All content on this page is correct as of May 25, 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause disruption for people with UK visas as well as their employers, we are ready to help you understand the ever-changing immigration system.
From visa applications and tribunals, through to tier 2 sponsorship concerns and rights to work, our expert team of immigration lawyers are on hand to help you.
Check out the below FAQs that we’ve been helping our clients with.
Whilst travel routes into the UK have been vastly disrupted and reduced, it is still possible to travel to the UK from certain destinations. On 8 June new self-isolation requirements for international arrivals came into force – see our separate FAQs and top tips for navigating the new rules for more information.
You can submit an application online but many visa application centres are currently closed, which means that you may not be able to provide your fingerprints and complete the application process. You should check the website of the visa application centre you want to attend (centres are run by TLS in Europe, Africa and some countries in the Middle East and by VFS everywhere else) for details of which centres are open and what particular measures are in place in light of Covid-19.
If you apply now and cannot attend a visa application centre because it is still closed, your application should be placed on hold until the centre re-opens, so you can complete the process. The main benefit of submitting an application online now is if your eligibility may change, for example if you are close to reaching the age limit for a visa category (such as the Youth Mobility Scheme or as a dependant child under 18. The date of application is the date the online application is submitted and paid for so making an application now may get your foot in the door. If timing is not a factor, you might instead choose to wait until the visa application centres re-open as you (or your employer in the case of a work visa) may have a change of plans following the current crisis. This choice is dependent on your own circumstances.
Where visa application centres are still closed it is unclear whether applications are still being processed. In some cases we understand that passports have been returned without visas because the visa would already have expired before travel restrictions are expected to be lifted. Home Office guidance states that as VACs reopen they will prioritise returning customer passports but if the VAC where you applied remains closed, they will not be able to return your passport. If you are concerned about your passport, you could try contacting the VAC or the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre at [email protected].
If your visa is still valid and there are no travel restrictions between your country and the UK then you can travel to the UK, but please see the answer to ‘can I travel to the UK at the moment for links to further information about self-isolation requirements on arrival.
In many cases, entry clearance vignettes stuck in passports are only valid for one month in order for you to arrive in the UK and collect your Biometric Residence Permit with details of your full visa.
The Home Office has confirmed that if you hold such a one month vignette and it has expired or is about to expired, you can request a replacement with revised validity dates free of charge until the end of this year. You will need to contact the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre and include your name, nationality, date of birth and your GWF reference number with ‘REPLACEMENT 30 DAY VISA’ in the subject line. If you’ve already contacted the Home Office about this, you should explain this in your email. You will then be contacted when the visa application centres reopen to arrange for a replacement visa to be endorsed in your passport. Whilst it appears that this request can also be made over the telephone, our advice is to send an email so that there is a documentary log of the correspondence. The government has indicated that these vignettes may be valid for up to 90 days, though it is not clear whether this will apply to all replacement vignettes. When making a request for a replacement vignette, we recommend asking for it to be valid for 90 days to give maximum flexibility in case of further travel disruption and delay. The Home Office has also confirmed that individuals will not be penalised for being unable to collect their BRP while coronavirus measures are in place.
In most cases you will need to wait until the Secure English Language Test (SELT) centres re-open before you can apply for your visa. However the Home Office has confirmed that in the case of Tier 4 student applicants it will sometimes be possible for some Tier 4 sponsors to assess English language ability and confirm this on the Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS). You should discuss this with the course provider.
The Home Office has published guidance for individuals in the UK whose leave expires between 24 January and 31 July 2020. If your leave expires between these dates you can apply for an extension using this form. Once you submit your information you will receive an email asking you to verify your email address and you should then hear back from the Home Office within 5 working days. It is recommended to take a screenshot of the form before you submit it, for your own records.
The form states that ‘No individual of any nationality whose leave has expired or is due to expire between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020, and who cannot leave the UK because of COVID-19, will be regarded as an overstayer or suffer any detriment in the future.’ A factsheet circulated by the Home Office to practitioners states that individuals status in the UK is secure from the point they have submitted the form.
This form is intended for those who were/are not planning to stay in the UK long-term and Home Office guidance states that you are expected to take all reasonable steps to leave the UK before this date where it is possible to do so. It is recommended to seek advice as to whether there are alternatives to this option if possible.
