The Coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe has undoubtedly changed lives in both the short and long term. For most of us, the immediate effect is social distancing measures, missing our loved ones that are vulnerable, and adjusting to a change in lifestyle. i. For migrants, the implications of Covid19 maybe much farther reaching with people stuck across the globe, and many visa centers either closed or with restricted services. This is a worrying time for many migrants who either currently reside in the UK or are looking to do so in the future.
In this article, we are going to look at some of the effects that the global Coronavirus pandemic is having on the lives of migrants, and what options are open to help them make the best of what is an unprecedented period in modern human history. As these guidelines change regularly, it is highly recommended that you keep a keen eye on the announcement's government issue daily. You can also visit our blog and social media platforms to keep informed of the latest developments.
With UK visa centers currently closed across the globe, securing UK visas significantly more challenging than ever before. Traditionally, when an immigration application is being prepared in anticipation of coming to or remaining in the UK, there are three stages they all have in common:
(a) Preparing documents needed for the application
(b) Completing and submitting online application forms and cover letters
(c)Attending a visa center to provide biometrics information - without this, the application cannot be decided.
Points A and B are much less restricted by the pandemic, but still, present more hurdles than they did before lockdown. For example, you may not be able to get an appointment to visit your bank to have them certify your statements (as is normally recommended), but will be able to provide alternatives or electronic copies. Point C, on the other hand, has been dramatically halted by all UK visa centers - they have cancelled all appointments with no further available slots. How will this affect your visa application? In a nutshell, it will add to the time it takes to receive a decision. You will also need to await confirmation of when appointment slots will be made available so that one can be booked for your visa application. Our lawyers and solicitors are able to assist with this or can give you further clarity if you are confused by any part of the process.
People that had booked appointments that landed on a date when Covid19 lockdown measures had been introduced have had their appointments canceled. They too will need to rebook but should be contacted by the visa center to assist, when more slots are released.
For people in the UK planning to either apply to remain or are unable to leave the country before their visa expires, do not need to panic. If your visa expires between the 24th of January and the 31st of May 2020, The Home Office has announced plans to allow free extensions until the 31st of May 2020. This automated system has been introduced to enable compliance with government rules on social distancing whilst protecting you from becoming an illegal overstayer. You will need to make sure that this system of automated extensions is either applied again so your visa renews for a further month or so, or you will need to make arrangements to leave/regularize your status before the date has passed. Even with such a dramatic change in lifestyle that has impacted almost everyone's lives, you still need to avoid being classified as an overstayer so you are not later presented with an avoidable battle with the Home Office. You will need to either apply for a new visa or inform the Coronavirus Immigration Team that you cannot leave via their website here.
If you are currently employed in the UK's National Health Service (NHS) as a doctor, nurse, or paramedic and are a visa holder, you will automatically be entitled to
an additional year on your visa. This only applies to you if your current visa expires before the 1st of October 2020. This additional year will also apply to your dependant family members automatically, as long as they were already dependant on your visa. In addition to this automated extension, you will not be required to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) for the same year. As the scheme is applied automatically, you will not need to take any action. The government has announced plans to deal with the NHS directly in order for the scheme to be rolled out as seamlessly as possible.
One of the biggest impact areas of the global coronavirus outbreak is the economy. Many businesses have either been forced to temporarily shut down or reduce their operations, with some, unfortunately, going into administration, The government has implemented several changes that will assist both migrant employees (Tier 2, Tier 4 Student and Tier 5 Visa holders) and Migrant business owners (Tier 1 Entrepreneur, Innovator, and Start-Up Visa holders). These measures are intended to help not only the migrant but also a sponsoring business that pays the salary of employees that hold a visa Below we have laid out what has changed for both employees and entrepreneurs:
Probably the most widely used scheme that has cost the government billions of pounds to fund is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), also referred to as Furlough. This allows businesses to lay off staff temporarily where they must cease day to day duties until they are brought back into work to continue as normal. Businesses can furlough Tier 2 General visa migrants, (we sought direct clarification from the UKBA) as well as none migrant employees. For those readers not familiar with the Tier 2 General rules the following 4 points are usually restrictions that if not followed, will result in a Tier 2 visa curtailment:
Work at least full-time hours (30 hours)
Furloughing staff on a Tier 2 visa notwithstanding the usual requirements above is still permitted. If you are a migrant on a Tier 2 General visa and feel like your visa may be canceled as a result, you need not worry. If you are a business that sponsors Tier 2 migrants and you do not want to risk losing them for a violation of the immigration rules, you too need not worry. The government wants people to have jobs to return to and for businesses to make savings so they can continue to employ people and keep the economy active. What salary can furlough workers expect? They will be paid 80 percent of their salary which the employer can claim from the government (up to a maximum of £2,500). Employers can pay the missing 20 percent salary to the employee, although many small businesses may not be able to afford to do this
Many business owners will also be feeling the pressure of the global virus outbreak. The world's economy has rapidly slowed down as it has the revenue of many businesses in the UK. The government has helped to steady the economy by introducing the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which pays 80 percent of furloughed staff members wages for 3 months. This should allow many businesses to cut much of their day to day cost in hope that they will retain staff for when things return to normal.
The government has also reduced restrictions on migrant entrepreneurs whose businesses have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak. While you usually need to employ at least 2 workers for a continuous period of 12 months to maintain your visa conditions, you can now split this period between multiple employees over different months. If you have furloughed staff then you will not be able to count the period in which they are away from the business towards the employment requirement.
Also, if you are close to your visa expiring and have been unable to get to the 12-month employment requirement, the Home Office is offering temporary extensions so that you can meet the requirement and then extend your visa. This is a welcome addition to both migrants that need the support and the UK's economy that needs to recover.
The government cannot instantaneously eradicate the deadly coronavirus outbreak, they are doing all that they can to ensure that the country can return to a level of normality as soon as it is safe. While there will be winners and losers, it is clear the government has taken the action necessary to help migrants stay in the UK, despite the incredibly difficult challenges it faces - this we can only appreciate.
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