This briefing was updated on 28 May 2020.
Travel restrictions and 'lockdown' measures remain in place globally to combat the spread of COVID-19. These measures continue to have immigration implications, including in relation to business travel, visa expiry dates, visa applications, right to work checks for new starters as well as sponsorship compliance.
The Home Office, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has issued guidance to cover some of the key immigration issues. Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents was initially published back in March and has been updated a number of times since.
As the situation continues to develop, we have been working with clients to navigate the immigration issues and concerns, including the following:
- 14-day mandatory self-isolation: Travellers arriving in the UK from 8 June will be required to complete a 14-day period of self-isolation in their own accommodation. The new COVID-19 border rules will apply to British as well as foreign travellers with some limited exemptions. Individuals will also be required to complete a contact locator form to provide contact and travel information, although those arriving from Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man will be exempt. Fines may imposed for refusal to comply.
- Visa applications from outside the UK: Applicants normally need to attend an appointment at a Visa Application Centre (VAC) to provide biometric details (digital fingerprints and facial digital photographs) in support of visa applications. With the lockdown measures and restrictions in place globally, VACs have remained closed making it impossible for applicants to book or attend appointments. This has had a knock on effect on visa applications, with resultant delays to work start dates, travel, relocation and shipping arrangements for affected new hires. Some VACs are now expected to start re-opening gradually from 1 June, although the re-opening schedule will depend on government guidance so will differ from country to country.
- 30-day initial travel visa: UK visa applicants who have been unable to travel to the UK before the expiry date of their 30-day initial travel visas will be able to contact the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre to request a replacement 30 day visa to allow them to travel once restrictions are lifted.
- Visa expiry dates: Individuals in the UK with visas expiring between 24 January and 31 July 2020 who are unable to leave the UK at the moment due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, will have their visas extended to 31 July 2020 by the UKVI. To obtain the extension, affected individuals must submit an online COVID-19 UK Visas & Immigration form to provide their details (including full name, date of birth, nationality, visa reference number and provide confirmation of the COVID-19 impact preventing their departure (e.g. border closures)) so that their visas can be extended on UKVI records.
- Visa applications in the UK: some individuals with visa expiry dates between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 will exceptionally be able to apply for long-term visas from within the UK if they are unable to return to their home country to apply due to travel restrictions. Long term visa applications normally need to be submitted from an individual's home country but in some cases, individuals will be able to exceptionally submit in the UK until 31 July 2020 provided they meet the relevant visa requirements and pay the UK visa application fee.
- Right to work checks for new starters: Employers must normally check original documents in the presence of the new starter but this is proving challenging with most offices closed and many employees working from home. The Home Office has issued specific guidance to address this - Coronavirus (COVID-19): right to work checks. The updated guidance confirms that during these exceptional times, checks can be carried out over video call using clear scanned copies with the use of the online right to work checking service where possible (i.e. for individuals with biometric residence permits or EU nationals with settled or pre-settled status). Where scanned copies have been checked (rather than original documents) you should record the date of the check and mark the records retained as follows: "Adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19". A retrospective check must then be undertaken within 8 weeks of the COVID-19 measures ending and you should mark the records as follows: “The individual’s contract commenced on [insert date]. The prescribed right to work check was undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19” and evidence of both checks must be retained on your records.
- Sponsor compliance: Employers are required to report changes of circumstances and unauthorised absences, and keep records of authorised sickness absence, including sponsored employees who self-isolate. Helpfully, the UKVI have now confirmed that employers will not be required to report a change of job location for sponsored employees working remotely. The usual 4-week limit on unpaid absences is also being relaxed for absences due to the coronavirus outbreak.
- Tier 2 workers and furlough: the Home Office have provided helpful guidance which, exceptionally, allows sponsored employees to be placed on furlough and have their salaries reduced to 80% or £2,500 per month (whichever is lower). Such reductions must be temporary and must be part of a company-wide policy to avoid redundancies in which all workers are treated the same. Employers will still need to report the reduction, specifying the reasons and the anticipated duration to the UKVI in each case.
We will continue to monitor developments and report on relevant updates from the UKVI on these issues.
Please do get in touch with your usual contact if you would like to discuss.