If you previously requested an extension to your leave via email, before the Home Office implemented the electronic form, and you have still haven’t back from the Home Office confirming your leave has been extended, it’s recommended that you now complete the online form.
This is extension previously only applied to those whose visa expired between 24 January and 31 May, and only served to extend existing leave until 31 May. If you already filled out the online form and received confirmation that your leave was extended to 31 May, Home Office guidance states that this will now automatically be extended to 31 July and the form states that there is no need to fill it out again. However we recommend emailing the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre to confirm your leave has been extended further, ideally via email to [email protected], so you have confirmation of this in writing.
If your current visa expires after 31 July 2020 this extension will not apply to you. You should keep checking the gov.uk website for updates as we understand this deadline maybe reviewed by the Home Office.
If you are in the UK with existing leave and had been planning to make an application to extend this, you should still do so as normal before your current leave expires. You won’t be able to enrol your biometrics as this service is currently suspended for new applications. Currently, only those who had submitted an application and booked an appointment prior to the ‘lockdown’ are able to book new appointments and we anticipate that it will be some time before the system fully re-opens. In the meantime we understand that your application will effectively be put ‘on hold’ until the service resumes. Home Office guidance states that your immigration status in the UK will not change as a result of you not being able to attend an appointment.
Home Office guidance also states that if you have applied under Tier 2 or Tier 5 and are waiting for a decision on your application, you can start work before your application is decided if you have been assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS); you submitted your application before your current visa expired and you show your sponsor evidence of this; and the job you start is the same as the one listed on your CoS. If your application is eventually rejected or refused your sponsor must stop sponsoring you and you must stop working for them.
Similarly, the guidance now states that if you have applied under Tier 4 you can start your course before your visa application has been decided if your sponsor is a Tier 4 sponsor, you have been given an confirmation of acceptance of studies (CAS); you submitted your application before your current visa expired and can show your sponsor evidence of this; the course you start is the same as the one listed on your CAS and you have an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate if required. After having been suspended for a time due to COVID-19, the ATAS scheme is open again for applications through the FCO. If your application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused you must stop your course or studies.
If you are in the UK and you had been planning to return to your home country to make an application for a long-term visa, and then come back to the UK, Home Office guidance states that you can now make this application from within the UK. This only applies if your current leave expires between 24 January and 31 July 2020, including if your leave has already been extended to 31 July 2020. Previously this concession only applied if you current leave expired between 24 January and 31 May 2020, and has recently been extended.
You will need to meet the requirements of the route you are applying for and pay the UK application fee. The terms of your existing leave will remain the same until your application is decided. This means that if you are currently here as a visitor, for example, and want to apply for a route that allows you to work in the UK, you won’t be able to work until your new application is decided. As above, you will not be able to enrol your biometrics for the time being.
If your current visa expires after 31st July 2020 these provisions will not apply to you. You should keep checking the gov.uk website for updates as we understand this deadline may be reviewed by the Home Office.
If you are here as a Tier 4 student, your leave expires between 24th January and 31st July and you normally would not be able to extend your leave from within the UK, you can exceptionally apply to do so. If you are unable to complete your course in your current period of leave due to COVID-19 you can apply from within the UK to complete the course. If you need to repeat a year, retake a module or resit an exam, you will be exempt from demonstrating academic progression as would normally be needed. There is more information in the Home Office coronavirus guidance for Tier 4 sponsors, migrants and short-term students.
The Home Office has not published guidance on this situation yet but we understand they will be doing so soon. It is now possible to take a Life in the UK test as some centres have re-opened and bookings are possible online. Most English language centres remain closed but some are starting to re-open so you should check your test provider’s website for the latest updates. Wherever possible you should take the Life in the UK and English language test before making your application. However if your leave is going to expire and you have been unable to take one or both of these tests due to Covid-19, we recommend you make your application online anyway to preserve your current leave and keep any evidence you have of trying to take the tests (e.g. booking cancellations or correspondence with the test provider showing you could not take the test before making your application). Once it is possible to book a biometrics appointment, you should only book an appointment that occurs after you have passed the English language or Life in the UK test. It is recommended to take advice if you are in this situation.
If you qualify for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) but your existing leave does not expire yet, it is preferable not to apply at this stage and to wait until some form of normality returns to do so. You must make sure you apply before your current leave expires.
