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15 July 2020
Key points from latest guidance
Visa processing issues
Passport applications for British citizens abroad
Self-quarantine measures for arrivals to United Kingdom
Essential travel policy for travel outside United Kingdom
Visa holders with imminent expiry dates
Special arrangements for health and social care workers
Moving immigration category
Tier 2 cooling-off period
Family and private life applicants
Tier 2 sponsor licence holders
Global Talent applicants
Implications for EEA and Swiss nationals
This article sets out the main immigration law issues and Home Office guidance of which employers need to be aware so that they can consider the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for their business.(1) It summarises the latest updates and provides further details on issues ranging from logistical considerations to Tier 2 and prevention of illegal working requirements.
The current guidance has been updated to reflect the following recent developments:
The issues relating to UK visa processing are complex and rapidly changing, particularly as some Visa Application Centres (VACs) and in-country processing centres are still currently closed. Advice should be sought on whether to submit or defer making an application on a case-by-case basis, particularly for applicants in the United Kingdom or who have departed the United Kingdom to make a further application from abroad while seeking to preserve the continuity of their leave for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) purposes.
The Home Office is aware that some applicants may wish to withdraw an outstanding application due to circumstances connected with the pandemic. Its refund policies for withdrawing applications and requesting refunds have been updated accordingly.
Applying from abroad
The Home Office works with two commercial providers, VFS Global and TLScontact, which operate the VACs abroad. Applicants must attend a VAC to provide biometrics and upload supporting documents for UK visa applications. VACs have been reopened on a phased basis since 1 June 2020 and will remain open provided that this is allowed and operationally feasible locally.
The latest advice from VFS Global can be checked here.
Status information on TLScontact VACs can be checked on the address page of the relevant preferred appointment location.
Applicants with appointments already booked at VACs that are closed should have been contacted by the commercial partner directly.
Due to border restrictions in some countries, commercial partners are also experiencing problems with being able to print and send UK visa vignettes and return passports to applicants. Where possible, passports are being returned where VACs have re-opened. Any concerns about this should be sent to the commercial partner, noting that they must comply with any local movement-related restrictions when returning documents.
If an applicant has already been granted their visa but they are unable to travel during the 30-day window of their temporary entry clearance vignette, they may need to obtain a new vignette before they travel.
On 28 April 2020 the Home Office published guidance confirming that a person whose temporary 30-day vignette has expired or is about to expire can request a free replacement visa until the end of 2020.
They must do this by emailing CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk, with 'REPLACEMENT 30 DAY VISA' in the subject line, and including the vignette holder's name, nationality, date of birth and GWF reference number in the body of the email.
Individuals who use this process will be contacted once the relevant VAC has re-opened to arrange for a replacement visa with revised validity dates to be placed in their passport. On 15 June 2020 the Home Office confirmed that the new vignette will be valid for 90 days.
The requirement for a temporary vignette to be valid at the time of entry to the United Kingdom may be waived for non-visas nationals (countries that do not appear on the visa national list), especially where their biometric residence permit (BRP) has already been issued and evidence of this can be provided on entry to the United Kingdom.
Any applicant intending to leave the United Kingdom in order to submit a new visa application from abroad should consider the Home Office's latest published guidance, which confirms that:
In exceptional circumstances, it is possible to request a visa waiver in order to enter the United Kingdom as a visitor. Requests can be submitted by email to CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk setting out the urgent, compelling or compassionate reasons. Each request will be considered on case-by-case basis, but this option may prove particularly helpful for those with a pressing business need to come to the United Kingdom, or for family members of British nationals and settled persons.
Applying from within the United Kingdom
Sopra Steria, the Home Office's commercial partner that manages in-country biometric appointments, suspended all UKVCAS services from close of business on 27 March 2020. Many service points have reopened on a phased basis since 1 June 2020. Information on which centres are open can be found here.
UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) service and support centres (SSCs) are operating on a reduced-capacity basis from 15 June 2020. The Home Office will contact applicants by email or post to make an appointment at one of these centres.
