Navigating the new normal

Coronavirus and UK Immigration: FAQs

All content on this page is correct as of January 18, 2021

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 Skilled Worker 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.

Applying for a UK visa outside the UK

Can I travel to the UK at the moment?

Rules are in place as of 4am 18 January 2021 requiring, anyone, including UK nationals, arriving by boat, plane or train to England to present a negative COVID-19 test that was taken no more than 72 hours prior to departure. Travel corridors have been suspended. All arrivals to England from anywhere outside the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man you will need to self-isolate for 10 days. Spot checks can be expected on arrival with a potential fine of £500 for a breach of the pre-departure testing.

The third national lockdown came into force on 06 January 2021.Travel routes into the UK have been disrupted and reduced and you should check before travelling that any intended travel is still possible.

Arrivals from South American destinations, Portugal, Panama and Cape Verde are banned, with exemptions only for British, Irish and third country nationals with residence rights in the UK. This latter group are still subject to self-isolation requirements.

Self-isolation requirements and passenger location forms for international arrivals remain in force – see our separate FAQs and top tips for navigating the new rules for more information.

Can I apply for a UK visa at the moment?

You can submit an application online and most visa application centres around the world have reopened, though a few remain 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.

Home Office guidance states that where ‘your’ VAC is still closed, you can submit your application and biometrics from anywhere in the world, subject to the other country’s entry requirements. You will need to select the country you plan to apply from when you make your online application. This concession has been extended to 31 March 2021.

I left the UK in 2020 and haven’t been able to travel back due to COVID-19. Do I have any options?

The Home Office has introduced the Covid Visa Concession Scheme. If you left the UK before 17 March 2020 (or later due to exceptional circumstances such as family bereavement or medical treatment) and you intended to return to the UK and extend your permission to stay in the UK, you may be eligible to apply for the scheme.

The full criteria to apply are that:
• You are currently abroad; and
• You left the UK before 17 March 2020 (or later due to exceptional circumstances); and
• Your visa expired and you were unable to return to the UK before its expiry due to COVID-19 travel restrictions; and
• You intend to return to the UK shortly after the Home Office confirm your eligibility for the scheme; and
• You must notify the Home Office at least 21 calendar days’ prior to your date of travel to the UK unless:
o you cannot travel because travel restrictions remain in place
o you choose not to travel due to a COVID-19 risk to themselves or their family, for example, showing symptoms, a requirement to self-isolate or being high-risk and unable to travel.

Note that if you were last in the UK on a Visitor Visa you are not eligible for the scheme.

This concession is currently only available until 31 March 2021.

If the above applies to you, we recommend seeking advice in the first instance as the scheme is new and subject to further interpretation.

To apply, please fill out the form here.

I would like to use one of the priority services to submit my application, can I still do so?

Priority and super priority services have resumed in some countries. You should check with your VAC as to whether this option is available for you.

Availability of these services is subject to rapid change as countries impose local lockdowns in response to COVID-19.

I submitted an application and provided my fingerprints and passport before all this started – when will I get a decision and how do I get my passport back?

Where visa application centres are still closed it is unclear whether applications are still being processed.  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. It also states that if your passport is in a VAC and a decision has been made on your application, the VAC will contact you to arrange collection. If your application has not been decided, the VAC will not contact you to return your passport until it has. If you would like your passport to be returned even though a decision has not been made, you should contact the VAC to arrange collection.

I’ve already received my visa – can I travel to the UK?

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.

Home Office guidance confirms these vignettes will be valid for 90 days and that individuals will not be penalised for being unable to collect their BRP while coronavirus measures are in place. It also appears that vignettes being issued for new applications are in many cases valid for 90 days where they would usually only be valid for 30.

If you received a 90 day vignette and have been unable to travel, you can request a replacement. The cost of such a replacement is £154 and you will need to re-enrol your biometric information at a Visa Application Centre. You should apply via this form.

Depending on your visa application centre, you may also be able to arrange with them directly to re-submit your passport and receive the amended endorsement. We recommend checking the website for your specific visa application centre.

I need to meet an English language requirement to qualify for my visa, but the test centres are closed – what should I do?

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. 