The Home Office website and guidance states that those working in the following professions for the NHS or an independent healthcare provider, whose visas are due to expire before 1 October 2020, will be eligible for a one-year free visa extension:
We note that this list does not include doctors, who were previously included in the extension before the Home Office expanded the list of eligible professions last week. We have followed this up with the Home Office who have confirmed that doctors are still eligible to benefit from the extension. The Home Office has also confirmed that the extension is available regardless of which category someone currently holds leave in, and is not limited to those here under Tier 2.
The Home Office website also states that family members of those eligible could also get an extension to the same date if their visa is also due to expire before 1 October 2020. It is not clear whether this applies to all family members or just those who are here as ‘dependants’. We are waiting for greater clarity on this.
If you are unsure if you work in an eligible profession, you should check with your employer. Your employer will tell the Home Office if you’re eligible for the extension. The Home Office website states that once your employer tells you to, you should post your and your family’s BRP to the Home Office, or that your employer may offer to do this for you. The Home Office will then return your BRP once your visa has been extended. We recommend that you seek legal advice on your situation before sending any documents, as it is not clear on what basis the Home Office is able to grant these extensions and it is possible you could become an overstayer if your visa expires, you have not applied to extend it, and the Home Office has not extended it for you.
If you are granted an extension, the immigration health surcharge will not be applicable and you will not have to pay this.
If you work in an eligible profession for the NHS or an independent health and care provider, Home Office guidance confirms that you can work at any NHS hospital during the coronavirus outbreak if your sponsor can maintain their sponsorship duties. Your sponsor will not need to notify UKVI of the change in your place of work. You can also carry out supplementary work in any skill level during the coronavirus outbreak and there is no restriction on the number of hours you can work.
In a related provision, limits on working and volunteering hours have been lifted for those who work for the NHS as a doctor, nurse or paramedic and who are a:
• Tier 4 student
• Tier 2 worker and the NHS job is a second job
• Visiting academic researcher
• Holder of a short-term visa and are permitted to volunteer
The deadline for pre-registration nurses to sit the Occupational Structured Clinical Examination (“OSCE”) has been extended to 31st December 2020 and those who do not pass on the first attempt will have until 31 May 2021 to do so.
The Home Office website states that if you have already applied for an extension you can email the NHS team to withdraw your existing application and apply for a refund. We do not recommend doing this without first taking advice, as if you withdraw your application and you have not been granted a free extension, you could become an overstayer.
This option is not available to those who have already provided biometrics as part of the application process.
It was recently reported that Boris Johnson has asked the Home Office and Department for Social Care to remove NHS and care workers from the immigration health surcharge (IHS) ‘as soon as possible’. We are waiting for further guidance from the government about when and how this will be implemented. If your leave is expiring and you need to pay the IHS as part of your application, you should still do so to ensure you do not become an overstayer. However it is recommended to take advice about whether you may be able to claim a refund for the surcharge once full details of the policy are announced.
The government has now published guidance stating that non-EEA family members of any NHS worker or healthcare or social worker who has died as a result of coronavirus will receive immediate indefinite leave to remain (ILR) free of charge. The guidance states that the family member must have been working for the NHS or an independent health and care provider, including the social care sector. There is no further guidance as to specific roles included in this policy, but an announcement from the Home Secretary stated that this would include support staff and social care workers. This is widely understood to include, for example, porters and cleaners.
The guidance states that you do not need to do anything to receive this status and that the Home Office will contact employers to identify those eligible and arrange for them to be issued with indefinite leave to remain. It is not clear who exactly will count as a family member. If you think you should receive this status you can contact [email protected]. If you are in this situation and think you may be eligible it is recommended you take advice on your situation, particularly if your current leave is due to expire soon. If you do not apply for a new visa and are not granted ILR before your current leave expires, you could become an overstayer.
Due to COVID-19, the Home Office has confirmed that they are accepting scanned copies of supporting documents sent by email. Documents must still be signed, although digital signatures are permitted for submission sheets, and they must meet all other requirements for the application. We recommend including an explanation of why you had to provide copies of supporting documents (e.g. no printer or self-isolation). You should note that the Home Office still reserve the right to request original or certified documents and these should be kept on file in case of an audit.
The Home Office has also confirmed that on-site visits have been suspended due to coronavirus. If they need to visit they will not decide the application until they are in receipt of the compliance visit report. These arrangements are currently in place until 30 June and will be reviewed at that point.