The Home Office is advising applicants not to select the priority or super priority processing options as these are currently unavailable.
Applicants with previously booked UKVCAS appointments should automatically have received a cancellation email instructing them to log in to their UKVCAS account 24 hours later to view the rescheduled appointment date and time. Rescheduled appointments are guaranteed to take place at the same centre on a future date. Sopra Steria confirms that this will have no impact on submitted applications as it will notify the Home Office directly of the delayed appointment.
To better cope with the backlog of biometric enrolments, on 2 July 2020 the Home Office announced that, as a temporary measure, the previously submitted fingerprints of some applicants can be reused. The Home Office will email these applicants and provide them with instructions on how to submit a facial image and the supporting documents for their application. They need not attend a UKVCAS service point or SSC for their application to be processed.
Reuse of fingerprints is possible only for people applying via the work, study, family and private life, citizenship or Windrush routes. The process cannot be used for individuals who last enrolled their biometrics before July 2015 and children under 18 who have not enrolled their biometrics within the past two years. Moreover, if any applicant within a family group is ineligible to have their fingerprints reused, the whole family group must enrol their biometrics together in person.
A different process applies for individuals or family groups whose fingerprints cannot be reused. Those who registered an account with UKVCAS after 27 March 2020 but before 1 May 2020 should have received an email before 4 July 2020 asking them to book an appointment. Further tranches of emails will be sent to applicants who registered their account after these dates.
The Post Office has made no announcement regarding suspending the processing of biometric enrolments; however, applicants should observe social distancing measures while these remain in force. Once these have been lifted, it is advisable to contact the relevant branch before attending.
The Home Office confirmed on 28 April 2020 that individuals will not be penalised for being unable to collect their BRP while COVID-19 measures are in place.
Disruption to services associated with making UK immigration and nationality applications
With limited exceptions mentioned elsewhere in this article, applicants must still satisfy the requirements of the relevant immigration category or British nationality law in the usual way. This may mean obtaining assessment of an overseas degree, passing a valid UKVI-approved English language test, passing the Life in the UK test or attending a British citizenship ceremony.
Individuals applying in the United Kingdom should still ensure that they submit their online application before the expiry of their existing leave in order to maintain lawful immigration status, even where supporting documentation is unavailable due to service closures. The Home Office will ask for outstanding documents and information to be submitted once services have resumed and before the application is decided.
Those who must register with the police must still arrange to do so, even if they cannot currently attend the appointment.
Although in-country immigration processing has been substantially reduced due to the pandemic, since the second half of May 2020 some in-country applicants have started to receive requests to submit supporting documentation and some applications have been finalised where biometrics have already been submitted and no other documentation is outstanding.
Assessment of overseas degrees
UK NARIC is continuing to conduct qualification assessments of overseas degrees and fast-tracked turnaround is still possible. However, statements are being issued electronically in PDF format and applicants will not receive a hard copy statement from UK NARIC until further notice. The PDF statements issued will be temporary documents designed specifically for the current period of COVID-19 restrictions. Once the restrictions are relaxed, UK NARIC will issue the official printed paper version of the statements by post. The Home Office will be aware of this change in process from UK NARIC and will have means to verify the authenticity of the temporary statements via www.naric.org.uk/verification. The documents required for an assessment to be conducted remain the same. This includes a valid medium of instruction letter from the relevant educational institution where it is unclear from the degree certificate or transcript that the course was taught in English.
UKVI-approved English language tests
The British Council, which is an approved provider of the IELTS for the UKVI and Life Skills tests required for a number of visa categories in the United Kingdom and overseas, has temporarily paused tests in many countries in response to government and health authority guidance. To check if a particular country or test centre is affected, applicants can refer to the COVID-19 guidance on the IELTS website.
Trinity College London, which is an approved provider of the GESE and ISE exams in the United Kingdom only, has re-started some tests from 8 June 2020. Updates can be viewed on the Trinity College London website.
LanguageCert, which was recently been approved to provide secure English-language tests on behalf of UKVI, has started to reopen some of its test centres since 1 June 2020. Details of the current open centres are available on the LanguageCert website.
