Home Office April 2020 Immigration update in light of COVID19 for visa holders, short-term UK residents and Sponsors

15th April 2020 Immigration

On 9th April 2020, the Home Office published an updated factsheet setting out immigration provisions for individuals affected by travel restrictions associated with coronavirus (COVID-19). We take a closer look here at these latest updates.

The Home Office has recognised in their latest guidance that this is a difficult time for everyone, including migrants, and for this reason they are continually reviewing the situation to consider what more can be done for those in the UK whose immigration status has been affected by coronavirus. Their dedicated Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) continues to operate by providing advice and support on a number of different scenarios.

Temporary Procedural Changes – due for review by 31 May 2020

Extending an existing UK visa

  • The Home Office has provided that if the individual already has leave in the UK and planned to remain and apply to extend their leave when it expired, they must continue to do this. Individuals must therefore not be complacent with their visa’s validities during the pandemic and act diligently in securing their immigration status. 
  • For those individuals who were not planning to extend their stay in the UK, the Home Office has provided that no individual who is in the UK legally and whose visa expired after 24 January 2020, or is due to expire, will be regarded as an overstayer or suffer any detriment in the future if they cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions related to COVID-19.
  • A visa will be extended to 31 May 2020 if an individual cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus (COVID- 19).
  • It is made clear in the current and Home Office updates related to COVID19 that individuals must update their records with the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) if their visa is expiring and were not planning to stay in the UK. This requirement to contact the CIT applies to individuals of any nationality whose leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 30 May 2020. How to contact the CIT has been discussed in our previous updates.
  • In order to eliminate anxiety of visa holders in relation to their immigration status following an email contact with the Home Office, the Home Office have helpfully announced that individuals will not need to do anything else once they have submitted the online e-form and their status in the UK is secure from the point they have submitted.

Switching visas

  • An individual can apply from the UK to switch to a long-term UK visa until 31 May 2020. This includes applications where they would usually need to apply for a visa from their home country. The Home Office has not made any reference to particular visa routes to which this applies or does not apply, and therefore the policy is open to all categories; however it must be noted that the need for making such an application from the UK as opposed to the applicant’s home country in the normal course, must be evidently related to COVID19.
  • Applicants continue to be subject to the requirements of the route they are applying for and pay the UK application fee. We would presume this includes any English language and financial requirements.
  • This temporary policy applies to those whose leave has already been automatically extended to 31 March 2020.
  • Applications are to be made online as per standard procedures. The terms of their leave will remain the same until their application is decided.
  • Applicants will not be regarded as an overstayer or be subject to enforcement action if they’re unable to attend a biometric appointment due to coronavirus or if there are delays in processing their application.

Completing an application

  • The Home Office has confirmed that since the UK Visa and Citizenship Application Centres (UKVCAS) and Service and Support Centres (SSCs) are temporarily closed because of coronavirus (COVID-19), an individual’s immigration status will not be negatively affected as a result of them not being able to attend an appointment.
  • Where an individual already made an appointment to attend a UKVCAS service point, or a Service and Support Centre (SSC), they will be contacted and told what to do next.

The Home Office have explicitly stated that their immigration status will not be negatively affected as a result of them not being able to attend an appointment.

Priority services

  • The Home Office has temporarily suspended Priority and Super Priority services for UK customers. But, where an individual has already enrolled their biometrics, the Home Office will aim to meet the Priority/Super Priority service standard.
  • The Home Office will refund priority service fees where the Home Office is not able to make a faster decision.

TIER 4 & TIER 2 and 5 – Guidance for existing migrants and sponsors

There have been a lot of questions and queries raised in relation to overseas students and workers whose visa or studies have been impacted by COVID19 Pandemic. The Home Office have provided the following guidance to assist students and workers as well as their UK sponsors.

Tier 4

If an individual applied for a Tier 4 visa and are waiting for a decision on an application

An individual can start their course or studies before a visa application has been decided if:

  • Their sponsor is a Tier 4 sponsor
  • They have been given a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS).
  • They have submitted an application before their current visa expired and show evidence to their sponsor of this
  • The course they start is the same as the one listed on their CAS
  • They have a valid Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate if required
  • In such a situation the Tier 4 sponsor’s reporting responsibilities will start from the date the CAS is issued, not from the date that their application is granted.

If the individual’s application is eventually refused the individual must stop their course or studies.

  • Tier 4 students are not normally permitted to undertake distance learning courses. However, the Home Office have confirmed that due to the current exceptional circumstances, they will not consider it a breach of sponsor duties to offer distance learning to existing Tier 4 students in the UK or who have chosen to return overseas but wish to continue their current studies. Sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship in these circumstances and nor do they do not need to tell the Home Office when students have moved to distance learning.
  • If a student has permanently withdrawn from, or formally deferred their studies, the usual reporting requirements apply.
  • New international students who have been issued a Tier 4 visa but have been unable to travel to the UK are permitted to undertake distance learning and sponsorship does not need to be withdrawn.
  • New international students who have not yet applied for a visa but wish to commence a course by distance learning do not need to travel to the UK to do so and therefore do not require sponsorship under Tier 4.
  • The Home Office have announced that they will not take enforcement action against sponsors who continue to sponsor students despite absences due to coronavirus.
  • They do not need to report student absences related to coronavirus.
  • Sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship if a student is unable to attend for more than 60 days.
  • Students who withdraw from their studies as a result of covid-19 will be discounted from future Basic Compliance Assessments
  • The Home Office have stated that all the above arrangements apply initially until 31 May, by which date they will be reviewed.