Normally, Tier 2 (General) sponsored workers can’t have their work start date pushed back by more than 28 days from the start date on their CoS or 28 days from when the visa is issued, whichever is later. We are expecting further guidance from the Home Office on whether there will be any concessions to this rule due to COVID-19.
No. Provided they are working from home due to COVID-19, the Home Office has confirmed you do not need to notify them. You should note that other changes must still be reported as usual.
Usually, if a sponsored worker is absent from work for more than 10 consecutive working days without permission, you must report this to the Home Office. However, absences related to COVID-19 do not need to be reported. Reasons for the absence can include:
The Home Office has confirmed that they will not take enforcement action against sponsors who continue to sponsor employees despite absences related to coronavirus.
The Home Office guidance has been updated to state that individuals working in eligible professions (see below) for the NHS or independent health and care providers can work at any NHS hospital during the coronavirus outbreak if their sponsor can maintain their sponsorship duties. Sponsors do not need to notify the Home Office of the change in the individual’s place of work. It also states that individuals can also carry out supplementary work in any role at any skill level during the coronavirus outbreak and there is no restriction on the number of hours they can work. Sponsors should ensure they are able to maintain their sponsorship duties and document any decisions relating to sponsored workers, noting the measures in place to ensure these duties can still be met.
The list of eligible professions is as follows:
We note that this list does not include doctors, who were previously included in the extension before the Home Office expanded the list of eligible professions. We have followed up with the Home Office who confirmed that doctors should still be included in this list.
The Home Office has now confirmed that sponsors can allow employees to start work before their visa application has been decided provided that:
In particular, this is good news for Tier 2 (General) visa holders who have change of employment applications held up in processing due to all application centres in the UK being currently closed. Organisations can also continue to recruit during the pandemic. This guidance also applies to organisations recruiting workers under Tier 5.
Sponsors should note that their reporting responsibilities in respect of the employee start from the date of assigning the CoS, not from the date that their application is granted. If the employee’s application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused sponsors must terminate their employment. As the guidance does not specify alternative arrangements for right to work checks in these circumstances, we recommend sponsors conduct a check on the employee’s current documents before starting work following the current Home Office guidance on right to work checks. Sponsors should also retain evidence of the Home Office guidance permitting employees to start work before their application has been decided, which can be found here, and evidence of the employee meeting the requirements in the guidance, including a copy of the submitted visa application.
Usually, if a sponsored worker is absent from work without pay for more than 4 weeks, you must report this to the Home Office and stop sponsoring them. However, the Home Office has confirmed that sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship if a sponsored worker takes more than 4 weeks’ unpaid leave due to COVID-19. We recommend sponsors keep an internal record of this.
The Home Office has published guidance stating that you can temporarily reduce the pay of sponsored employees to 80% of their salary or £2,500 per month, whichever is the lower, if you cannot pay the salary of sponsored employees because you have temporarily reduced or ceased trading. Importantly, it also states that “any reductions must be part of a company-wide policy to avoid redundancies and in which all workers are treated the same”. Reductions must be temporary and the employee’s pay must return to at least previous levels once these arrangements have ended.
Whilst the Home Office guidance does not specify that sponsors may use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the wording used regarding a reduction in salary to 80% or £2,500 per month is consistent with that of the scheme. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme guidance also confirms that foreign nationals can be furloughed under the scheme.
However, it is unclear whether sponsors must take a “one size fits all” approach when furloughing employees and whether they must continue to meet Tier 2 minimum salary thresholds or the high earner threshold (if applicable). We are awaiting confirmation from the Home Office on these points and recommend you seek further advice on this before taking any action.
As a result, we recommend sponsors take a cautious approach and seek further advice before relying on this guidance to furlough sponsored workers. You should note that sponsors and employees must also meet the usual eligibility criteria under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This includes the requirement for the employee to have been on the sponsor’s PAYE payroll on 28th February 2020, which means some sponsored workers may not be eligible, particularly those under Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) who may be paid by an overseas company.
Although the Home Office guidance has confirmed that the previous phone line for requesting priority service has been replaced by an emailed form, we understand that the priority change of circumstances service has been suspended due to COVID-19. Sponsors should be aware that the Home Office’s service standard for updating sponsor licence information is to complete these within 18 weeks, although processing times could be affected further by staff shortages due to COVID-19. Sponsors should still submit reports within specified timescales as per the sponsor guidance and the Home Office will process them in order of receipt.