Pearson, which, since 21 May 2020, has offered UKVI-approved PTE Academic and PTE Home tests outside the United Kingdom only, has some centres open, with others due to open over the summer on a phased basis. See the Pearson website for further information.
Life in the UK tests
Life in the UK test centres, relevant to applicants for ILR and naturalisation, closed from 21 March until 31 May 2020. Some centres have reopened since 1 June 2020 and information on which centres are currently operational can be found on the LIUK website.
Police registration certificates
Police registration at the Overseas Visitors Records Office (OVRO) is currently suspended; however, preparations have been made for it to reopen five days a week instead of four and under enhanced health and safety arrangements. Customers will be encouraged to wear a face mask when attending.
Anyone with a pre-booked appointment will be contacted directly to reschedule the appointment. Those who had booked to attend between 23 March 2020 and 8 July 2020 will be offered priority appointments ahead of other customers.
Action will not be taken against individuals who cannot attend the OVRO or book an appointment in order to either register their stay in the United Kingdom or update existing certificates. Updates can be monitored on the OVRO website. Those who live outside the London metropolitan area covered by OVRO should contact their local police force for guidance.
British citizenship ceremonies
All local authority offices are closed until further notice. Applicants with an existing citizenship ceremony booking will be contacted by an officer to reschedule the ceremony to a later date. Those wishing to book a new appointment should monitor the relevant local authority website for updates. In these circumstances, the normal three-month deadline to attend a citizenship ceremony following the approval of a British citizenship application will be extended so that a ceremony can be attended once the local authority offices reopen.
Applications for British passports can be made online; however, applicants who are abroad and must attend a VAC can complete their application only if the VAC is open.
British citizens who urgently need to travel to the United Kingdom without a passport must contact the British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate in the country where they are located.
Self-quarantine measures for most new arrivals to the United Kingdom have been put in place from 8 June 2020 and are subject to review every three weeks.
Within 48 hours of arriving in the United Kingdom, travellers must complete a Public Health Passenger Locator form, setting out their contact details and travel information, so that they can be contacted if they or someone they may have been in contact with develops COVID-19. If they have not arranged to stay at a hotel, with friends or family or at their own accommodation, they will be provided with government-arranged accommodation at their own cost. Information will also be provided on the National Health Service (NHS) contact tracing app, with travellers being encouraged to download this.
Following entry, travellers must use personal transport where possible to travel to their accommodation and remain there in self-isolation for 14 days. They must not go out during this period unless it is:
Visitors are prohibited unless this is required for essential support.
Those who refuse to provide their contact details can be fined £100 and may be refused entry if they are not British or a UK resident. A fine of up to £1,000 may also be imposed in England and Wales if it is found that the self-quarantine has been breached (eg, at a spot check). Enforcement measures in Scotland and Northern Ireland will be published on GOV.UK.
Common Travel Area and 'travel corridor' exemptions
Some individuals are exempt from the measures, including those who enter the United Kingdom from the Common Travel Area (ie, the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands), provided that they have been in the area for at least 14 days already.
From 10 July 2020 travellers arriving in England from listed 'travel corridor' countries need not self-quarantine provided that they have not been to, or stopped in, any non-listed country within the past 14 days. This arrangement has not been agreed for people arriving in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales; however, the situation should be monitored. In the meantime, specific advice should be sought for travellers who are intending to spend time in a UK country other than England within 14 days of their arrival.
Transiting through a non-listed country will mean that self-quarantine will apply on arrival to England unless the person is exempt due to the purpose of their travel to the United Kingdom. Thus, some individuals who need to travel long-haul will still need to self-quarantine in England if it is impracticable to use a route that includes only listed countries. The measures are not reciprocal, so travellers should also check what self-quarantine or other restrictions apply in all countries that they intend to enter or transit before travelling.
Exemptions due to purpose of travel to United Kingdom
Separately, there is a list of individuals who are exempt from data collection or self-quarantine due to the purpose of their travel to the United Kingdom. This list mainly focuses on:
Cross-border workers and registered health and care professionals providing essential healthcare are listed as exempt in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not in Scotland. There are also complexities of which cross-border workers must be aware (for further details please see "New quarantine rules cause confusion for cross-border workers").
