Immigration Implications of COVID-19 on UK Employers and Employees

Immigration Implications of COVID-19 on UK Employers and Employees

If you had told a friend or work colleague back in February 2020 that in a matter of weeks, millions of jobs would be at risk, the economy would be in a deep freeze, and tens of thousands would die as a result of a pandemic, they would likely have laughed off your attempt at reading your tea leaves.  But here we are.  In just a few weeks, the UK and the world have been utterly transformed.  COVID-19 has shown us all how rapidly pandemics can spread with devastating health, economic, and social consequences.  From an economic standpoint, it is plunging many countries into deep and historically low recessions, largely due to the prolonged lockdown.  For businesses that were already struggling, COVID-19 was the proverbial straw (or haystack in this case), which broke the camel’s back.  Others who were doing just fine until COVID-19 rapidly found themselves with no inward cashflow, mounting debts, and unprecedented amounts of uncertainty as to what the future would hold.  Businesses reliant on immigration faced additional pressure on those with a domestic workforce as many employees were unable to leave their home countries due to local travel restrictions.

Concessions for Sponsored Employees Already in the UK

For workers currently in the UK whose visas are due to expire but are unable to return home, the Home Office has been offering to extend their leave.  The latest guidance states that any visa due to expire between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 will be extended to 31 July 2020.  To get this extension, visa holders need to complete an online form.  If you have already had your visa extended to the end of May using this method, it will automatically extend to the end of July.  It is unclear at this stage whether there will be a further extension after 31 July 2020.  Given that many countries are lifting travel restrictions (albeit these may only be temporary), it cannot be assumed these extensions will carry on.

For individuals already in the UK and are planning to remain here for the long term, the Home Office has been allowing in-country applications where they would normally have been required to return home.  As with the extensions discussed above, these in-country applications currently only apply until 31 July 2020 (i.e. for those whose leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020).  Applicants for long-term visas who apply in-country will only be required to pay the UK application fee and will be permitted to remain until a decision is made on their application.

The impact of delayed applications on employers and Employees

Employers who had offered roles to non-EEA citizens before the COVID-19 lockdown may still be unsure as to when their new employees will be able to enter the UK to start their new job.  UK Visa Application Centres (VACs) were closed across the globe, meaning that workers planning to come to the UK could not complete their visa applications, including the biometric enrolment process.  Many VACs have now reopened, and more are opening each week.  The focus of most VACs has been to clear the backlog of applications by offering appointments only to those who had had their bookings cancelled.  Many are now able to process new applications. 

Applications for work visas have also been delayed due to the closure of English language test centres.  Thankfully, many centres are now reopening and are able to invigilate tests

For those who applied for a Tier 2 or Tier 5 visa prior to or during the COVID-19 pandemic and are still to receive a decision, the Home Office has stated those applicants are permitted to start their job before the application is decided if:

  • they have been assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)
  • they submitted their application before their current visa expired and they show their sponsor evidence of this

The Home Office does make it clear, however, that if the application for a Tier 2 or Tier 5 work visa is eventually rejected, the employer must immediately stop sponsoring them, and the employment must come to an end.

Additional concessions for healthcare workers

Due to the pressure being faced by the healthcare system in the UK as a result of COVID-19, the Home Office offered further concessions to workers in this sector.  Some healthcare workers whose visa is due to expire between before 1 October 2020 can have their visa extended for a further year.  To be eligible, the individual has to be an NHS or an independent healthcare provider in one of the following professions:

  • biochemist
  • biological scientist
  • dental practitioner
  • health professional
  • medical practitioner
  • medical radiographer
  • midwife
  • nurse
  • occupational therapist
  • ophthalmologist
  • paramedic
  • pharmacist
  • physiotherapist
  • podiatrist
  • psychologist
  • social worker
  • speech and language therapist
  • therapy professional

Employers are supposed to apply to the Home Office on behalf of eligible members of staff but is advisable for employees to double-check this has been done. 

How have Tier 1 entrepreneur employers been impacted by COVID-19?

As existing Tier 1 entrepreneur visa holders will know, in order to retain and be eligible for further extensions, they need to create new jobs within a set period of time.  Given the impact COVID-19, the Home Office has reduced the expectations on Tier 1 entrepreneur visa holders.  The Home Office guidance on this matter states, “you no longer need to employ at least 2 people for 12 consecutive months. The 12 month period you’re required to employ someone for can be made up of multiple jobs across different months.  Time, when your employees were furloughed, will not count towards the 12 month period.  If you’ve not been able to employ staff for 12 months by the time your visa expires, you’ll be allowed to temporarily extend your stay to give you time to meet the requirement”. 

As such, this will reduce the pressure on Tier 1 entrepreneur employers.

Final words

Businesses have been affected in a number of totally unexpected ways due to the impact on immigration of COVID-19.  If you are struggling to secure the necessary immigration clearance for new or existing staff members, it is important to seek the guidance of immigration Solicitors who will be able to handle the matter for you in a timely manner.

 

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