Yes, you need to check the right to work of any new employee before they start work and will still need to check that any existing employees with expiring visas have obtained or at least applied for new status.
Many visa holders now have status on Biometric Residence Permits. If the individual has one of these you may be able to do an online right to work check and verify their identity by video call. The individual will first need to give you permission to do this and send you a share code. This can also be done where people have settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
Under normal circumstances you are required to have the physical evidence of their right to work (such as their passport or visa) to check. If you are in a sector still operating on a face to face basis (e.g. key workers) you can still do this. If not, the Home Office have confirmed that the individual can send you a scanned copy/photo of their document to check and you can verify their identity by video call. It is important to note that this is not how these checks are supposed to be done so the Home Office require you to annotate checks in a specific way. You will also need to do the full, normal check within eight weeks of the concession ending. Please see the UKVI guidance for more information.
If they have already made an application to the Home Office, you can contact the Employer Checking Service for confirmation that they still have the right to work. The Home Office has also decided that people with visas due to expire before the end of May who cannot leave the UK can ask for these to be extended to 31st May 2020. You should be very careful at this time that you do not discriminate against someone who has the necessary status to work but cannot show documents to prove it.
Doctors, nurses and paramedics working for the NHS whose visas are expiring before 1st October 2020 should receive one-year visa extensions but it’s currently unclear what evidence they will have to show this. The Home Office has also lifted restrictions on the number of hours a Tier 4 student can work for the NHS as a doctor, nurse or paramedic and the limit on hours people can volunteer in these roles have also been lifted. See the UKVI guidance for details.
Home Office guidance states that you may still be eligible for a visa if your endorsement has expired because you have been unable to travel to the UK. It states that you should make your application as planned and that applications will be considered on a case by case basis.
This seems to contradict guidance for endorsing bodies for the Start-up and Innovator categories, which tells endorsers that a new endorsement must be issued if an individual’s endorsement has expired because they have been unable to travel to the UK. We have raised this with the Home Office’s coronavirus team and hope they will provide more clarity on this soon. In the meantime we would encourage Start-up and Innovator applicants to discuss this with their endorsing body.
The Home Office has published guidance stating that you no longer need to employ at least 2 people for 12 consecutive months each. The 12 month period you are required to employ someone for can now be made up of multiple employees across different months. It is important to note that time when employees are furloughed will not count towards the 12 month period.
If you have not been able to employ staff for 12 months in total by the time your visa expires, you will be allowed to temporarily extend your stay to give you time to meet the requirement.
Whilst the Home Office has the discretion to waive excessive absences in certain circumstances, there is currently no guidance on whether these will be waived due to COVID-19. Normally, in the case of British citizenship applications, the discretion to waive excessive absences focuses on the nature of the person’s job, rather than exceptional circumstances. This has been raised with the Home Office and we are awaiting confirmation.
In the meantime, we recommend that anyone stuck outside of the UK retains evidence of their inability to return, whether due to travel restrictions or health. This could include keeping screenshots of advice on the FCO website, government announcements etc. as information on webpages changes.
All face-to-face hearings in the FTT have been suspended until further notice other than in exceptional circumstances. Directions are being sent in individual cases and you should wait to hear from the Tribunal as to what will happen in your case.
From our experience, typically these directions replace the hearing with a remote case management hearing, and give a deadline for providing contact details to the Tribunal and for filing all the evidence and arguments that you wish to rely on. The Home Office then has 10 days to respond and the judge will decide if the appeal can be decided ‘on the papers’, i.e. without a hearing. If the judge decides it can’t, they will consider holding a remote hearing instead, to be conducted via Skype.
Appeals that were listed for a hearing have been postponed. All appeals in the Upper Tribunal are being judicially case managed and you should wait to hear from the Tribunal as to what will happen in your case and what you need to do.
HMCTS is publishing a weekly operational summary of the courts and tribunals so you can check for any updates for both the FTT and the UT here.
If you have any further questions about the above, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Immigration team who would be happy to help.
This information is necessarily of a general nature and doesn’t constitute legal advice. This is not a substitute for formal legal advice, given in the context of full information under an engagement with Bates Wells.
All content on this page is correct as of May 25, 2020.