Employers should note that the quarantine does not prevent a new employee from having their right to work checked remotely or from being onboarded and starting work at the address where they are self-isolating.
On 17 March 2020 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued a global advisory against all but essential travel. From 4 July 2020, this has been modified to exempt listed countries and territories that the government considers do not pose an acceptably high risk for British travellers. Individuals intending to travel to these destinations should still ensure that they check local requirements and restrictions, particularly whether a period of self-quarantine is required on arrival.
On 22 May the Home Office updated its COVID-19 advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents to confirm that holders of UK visas with an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 can apply to have their stay extended to 31 July 2020 if they were not planning to stay in the United Kingdom but cannot leave the United Kingdom due to COVID-19 travel restrictions or self-isolation. This policy covers all nationalities and visa categories.
Initially there was an arrangement for Chinese nationals with visa expiries between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020, whose stay was extended automatically to 31 March 2020. An application process was then implemented for those with visa expiries up to 31 May 2020. This was made available as an email request and then replaced with an online form.
Anyone whose leave expiry has already been extended to 31 May 2020 will receive an automatic extension to 31 July 2020. Those who have not applied for an extension before and need their visa to be extended to 31 July 2020 must request this using the online form available here. It is advisable for anyone who previously sent an email to the main helpline email address to complete and submit the online form if they have not received a reply to their email.
Applicants must provide their personal details (name, date of birth, nationality and visa reference number), as well as a note of why they cannot return to their home country. Notably, an extension may be declined if it does not relate to travel restrictions or self-isolation. Although the process should not ordinarily be used for people who were intending to extend their leave in-country in any event, it may be necessary to do so in some circumstances. In these cases, it is advisable to seek specific approval from the Home Office to pursue this course of action.
The Home Office anticipates being able to respond to an extension request within five working days of receiving it. Those who need a status letter confirming the extension or a new BRP with the revised expiry date should contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) at CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk to request this. In other cases, no further documentation will be issued other than the email from the CIT in response to the extension request.
On 31 March 2020 the government announced that NHS doctors, nurses and paramedics whose visas are due to expire before 1 October 2020 will have their leave to remain extended for one year.
This provision was substantially expanded via an announcement on 29 April 2020. Following the expansion, an automatic one-year visa extension is available to frontline health and social care workers working both for the NHS and in the independent sector whose visas expire between 31 March 2020 and 30 September 2020. Care workers in nursing homes or private residences are not included.
On 1 May 2020 the government published an exhaustive list of eligible occupations (for further details please see "Government's immigration stance on frontline workers proves controversial"), including:
The arrangements also cover the dependent family members of eligible workers.
Extensions will be issued automatically, and individuals will be exempt from having to pay the government application fee and immigration health surcharge. NHS workers with an outstanding application will be offered a refund.
Eligible applicants will be identified and contacted directly by the Home Office. Those who are unsure whether they are within scope of the concession should contact counsel or the HR representatives responsible for immigration matters at their employer, as employers identified by the Department for Health and Social Care will liaise with the Home Office to compile a list of eligible individuals.
In a public announcement on 21 May 2020, and following significant pressure from members of Parliament, the government announced an intention to exempt all NHS staff and care workers from having to pay the immigration health surcharge. Specific details are expected to be released swiftly.
The 29 April 2020 statement also confirmed that the family members of frontline workers who die from COVID-19 will be offered free and immediate ILR. A publicly available bereavement scheme policy was subsequently published on 20 May 2020, stating that ILR will be granted to any non-EEA family member of any NHS worker, including support staff, or a healthcare or social care worker in the independent health and social care sector. Eligible individuals should be contacted by the Home Office, but can also contact UKVINHSTeam@homeffice.gov.uk if they have not been contacted and believe that they are within scope. Although excluded from the published concession, EEA and Swiss national family members of EEA and Swiss frontline workers who have passed away due to COVID-19 may be eligible to apply for ILR under the EU Settlement Scheme. It will be necessary to contact UKVI's NHS Team to ascertain what, if any, arrangements will be available for the EEA and Swiss family members of non-EEA frontline workers, as they appear to have been overlooked.
