that it will not be taking enforcement action against sponsors who continue to sponsor students or employees despite absences due to coronavirus.

It has further confirmed that you do not need to report student or employee absences related to coronavirus. This includes absences due to illness, their need to isolate or inability to travel due to travel restrictions.

Sponsorship validity and absences

Sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship if because of coronavirus:

  • A student is unable to attend for more than 60 days, or
  • An employee is absent from work without pay for more than 4 weeks

The Home Office states that it will be keeping this policy under review.

Obligations of sponsors that are sponsoring a student who is distance learning.

Sponsors can continue to sponsor existing Tier 4 students who are continuing their studies through distance learning, whether they are in the UK or another country.

If a student has permanently withdrawn from their studies or deferred their studies for reasons unrelated to coronavirus, the sponsor must report this as usual.

Sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship for new students who have been issued a Tier 4 visa but are distance learning because they have been unable to travel to the UK.

New international students who have not yet applied for a visa but want to start a course by distance learning do not require sponsorship under Tier 4. This is because they do not need to travel to the UK.

Sponsors do not need to tell the Home Office when students have moved to distance learning.

These arrangements will apply until 31 May 2020, when they will be reviewed by the Home Office.

Reduction in salary of sponsored employees

The Home Office has stated that if an employer cannot pay the salaries of sponsored employees because they have temporarily reduced or ceased trading, then they can now temporarily reduce the pay of their sponsored employees to 80% of their salary or £2,500 per month, whichever is the lower.

However, the Home Office has also set protective measures towards sponsored employees by further stating that any reduction must be part of a company-wide policy to avoid redundancies and in which all workers are treated the same.

These reductions must be temporary, and the employee’s pay must return to at least previous levels once these arrangements have ended.

Where certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) or a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS) has been issued and the sponsored employee or student has not yet applied for a visa

The Home Office has announced that where a Cos or CAS has been issued, but where the sponsored employee or student has not yet applied for a visa and is unable to due to the COVID-19, that employee or student will still be able to apply for a visa.

The start date for the course or employment stated on the CoS or CAS may have changed by the time the visa routes and travel restrictions open, but the Home Office has stated that it will not automatically refuse such cases.

For example, the Home Office may accept a CoS or CAS if they have become invalid because the employee or student was unable to travel as a result of coronavirus.

The Home Office has set these temporary concessions, but has also left room for individual case assessments by confirming that they will consider this concession on a case by case basis. This is therefore not a blanket policy.

If you are on a Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa and your business has been disrupted

The Home Office has confirmed that a Tier 1 Entrepreneur no longer need to employ at least 2 people for 12 consecutive months each. The 12-month period they are required to employ someone for can be made up of multiple employees across different months.

It should be noted however that time when the employees were furloughed will not count towards the 12 month period.

The requirement of employing 2 people for 12 months however remains in order to make a successful extension or indefinite leave to remain application under this category. In light of the coronavirus, the Home Office has stated that if the applicant has not been able to employ staff for 12 months in total by the time their visa expires, they will be allowed to temporarily extend their stay to give them time to meet the requirement.

Doctors, nurses or paramedics working for the NHS

Visas of doctors, nurses and paramedics will be automatically extended by one year if it is due to expire before 1 October 2020, the Home Office confirms this morning. Family members with a visa due to expire before 1 October 2020 will also have their visa extended.

The extension will be free and they will not have to pay the immigration health surcharge.

They are not required to make an application to affect this extension. The Home Office will contact NHS employers to identify staff eligible for this extension.

The Home Office will notify the doctors, nurses and paramedics and their employer if they have received the automatic extension.

Changes to the current restrictions on the number of hours volunteers can work

The Home office confirms that there is no longer a limit on the number of hours volunteers can work or volunteer each week if they are working for the NHS as a doctor, nurse of paramedic and the migrant is a:

  • Tier 4 student
  • Tier 2 worker and your NHS job is a second job
  • Visiting academic researcher
  • Holder of a short-term visa and are permitted to volunteer

If you are a pre-registration nurse in the UK

The deadline for pre-registration nurses in the UK to sit the Occupational Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) has been extended to 31 December 2020.

Return of documents

The Home Office has worldwide border, travel and public health restrictions, therefore it has confirmed that it may not be possible to return passports at this time.

Where an applicant has submitted a passport and would like it returned, they are asked to contact the visa application centre where they lodged their application to see if courier return is available in their location.  

British nationals abroad who need to apply for a passport

If a country’s VAC is closed, applicants will not be able to apply for a British passport. If they urgently need to travel to the UK, they can apply for an emergency travel document.

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Dipesh Shah is a Partner located in London in our Immigration department

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