The Home Office has tackled a number of potential obstacles for visa holders and sponsors in light of COVID–19.
As the Government's coronavirus laws create historic new challenges for our immigration system, The Home Office has released significant updates to their guidance, especially in relation to:
Visa holders unable to leave the UK when their current visa expires
Visa holders who who are employed by the NHS
Sponsors who may be required to place sponsored workers on Furlough Leave.
The Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) has been set up by the Home Office. Visa holders who are in the UK with visas that expire between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020, can contact CIT and have their visas extended to 31 May 2020. That applies if they're unable to leave the UK due to travel restrictions or self-isolation related to COVID-19.
In addition, the Home Office will allow applications to switch to a long-term visa until 31 May 2020. This includes applications where the applicant would normally need to apply for their visa from their home country. The usual application fees will apply, and the applicant must demonstrate they meet all of the requirements for the long-term visa they're applying for.
As a nation, we are relying on the NHS more than ever and to show their appreciation the Home Office have confirmed sponsored workers employed as doctors, nurses and paramedics working for the NHS will have their visas automatically extended by 1 year if their current visa is due to expire before 1 October 2020. This includes dependant family members too.
The NHS staff will not be required to submit an application. The NHS will identify those who are eligible for the free extension and the Home Office will then inform those who qualify for the free extension, directly. The visa holder will not have to pay an application fee or meet the immigration health surcharge fee.
Until now, there's been no specific guidance on how or if a sponsored worker could be placed on furlough leave. Sponsors have found this situation more difficult to navigate than placing a settled worker on Furlough Leave.
There are certain requirements to be met when issuing visas to migrant workers, such as a salary requirement in respect of a Tier 2 (general) visa. One of the main concerns has been that the prescribed 80% of salary or £2,500 per month (whichever is lower) may bring the sponsored worker’s salary below the salary requirement for their specific job.
The new guidance states that if a UK sponsor can't pay the salaries of sponsored employees because they have temporarily reduced or ceased trading they 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 employees are treated the same
The reductions must be temporary, and the employee’s pay must return to at least previous levels once the furlough leave agreements have ended.
The Home Office has also confirmed it doesn't need to be notified by sponsors if their sponsored employees are working from home due to COVID-19. However, other changes to their working arrangements must still be reported through the Sponsor Management System as usual.
These unprecedented times are forcing the Home Office to react to unusual immigration issues. Their guidance is updated frequently and can be accessed via the links below:
Read the Home Office guidance on UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents here
Review the latest advice for tier 2,4 and 5 sponsors here
Our immigration specialist Oliver Tasker can help if you're affected by any of the issues detailed in this blog or any immigration-related matter.