Further, since 31 March 2020, there is no limit on the number of hours per week a person can work or volunteer if they work for the NHS as a doctor, nurse or paramedic and are in the United Kingdom as a Tier 4 student, a Tier 2 worker working for the NHS as a second job, a visiting academic or a short-term visa holder who is allowed to volunteer. These provisions were expanded on 1 May 2020 to cover those working in all eligible COVID-19 frontline occupations, to state that frontline work can be undertaken at any NHS hospital without the need to notify the Home Office and that supplementary frontline work is allowed in any role, at any skill level and with no limit on the number of hours allowed.
Pre-registration nurses have also had the deadline to sit the Occupational Structured Clinical Examination pushed back to 31 December 2020, and they have been given until 31 May 2021 to pass this if they are unsuccessful on their first attempt.
The Home Office initially announced in their COVID-19 guidance a concession to allow Chinese nationals currently on a Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) visa to switch in-country to a Tier 2 (General) visa. Normally such a switch would require a fresh visa application to be made from abroad.
This concession was significantly widened in the guidance from 24 March 2020 to cover switching into all long-term visa categories until 31 May 2020, and then extended on 22 May 2020.
The current position is that provided the application is submitted by 31 July 2020, anyone with a visa expiring between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 who would normally have to depart the United Kingdom to submit a long-term visa application from abroad is permitted to submit their application in the United Kingdom instead. The usual UK immigration fees for in-country applications will be charged.
Although the guidance on GOV.UK does not elaborate what a 'long-term' visa is, standard correspondence from the Coronavirus Immigration Helpline confirms that this excludes:
On 26 June 2020 the Home Office confirmed on GOV.UK that individuals whose leave expires after 31 July 2020 may make an application from within the United Kingdom if they:
Arguably, this includes the situation where a person can leave the United Kingdom but cannot make an application from overseas because the VAC where they would normally need to apply is closed.
A careful assessment should be made of whether an applicant's circumstances brings them within the scope of the concession at the time the application is submitted. If making an application under the concession is considered appropriate, detailed representations should be submitted with the application, addressing why it is urgent and setting out the factors that prevent it from being made from overseas.
Applicants who intend to submit their application within the United Kingdom when they would ordinarily be required to do so from abroad should also be aware that they must still satisfy all of the other requirements of the relevant visa category in the usual way and that they may encounter delays in receiving a decision due to factors such as UKVCAS and English-language testing centre closures or UKVI staff shortages. There currently is a lack of clarity about which online form applicants should use in some cases, and other issues such as whether applicants will need to complete tuberculosis screening in cases where this would have been required as part of the equivalent entry clearance application. The Home Office is in the process of considering these issues. Applicants with an imminent visa expiry date or who are not normally allowed to make their application from within the United Kingdom should seek advice on the best approach for their circumstances. This will vary on a case-by-case basis.
As announced in an update to the guidance on 14 April 2020, Tier 2 or 5 applicants whose in-country application is pending may start to work in their new role before the application has been decided, if the following requirements are met:
The sponsor must comply with reporting responsibilities from the point at which they assign the CoS, not from the date the application is granted. Relevant changes must be reported on the CoS as usual.
Before the application is decided, sponsors will not normally be able to make reports using the sponsor management system (SMS), unless they already sponsor the person in another role. During this time, any information that must normally be reported on the SMS in accordance with the sponsor guidance, such as a change in migrant circumstances, must be recorded and retained on the sponsor's internal systems.
If the person's application is rejected as invalid or is eventually refused by the Home Office, the sponsor must stop sponsoring them and they must stop working for the sponsor.
