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Dealing with Work Absences Caused by The Coronavirus Pandemic - Tier 2/4/5

The breakout of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has caused a major global disruption that has affected lives daily. While the headlines will rightly be dedicated to the victims of the virus, there are effects that will be felt in the daily lives of many of us for some time to come. Some of the most significantly affected areas are education, employment, and the economy. While these areas affect almost everyone, one set of people who may be more worried than most are those in the UK on a visa.

In order for the virus to pass swiftly, it is necessary for many businesses and education establishments to put their activities on hold or greatly reduce them. All educational establishments have been closed and a number of businesses have chosen to furlough their staff. If these changes have affected you then you may be concerned as to the effect that these drastic moves have had on your ability to remain in the UK.

In this article, we will have a look at the knock-on effects of the Coronavirus outbreak on migrants currently residing in the UK on one of the country's visa routes.

Tier 2 Visa Migrants

Many Tier 2 General Visa holders are likely to be affected by the government's newly introduced Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which allows companies to furlough staff to reduce wage expenditure during this pandemic and ensure that staff receive up to 80% of their wages while away from work. Due to the rapid economic slowdown, many businesses throughout the country have chosen to use the scheme to protect jobs for the long-term, while reducing costs. Of course, with time away from work comes the worry over absences and wages, a major condition attached to the Tier 2 General Visa is that staff absences must be managed and that Tier 2 General Visa holders must maintain a specified salary.

So far, the guidance released at this stage shows that Tier 2 General Visa holders will not have their absence from work held against them due to the outbreak. All we'd advise is that companies keep their Sponsor Management System up to date with the details of the visa holder's absence and the reasoning for it. By doing this, you can ensure that you have kept your records up to date, and satisfy the current recommendations. What is less clear is the situation on furloughing Tier 2 General Visa holders. Fortunately, guidance has been released in the last few days that confirms that Tier 2 General Visa holders are eligible to be furloughed. Though, frustratingly there has been no guidance as to whether the drop in wage should be reported. We believe that it is prudent to update your Sponsor Management System to reflect the wage change, and note that it is related to the government-backed scheme.

Will my absence be held against me if I’m stuck abroad?

Another potential issue for a Tier 2 General Visa holder is if they are stuck abroad. Many countries around the globe do not allow citizens to move freely, and even when they can, there are so few flights that people cannot get home while most country’s borders are closed. In this instance, it is advisable to communicate this to your employer if you are stuck abroad, so the Sponsor Management System can be updated to reflect that your absence is related to the Coronavirus outbreak. If the guidance remains the same, as a visa holder you will not have your absence held against you.

Tier 4 Student Visa Holders

With all of the UK’s educational establishments closed, it is currently impossible for students to study at their sponsor’s education establishment in a physical capacity. There are also several factors that have affected the Tier 4 Student Visa route. Below we have addressed some of the different scenarios to help you to understand your rights according to the guidance released by the home office.

Students Currently Studying In The UK

  • If you are currently in the UK then you will be able to continue to study if your educational establishment offers distance learning options. While you cannot normally take on a distance learning course, as long as you are already in the UK on a Tier 4 Student visa, or are abroad and wish to continue your studies, you will be permitted to do so via distance learning.
  • You are permitted to leave the UK early and return at a later date to continue your studies as long as you have consulted your educational establishment. You will need to return to the UK before your visa expires.
  • If your visa is due to expire between the 24th of January 2020 and the 31st of May, you will be offered a free extension until the 31st of May. This will prevent those currently unable to leave the country from being considered an overstayer.
  • Though you are not likely to be currently studying, you must still follow the specific guidance on working.

As mentioned earlier, Tier 4 students can continue with distance learning if their educational system offers such options. Educational sponsors do not need to withdraw their sponsorship if students are unable to attend for more than 60 days. But in a case where a student quits the course altogether, educational sponsors are expected to report this issue as usual.

What can I do if I have my visa to study in the UK but cannot travel?

If you have received approval for your visa but cannot travel to the UK at this time then you are able to start learning with your provider in a distance capacity (usually online) and travel to the UK at a later date. It is important that you maintain regular contact with your sponsor educational establishment to ensure that they have not withdrawn your sponsorship due to your inability to make it to the UK to enroll.

Currently, there are few options for those who have not yet received a Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) or a Tier 4 Student Visa. As many visa agencies around the world are currently closed (as well as the educational establishments themselves), it will be very difficult to get a visa to come to the UK to study in the near future. We will keep you updated on the situation as things become clearer.

Tier 5 Migrants

Tier 5 Visa holders are also likely to be heavily affected by the economic changes inflicted by the spread of COVID-19. Recent guidance updates have finally confirmed that Tier 5 Visa holders (like Tier 2 General Visa holders) are eligible for the government-backed Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This means that employers can furlough these staff members and claim up to 80% to cover their salary costs (up to a maximum of £2,500). The guidance also specifies that Tier 5 Visa holders can work from home (if that option is available) and that this change of workplace will not need to be reported if it is related to the outbreak (removing the necessity of reporting such a change within 10 days).

The Home Office has also reported that it will not pursue sponsors who allow extended absences to sponsored staff due to the outbreak. This is whether the absence is paid or not, and whether the visa holder is sick, self-isolating, or stuck outside of the country. In these cases, the sponsor does not need to withdraw their sponsorship or report the absence. It is hoped that these changes will encourage businesses to take a long-term view, and protect jobs for when things return to some level of normality.

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