Some English Testing Centres are now resuming services.  Visit the International English Language Testing System (IELTS)’s website, the Pearson Test of English website or the LanguageCert website or contact your test centre for more information on which centres are reopening and how you can book your SELT.

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.

With some applications on the basis of family or private life, it may be possible to apply for an exemption to the English language requirement. See our separate piece on family life for more details.

Applying to the Home Office in the UK

I am in the UK and my visa is about to expire. I did not plan on staying here long-term but I can’t leave. What should I do?

The Home Office had previously published guidance for individuals in the UK whose leave expired between 24 January and 31 July 2020. Those individuals were previously able to apply for an extension of their leave. These extensions are no longer available. In addition, those whose leave was expiring between 24 January and 31 August 2020, including those who had received an extension between this period, were able to take advantage of a grace period between 1 and 31 August 2020, in which their conditions of stay remained the same as their conditions of leave.

Now that travel restrictions are starting to ease, if you do not plan on staying in the UK long-term, the Home Office advises that you are expected to take all reasonable steps to do so where it is possible. If you want to stay in the UK longer term you should take steps to regularise your stay.  

If you wished to leave the UK but were not able to do so and your visa or leave expires between 01 January 2021 and 28 February 2021, you can request an ‘exceptional assurance’ by emailing [email protected] with the following details:

  • full name;
  • date of birth;
  • nationality;
  • Home Office, GWF or any other reference number;
  • type of visa;
  • expiry date of visa;
  • reason for request; and
  • evidence of flight or evidence showing reason you can’t leave.

The subject header of your email should read “Request for an assurance”. 

Once you submit your information you should 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.

Your email should include attach evidence to show why you cannot leave the UK. This can include evidence of travel arrangements or disruption. If you can’t leave the UK because you have coronavirus, you’ll need to submit confirmation of your positive coronavirus test result.

If you have previously requested exceptional assurance and you’re waiting on the outcome and your flight is imminent, you should email the above address with the requested details. The Home Office will not consider you an overstayer whilst your application is considered.

‘Exceptional assurance’ acts as a short-term protection against any adverse action or consequences after your leave has expired. It does not grant you leave and you are expected to make arrangements to leave the country as soon as possible.

You can continue to undertake activities permitted under the visa you were in the UK on when you sought exceptional assurance.

If you’ve already been given assurance but your circumstances have changed or you’re unable to leave the UK by the assurance date previously given, you must reapply using the process above. You will need to clearly state that you’re making a subsequent application. You’ll be asked to provide new supporting evidence.

We are aware there are now significant gaps in Home Office guidance since the ‘exceptional assurance’ scheme was launched and we do recommend that you seek advice if any of the above applies to you.

I am in the UK and my visa is about to expire. I want to extend my current visa. Can I still do so?

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. The government has classified UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services as an “essential service” and opened additional temporary “Core” service points for biometric enrolment. In person service continues to operate and you can book your appointment as soon as you register unless you are a Child Student or Student (including Tier 4 student) applicant. All applicants other than Child Students or Students (including Tier 4 students) must now attend an in person appointment to enrol their biometrics.

Child Student or Student (including Tier 4 student) applicants must continue to use the IDV app for the time being.

Some applicants were invited to re-use their biometrics and to confirm their identity by using a new app instead of attending an appointment. You won’t know whether you are still eligible to do this until you receive an email from Sopra Steria with full details and instructions. You can find the latest updates on the timing of appointments and the release of the app from Sopra Steria here.

If you are applying now, you must attend a UKVCAS Service point to enrol your biometrics. Home Office guidance also states that if you have applied under Skilled Worker, Temporary Worker, Tier 2 or Tier 5 before 31 December 2020 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) (however please see the below condition); 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.

If your CoS was assigned from 01 January 2021 and you are not applying under the Health and Care visa, you must wait until your visa application has been granted before starting work, unless your current visa allows you to work in that job.

Similarly, the guidance now states that if you have applied under the Student Route you can start your course before your visa application has been decided if your sponsor is a Student 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 FCDO. If your application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused you must stop your course or studies.

I am in the UK and my visa is about to expire. I want to stay in the UK long-term but can’t return home to make a new visa application. What should I do?

