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Furlough Scheme Extension To March 2021 And The Implications for UK Migrant Workers

Coronavirus has posed an enormous headache for us all. In particular, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak had a considerable challenge to surmount in trying to ensure that employees and businesses were not financially wiped out during 2020 as a result of successive lockdowns and a weakened economy.

One of the main tools which the Chancellor first introduced at the start of the pandemic was the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), which was intended to ensure that rather than let employees go, businesses hit by the pandemic could ‘furlough’ staff in the knowledge they would receive a portion of their salary from the public coffers, and they would be able to ‘unfurlough’ them once back to a better financial situation.

The first CJRS was announced in late March 2020, and while it was further extended in May 2020, it was phased out from August to October, requiring employers to take a larger share of the burden. In early November it was announced the scheme would be further extended until March 2021 – a five-month extension. In this article, we will review what the latest announcement of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) states, and how this may impact on migrant workers in the UK.

What Was Announced By The Chancellor On 5th November 2020?

On 5th November 2020, Rishi Sunak announced that the CJRS would be extended until 31st March 2020, to provide financial protection over the winter period. The announcement stated, “businesses and people across the UK given certainty over winter months with further support announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak...The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) will now run until the end of March with employees receiving 80% of their current salary for hours not worked”.

The announcement also referenced self-employed individuals, stating, “support for millions more workers through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will be increased, with the third grant covering November to January calculated at 80% of average trading profits, up to a maximum of £7,500”.

Are Migrant Workers Eligible For The CJRS?

Many migrant workers we speak to, including those on Tier 2 and Tier 5 are concerned that receiving CRJS money means they are in breach of the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition on their visa. Thankfully, this is not the case, as migrant workers are equally as entitled to claim under the CJRS as settled workers. The CJRS guidance for employers explains this further; “You can claim for employees on any type of employment contract, including full-time, part-time, agency, flexible or zero-hour contracts. Foreign nationals are eligible to be furloughed. Grants under the scheme are not counted as ‘access to public funds’, and you can furlough employees on all categories of visa”. It is also important to understand that if you are furloughed, you are still technically employed by your sponsor, hence there is no requirement for your visa to be curtailed.

In order to be eligible for CJRS funding, workers must:

  • Have been employed on 30th October 2020
  • Have made a PAYE RTI submission to HMRC (this would have been done by your employer) between the 20th March 2020 and 30th October 2020, notifying them you received earnings.
  • Have the UK, Isle of Man or Channel Island bank account

Can I Work While On Furlough As A Migrant Worker?

In terms of your main employment, employees can be fully furloughed, whereby they do not do any work for their employer, or have their time split between working and being furloughed; this is referred to as flexible furlough. You cannot work for any hours you are on furlough, however, you can receive employment-related training, volunteer for another employer or organisation, or work for another employer. Migrant workers do need to be careful when taking on extra work, however, as there are restrictions which must be adhered to.

If you are taking on extra work of no more than 20 hours (classed as supplementary work), you do not need to apply to change your Tier 2/Skilled Worker visa, but you do need to work within the same occupation type (i.e. the standard occupation category – SOC – is the same as your main role). You can, however, work for any employer even if they are not a licensed sponsor. If you wish to work more than 20 additional hours, you will need to request a second Certificate of Sponsorship and apply to have your visa changed (the same process as for your current visa) to have two sponsors.

Will Receiving Only 80% Of My Pay Affect My Work Visa?

Where an employer cannot pay your full salary because they have temporarily reduced or ceased trading, the government’s guidance is that it is temporarily permitted to reduce the employees pay to 80% (or £2,500 per month) without stopping your sponsorship. It also says, “Any reductions must be part of a company-wide policy to avoid redundancies and in which all workers are treated the same. These reductions must be temporary, and the employee’s pay must return to at least previous levels once these arrangements have ended”.

Wrapping Ups

If you are a migrant worker facing furlough as a result of COVID-19, the protections and scheme put in place should ensure you receive at least 80% of your income for the hours you are not able to work until the end of March 2021. There are some technicalities for which you may want to seek additional clarification if they apply to you, including where receiving a lower salary will lower your annual income below the minimum income threshold for your visa. If this is a concern, speak to an immigration Solicitor who will review your exact situation and recommend the best course of action.

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