Tier 2 and 5 – Migrant and Sponsor Duties

If an individual applied for a Tier 2 or 5 visa and are waiting for a decision on an application, that individuals can start work before a visa application has been decided if they meet the following circumstances:

  • The individual have been assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS).
  • The individual submitted an application before their current visa expired and show evidence to their sponsor of this.
  • The job they start is the same as the one listed on their CoS.
  • In such a situations, the sponsor’s reporting responsibilities start from the date of employment, not from the date that their application is granted.

If an individual’s application is eventually refused the sponsor will stop sponsoring them and the individual must stop working for the sponsor.

  • The Home Office are aware that many workers sponsored under the Tiers 2 and 5 immigration routes are now working from home rather than their normal workplace due to the coronavirus pandemic. Tiers 2 and 5 sponsors are normally required to notify The Home Office of such changes in circumstances. However, due to the current exceptional situation, the Home Office have confirmed that they will not require sponsors to do so if working from home is directly related to the pandemic.
  • Other changes must still be reported as usual by sponsors.
  • The Home Office have announced that they will not take enforcement action against sponsors who continue to sponsor employees despite absences due to coronavirus.
  • They do not need to report employee absences related to coronavirus.
  • Sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship if an employee is absent from work without pray for more than 4 weeks.
  • The Home Office have stated that all the above arrangements apply initially until 31 May, by which date they will be reviewed.

If sponsors cannot pay the salaries of sponsored employees because they’ve temporarily reduced or ceased trading

The Home Office have mirrored their previous guidance in that:

Sponsors can temporarily reduce the pay of their sponsored employees to 80% of their salary or £2,500 per month, whichever is the lower.

Any reductions 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.

Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa

The Home Office are aware of the struggles business are facing due to the impact of COVID19. They also realise the difficulties employers are facing with recruiting and keeping their existing staff employed. As well as the financial impact businesses are facing, Tier 1 entrepreneurs have been concerned with meeting obligations ahead of their extension applications in respect of job creation. The Home Office provide the following guidance on this point:

  • If an individual is on a Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa and their business has been disrupted, they 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.
  • Time when their workers were furloughed will not count towards the 12 month period.

Doctors, nurses or paramedics working for the NHS

  • An individual’s visa will be automatically extended by one year if it is due to expire before 1 October 2020. Family members with a visa due to expire before 1 October 2020 will also have their visa extended.
  • The extension is free and they will not have to pay the immigration health surcharge.
  • Individuals do not need to apply. The Home Office will contact NHS employers to identify their eligible for this extension.
  • The Home Office will notify the individual and their employer if they have received an automatic extension.
  • There is no longer a limit on the number of hours an individual can work or volunteer each week if they work for the NHS as a doctor, nurse of paramedic and they are a:
    • Tier 4 student
    • Tier 2 worker and their NHS job is a second job
    • Visiting academic researcher
    • Holder of a short-term visa and are permitted to volunteer.
  • If an individual is a pre-registration nurse currently in the UK, the deadline for them to sit the Occupational Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) has been extended to 31 December 2020.

Additional Information

Obtaining a ‘status letter’ from the Home Office confirming a visa extension or a new Biometric Residence Permit with a revised expiry date

The Home Office have announced that all nationals who need evidence of their extension should contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team via email: CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk. Other urgent queries can be made by calling on 0800 678 1767 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm). However in order to prevent unnecessary workload on the Home Office, individuals are requested to observe the Home Office’s statement:

Individuals do not need to do anything else once they have submitted the online e-form and their status in the UK is secure from the point they have submitted. This requirement to contact Coronavirus Immigration Team applies to individuals of any nationality whose leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 30 May 2020.

JMW Solicitors

We would expect that qualifying applications prepared or made ahead of time will benefit with missing the influx of voluminous applications the Home Office could receive as world-wide and Home Office operations return to normal.

Presently, in-country applications can be submitted as normal whether for an extension, or for switching into a new visa category. The same applies for applications made within the immigration rules, as well as those which require legal representations invoking Human Rights elements and exceptional and compelling circumstances. Entry clearance applications may also be submitted online.

Applicants can also take advantage of the unique, first-ever, temporary concessions the Home Office have put in place to help migrants in the UK. In addition, applicants can also benefit from utilising their existing supporting documents before they become out-dated.

We would therefore urge qualifying and non-qualifying applicants to consider their legal immigration position and their future intentions in the same.

Should you require any immigration advice, at JMW you will be met by a highly qualified and committed team holding years of expertise in immigration between them. Please do not hesitate to contact the Head of immigration: Dipesh Shah on: Dipesh.shah@jmw.co.uk, or 07732 065 402 with your queries.

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

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