Employers should carefully consider the situation for Tier 2 visa holders who are currently stranded abroad, or requests from Tier 2 migrants who might wish to return to their home country or travel to any other country to work remotely. If a Tier 2 visa holder is unable to return to the United Kingdom before their visa is due to expire, they may be caught by the cooling-off period which will prevent them returning to the United Kingdom on a Tier 2 visa for 12 months. The cooling-off period does not apply if:
It is hoped that the Home Office will offer some discretion, but this has not been formally confirmed. It is important that this is flagged with employees who could be affected.
Tier 2 General migrants who want to ultimately apply for ILR in the United Kingdom are subject to a rule on absences in that they cannot exceed 180 days absence from the United Kingdom in any 12-month period. There are some exceptions to this requirement, particularly when absences are due to an exceptional circumstance. It is likely that Tier 2 visa holders who accrue absences abroad as they are unable to travel due to COVID-19 will be able to argue that this amounts to an exceptional circumstance, but the Home Office has not published any formal policy on the issue. Individuals should keep records of flight tickets and other documentation to evidence the absence, which could be submitted at a later stage to support an ILR application.
On 9 June 2020 a range of temporary concessions and statements of existing policy were published for family and private life applicants. These concessions do not apply to applicants in other categories. Some of the concessions require discretion to be exercised, so should be carefully prepared with supporting representations and evidence.
Applicants stuck abroad
Where an applicant is outside the United Kingdom and did not make a further application before their leave as a family member or on private life grounds expired, a concession confirms that a short break in continuous residence will not count against them in the future. However, they are expected to make their next application as soon as they can. The process and criteria for making the application are not outlined on GOV.UK. In particular, it is unclear whether an applicant abroad will be able to rely on their earnings from employment or self-employment if they must apply for entry clearance.
Fiancés, fiancées and proposed civil partners
Individuals in these categories who have been unable to attend their ceremony due to COVID-19 can:
Those whose leave expires after 31 July 2020 may wish to wait and see whether the free extension is made available beyond this date.
Minimum income and adequate maintenance requirements
Two concessions have been implemented concerning the minimum income and adequate maintenance requirements.
Those who have lost income due to the pandemic will be allowed to count their employment income immediately before the loss, provided that the applicant can meet the requirement for at least six months up to March 2020. It is unclear whether this means before or including March 2020.
Those who have been furloughed will have their income assessed as though they were earning their full salary throughout the furlough period. This is not specified on GOV.UK but applicants must submit evidence of the furlough arrangement if seeking to rely on this concession.
The Immigration Rules allow an application to be approved in some circumstances despite required specified documents not being provided or for the case worker to ask for them after the application has been submitted but before it has been decided. This does not amount to a new concession; however, it is helpful to have confirmation that evidential flexibility will be considered if a person cannot obtain documents required for their application due to the pandemic.
The Immigration Rules allow an applicant in the partner or parent categories to be exempted from the English-language requirement if exceptional circumstances prevent them from meeting it.
Without stating that an exemption will be applied, the guidance on GOV.UK now flags that one can be requested if the relevant test centre was closed or the applicant could not travel to it when they made their application. Applicants should note that the Home Office's guidance normally requires them to demonstrate that it was not reasonable or practicable to travel to another country to take the test, so this aspect should be considered when requesting an exemption on the grounds of exceptional circumstances.
Businesses holding a Tier 2 sponsor licence have certain reporting and record-keeping duties in relation to sponsored employees. The spread of COVID-19 and the consequential restrictions on travel could have implications for complying with sponsor licence duties. For instance, delays to start dates and changes in work location normally must be reported within 10 working days on the sponsor management system. The economic impact of COVID-19 may also mean that sponsors might have to cut salaries or place employees on unpaid leave, which would be considered as changes in circumstances that need reporting if they relate to Tier 2 workers.
Sponsors should seek advice if they are unsure of whether a course of action that they are considering might impact on the business's sponsor licence duties. Failure to do so is serious as it can jeopardise the licence and the immigration status of sponsored workers.
Some particular issues to bear in mind include the following:(2)
Services for sponsors have also been affected. For example, the service for non-premium A-rated sponsors to make eligible priority requests has been suspended from 7 April 2020 until further notice.
