Updated: COVID-19 guidance on immigration

The Home Office is continuing to issue further guidance on the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on immigration requirements.

Key recent developments include:

  • Right to work checks – as expected, the Home Office has relaxed the requirements associated with conducting checks.  As of 30 March 2020 (and on a temporary basis) checks can be carried out over video conference and job applicants and existing workers can send scanned documents or a photo of documents for checks using email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals.  Further details can be found here.
  • Automatic visa extensions – migrants with existing leave which is expiring or has expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020 will have their leave ‘extended’ until 31 May 2020 if they provide certain listed details to the Home Office’s Coronavirus Immigration Team, including why they are currently unable to return to their home country because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus.  The announcement indicates that the 31 May 2020 date may be extended.
  • Medical workers - doctors, nurses and paramedics (and their family members) with visas due to expire before 1 October 2020 will automatically have their visas extended, free of charge, for one year.  In addition, pre-registered overseas nurses who are currently required to sit their first skills test (known as OSCE) within 3 months and to pass the test within 8 months, will now have this deadline extended to the end of 2020.
  • Switching – certain individuals who are in the UK and want to apply in a long-term category will now be able to apply to ‘switch’ into any such category without having to first leave the UK to apply from overseas (which is typically required), provided they meet the other requirements of the category.  It appears this applies only to individuals whose existing leave expires on or before 31 May 2020. 
  • Sponsor reporting – the Home Office has confirmed that Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsors will not have to report when a sponsored migrant is working from home.

Whilst these are welcome steps, the guidance is thin on detail.  For example, it is not clear how English language requirements can be met for fresh applications, given that English language test centres are closed.  Furthermore, the legal basis for an automatic extension of leave is not clear.  There is also a possibility that the Home Office may not accept the reasons asserted in support of why a person is unable to leave the UK.  This may mean that the person would be regarded as an over-stayer (or not covered by any relevant concession) – with significant implications for their future immigration status - from the point that their leave expires.  

Finally, it is not clear whether Tier 2 visa conditions will be flexed to enable sponsored employees to benefit from furlough arrangements under the COVID-19 Job Retention Scheme.  The usual salary requirements for sponsorship will need to be met unless a concession is made.  Employers will also need to comply with sponsor duties in relation to their sponsored workers during a period of furlough.

Visa holders and businesses with sponsored workers will want to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to minimise the risk of future compliance issues arising.

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