During this period of enormous disruption, we keep you up to date on how to deal with visa and other immigration issues involving your workforce.
On 27 March 2020, the Home Office published a coronavirus guidance page for organisations that sponsor overseas workers under Tiers 2 or 5 of the Points Based System.
- enforcement action will not be taken against sponsors who continue to sponsor employees despite absences due to coronavirus.
- sponsors are not currently required to report any absences from employees sponsored under Tier 2 or Tier 5, where those absences have been the result of the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak.
- similarly, Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsors do not need to update the Home Office if workers are now working from home, provided that the switch to home working is because of the pandemic.
The Home Office has made additional provision that employers temporarily can cut the pay of sponsored employees to 80% of salary or £2,500 a month (whichever is lower), in line with payments under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
Tier 2 sponsorship licence applications and licence renewal applications
If you are planning to recruit a person who requires sponsorship, you can apply for a sponsorship licence in the normal way. The Home Office is still processing such applications despite the pandemic.
In addition, if your sponsorship licence is coming up for a renewal you may also apply in the normal way to extend.
There are specific rules a sponsor must follow when renewing their licence:
- sponsor licences must be renewed every 4 years;
- sponsors can renew their licences starting 3 months before their expiry date;
- the sponsor can view their licence expiry and earliest renewal dates in their sponsorship management system (SMS) account;
- sponsors must apply to renew their licence by submitting an application using their SMS account and paying the appropriate fee online
It is important to note that if you are currently sponsoring a migrant worker, you can only continue to do so if you extend your licence on time. Due to the pandemic, there maybe some delay in getting a decision but the Home Office is still processing such applications as normal.
Visa extensions for key workers
The Home Office announced on 31 March 2020 that around 2,800 doctors, nurses and paramedics with leave to work or remain that is due to expire by 1 October 2020 would get a free one-year extension. Family members are included and there are no fees involved.
On 29 April, the government announced that it was extending the scheme to cover other frontline workers, including midwives, radiographers, social workers and pharmacists with visas due to expire before 1 October.
Visa extensions for non-key workers
For other workers whose visa expires before that date, there is no automatic renewal and fees will still be payable. Therefore applications will still need to made in the normal way, albeit there is likely to be delays due to the closure of visa centres in the UK.
All visa application centres within the UK closed on 27 March and the . Visa and Citizenship Application Service (UKVCAS) is currently suspended. This will remain under review as the situation evolves. The Service and Support Centres are also closed.
This means that visa applications which have already been submitted and where biometric information has already been provided, will be determined as normal, albeit with some delay.
However if an application remains outstanding and an applicant has not been able to give their biometric information due to the closure of the centres, the application remains on hold. Once the centres re-open, appointments will be released and the application process will resume.
As long as an application is submitted before the applicant’s leave to remain or work expires, then the applicant is permitted to continue to live and work in the UK until such time as the application is determined.
In addition, the Home Office has relaxed the rules on switching visa category – in many cases, an individual whose visa expires and who wishes to remain in the UK in a different category must leave the UK in order to make their new application. However, with so many restrictions on international travel, the Home Office is permitting individuals to remain in the UK to make such applications.
Issues on redundancy
Whilst an employer does not owe any legal duty to support an employee after the termination of employment, in the current circumstances employers may wish to be mindful of the particular impact of redundancy on employees whose right to remain in the UK is linked to their job: they may be physically unable to return to their home country because of travel restrictions; and they may be unable to access state funds, or experience long delays in doing so. If redundancy is unavoidable, factors that may mitigate the effect on these employees may include extension of any furlough period, use of garden leave rather than pay in lieu of notice in order to extend the employment by a short period, or use of accrued holiday to achieve the same effect and so give the individual more time to try to put in place other arrangements.