We would like to ensure that you are still receiving content that you find useful – please confirm that you would like to continue to receive ILO newsletters.
03 June 2020
On 1 May 2020 the Home Office published an expanded list of COVID-19 frontline workers' occupations entitling them and their family members to a free and automatic one-year extension of leave. However, the measures announced to date just serve to highlight that considerably more needs to be done.
The extension is available to people working both in the National Health Service (NHS) and the independent sector and applies only where the existing leave of the worker and any relevant family members is due to expire on or before 30 September 2020. It is intended to allow them to focus on saving lives during the crisis.
Employers should be aware that employees with leave expiring on or before 30 September 2020 may be eligible under these arrangements, either directly or as a family member.
The Home Office's expanded list includes:
The Home Office has been contacting NHS trusts and employers in the independent sector to compile a list of workers who are eligible for the extension; however, there is still a risk that some workers may not be identified before they proceed to submit a paid-for application. Where this occurs, the applicant can email UK Visa and Immigration's NHS team at UKVINHSTeam@homeoffice.gov.uk to ask to withdraw their application and be provided with a refund, but only if they have not already submitted their biometrics as part of the application process. Therefore, the onus is squarely on employers and individuals to access the provisions.
Controversially, other frontline health and social care workers – in particular, care workers and home carers – have been excluded from the extension arrangements.
Employers should be alert to the possibility that where a frontline health or social care worker dies due to COVID-19, their family members may be eligible for a free and immediate grant of indefinite leave to remain. This provision was confirmed in a letter from the home secretary to the Home Affairs Committee and was subsequently published on GOV.UK on 20 May 2020. The published guidance confirms that the bereavement scheme is broader than initially envisaged, covering the family members of all NHS workers in all roles, as well as those working for an independent health and care provider, including providers in the social care sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also placed a spotlight on the fact that the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) acts as a form of double taxation on most migrants who hold temporary leave for longer than six months, including those who work for the NHS. The Home Office plans to increase the IHS from 1 October 2020.(1) Following sustained pressure from members of parliament, the government announced on 21 May 2020 that NHS and care workers will be made exempt from the IHS, with details of the scope of the exemption to be published in the near future. Despite this change of position, the Home Office has failed to respond to calls to review its stance on the IHS and other immigration-related fees more generally. This might be because research shows that where the cost of visas increase, there is relatively little decrease in the demand for them.
Unfortunately, the Home Office's focus at the recent second reading of the Immigration Bill on a high-wage, high-skill productive economy under post-Brexit migration from 1 January 2020 and the modest benefits of its proposed NHS visa indicate that it has not yet gotten to grips with the implications of the pandemic and the ending of free movement for the United Kingdom's current and future immigration needs. At the very least, the Home Office should look again at what measures are likely to attract and retain vital healthcare workers (eg, expanding the scope of the occupations and employers covered and offering accelerated or immediate settlement), recognising that the global need for their skills has significantly changed since the NHS visa was initially devised.
More generally, the public's perception of which workers are essential in the United Kingdom has now shifted away from the highly skilled and highly paid towards areas where there are labour shortages or where the United Kingdom cannot afford to lose migrant workers. This will put pressure on the Home Office to design and continuously review immigration routes that address labour gaps across all skill levels, including across the health and social care system, in agriculture and the supply of other food and consumer goods, as well in IT and telecoms.
The pandemic should also prompt the Home Office to pay greater attention to the cost of its policies to migrants in terms of their financial stability, productivity, sense of security and mental wellbeing, rather than justifying them based on the benefits of being allowed to live in the United Kingdom.
Employers and other stakeholders will have a crucial role to play in providing their insights and recommendations on the design of the United Kingdom's immigration system. This will be the case in the lead up to the end of 2020, as well as once the new system has been introduced. In engaging with the Home Office, other government departments and the Migration Advisory Committee, they should not be afraid to seek to move the conversation from historic labour shortages and highly skilled occupations towards building an immigration system that is truly fit for purpose.
For further information on this topic please contact Kathryn Denyer at Lewis Silkin by telephone (+44 20 7074 8000) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The Lewis Silkin website can be accessed at www.lewissilkin.com.
(1) Further information is available here.
The materials contained on this website are for general information purposes only and are subject to the disclaimer.
ILO is a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. In-house corporate counsel and other users of legal services, as well as law firm partners, qualify for a free subscription.