Until at least 30 June 2020, the Home Office is allowing prospective or current sponsors to submit scanned documents in support of sponsor licence applications or sponsor-related requests. As at 3 July 2020, the Home Office is still allowing this. Confirmation has been received from the Home Office that the GOV.UK website will be updated with a new expiry date for the concession. However, originals must be provided on request. All on-site visits to sponsors are currently suspended, which may mean that some sponsor licence applicants will not receive a decision until the visit has been carried out and the compliance visit report has been assessed.
On 3 April 2020 the government confirmed that Global Talent applicants whose endorsement has expired because they have been unable to travel to the United Kingdom may still be eligible for a visa, and that their circumstances will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Representations relating to disrupted travel plans should be submitted with such applications.
On 1 July 2020 a temporary concession was implemented for Global Talent applicants who are undertaking COVID-19-related research. It applies only to individuals who are endorsed by UK Research and Innovation under the endorsed funder route.
Under the concession:
Individuals covered by the concession:
As the United Kingdom has now left the European Union, nationals of the European Economic Area and Switzerland and their family members currently living in the United Kingdom have until the end of June 2021 to register under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) for either pre-settled or settled status. They should continue to apply via the specially designed app available on both iPhone and Android devices. Applications for the EUSS can also be made from abroad.
For an individual to qualify for settled status, normally they must not be absent for more than six months in any 12-month period. There is some discretion for absences up to 12 months for an 'important reason' such as sick leave, or compulsory military service of any length. Therefore, there is good reason to believe that an otherwise eligible individual who is abroad and who cannot return to the United Kingdom will have some discretion applied to them if their time abroad takes them beyond the six-month limit. Legal advice should be sought on this.
The United Kingdom is currently in a transition period which will last until the end of December 2020 when free movement arrangements will come to an end. There is a possibility that the transition period may be extended due to the disruption caused by COVID-19.
Currently, the Home Office is continuing to process EUSS applications, albeit with anticipated delays. Some new applications can still be submitted using the mobile app or online application form. After a period of suspension, non-EEA applicants can now apply online again (as of June 2020) if they do not hold a biometric residence card. Applicants who need to complete a paper application form must submit a request for a form to the Home Office and can continue to do so online.
Any applicants required to present their original ID documents at an ID document scanner location should note that this service has been suspended. The same applies to postal submission of passports directly to the Home Office. Any passports already received by the Home Office will be returned as soon as practicable. New passports should not be submitted until further notice.
A right-to-work (RTW) check will usually involve an employee meeting with a new starter or existing employee in-person to check their documents. This may be impossible while social distancing measures apply. Under the government's existing guidance for RTW checks, supplemented by temporary adjusted guidance published on 30 March 2020, employers must still conduct RTW checks even if they cannot meet with individuals face-to-face. Leniency has been provided around how these are done so that scanned copies can be used instead of originals, but all other requirements must be met and a fresh RTW check conducted once normal working arrangements resume. Some of the Home Office's published concessions also have implications for RTW checks.(3)
The situation is rapidly changing. Employers should consult with counsel before taking action and ensure ongoing compliance and best practice while immigration arrangements remain affected by the pandemic.
The main government webpages for updates is GOV.UK - Coronavirus (COVID-19): immigration and borders.
The Home Office also has a special Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre:
The Home Office requests that if an email has been sent to the Help Centre, it should not be contacted on the same issue by phone.
For further information on this topic please contact Andrew Osborne, Joanna Hunt, Naomi Hanrahan-Soar or Stephen O'Flaherty at Lewis Silkin by telephone (+44 20 7074 8000) or email (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). The Lewis Silkin website can be accessed at www.lewissilkin.com.
(1) The Home Office is issuing revised guidance regularly; this article has been updated as of 7 July 2020. This article is being maintained on an ongoing basis here.
(2) Further information on the immigration implications for Tier 2 workers of changes to salary, the government's furlough scheme and redundancy is available here.
(3) Further information on the options for RTW checks during and after the COVID-19 pandemic is available here.
The materials contained on this website are for general information purposes only and are subject to the disclaimer.
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