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 expired between 24 January and 31 August 2020.

If your leave expires after 31 August, Home Office guidance states that you can apply from within the UK where you would normally need to return to your home country, but that you will need to show your application is urgent. The examples given in the guidance are needing to start a new job or course of study, but it is not clear what exactly the Home Office means by ‘urgent’. A factsheet circulated to practitioners in relation to an earlier version of the guidance suggests that an application will not be deemed urgent if you already have a visa that allows you to work in your current job and we therefore understand this concession is likely to be limited in scope. If you think you may be able to benefit from these provisions it is recommended to take advice as your application could be refused if the Home Office deems you not to qualify for the concession. We do take this guidance to mean that those who have overstayed after the 31st August 2020 stand to benefit from the concession.

If you do not believe you can demonstrate an urgent need to regularise your status, we believe that current concessions will not permit you to regularise your status with certainty. We therefore recommend you urgently seek advice and consider whether it would be preferable for you to leave the country. If you are an overstayer, and you are not able to benefit from the above concession, any period of overstay could harm future applications for leave to enter the UK.

If you conclude you will make such an in-country application you will need to meet the other usual 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. You will have to book an appointment to enrol your biometrics. If you are here on the Student Route and you normally would not be able to extend your leave from within the UK, you can exceptionally apply to do so. You must make the new application before the expiry of your current leave or, if your leave expired between 24 January and 31 August and you were granted an extension, you must have applied by 31 August. If you are granted an ‘exceptional assurance’ you must apply by 31 November. If you are granted an ‘exceptional assurance’ you must apply by 31 January 2021. There is more information in the Home Office coronavirus guidance for Student sponsors, migrants and short-term students.

I would like to use one of the priority services to submit my application, can I still do so?

All priority and super priority services in the UK remain suspended and we do not know when they will resume. The Home Office has suggested these services may resume before Christmas, but this is not confirmed. This means that all applications submitted at the moment must be submitted using the ‘standard’ service.

I have not been able to take my English language test and/or my Life in the UK test, but this is required for my application. What should I do?

It is now possible to take a Life in the UK test as some centres have re-opened and bookings are possible online. Some English language centres remain closed but many have re-opened 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 are applying under the family life provisions, you may also be able to apply for an exemption to the English language requirement if you were unable to take a test because of Covid-19. See our separate piece on the family life concessions for more information.

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.

I am a healthcare worker and my visa expires soon. Will I get an automatic extension and how do I apply for this?

The Home Office website and guidance states that those working in the following professions for the NHS or an independent healthcare provider, whose leave expired between 1 October 2020 and 31 March 2021, are eligible for a one-year free visa extension:

  • 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

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 who are dependants of those eligible could also get an extension to the same date if their visa is also due to expire before 31 March 2021.You can sign up for the extension here.

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 the Home Office 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:

•           Student

•           Skilled 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 you to sit the Occupational Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) has been extended to 30 September 2021. If you do not pass on the first attempt, you’ll have until 31 December 2021 to pass the exam.

I am a healthcare worker and have already applied to extend my visa. Can I still benefit from the free extension?

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.  

I am a healthcare worker. Can I reclaim any visa fees me and my family have already paid?

If you have already applied for a visa extension for health workers, paid your fees and received a decision on your application, you can reclaim up to one year’s worth of visa fees by emailing the UK Visas and Immigration NHS team at the following address: [email protected]

Full guidance on the format of the claim, including the title and necessary details to be included can be found here.

If you have applied for a visa extension for health workers but have yet to receive a decision, you must either wait for a decision and reclaim in the manner described above, or withdraw your existing visa application and apply for a refund.

We strongly recommend you seek advice before withdrawing your application.

I am a healthcare worker. Will I now be exempt from paying the immigration health surcharge?

Guidance has now been published regarding a new Health and Care visa category which came into effect on 4 August 2020. Those who obtain this visa will be exempt from paying the IHS.

Following an announcement earlier in the year that healthcare workers would no longer have to pay the IHS, certain healthcare professionals who paid the charge on or after 31 March are eligible for a refund. There is more information about eligibility for the refund here and who to contact. If you are an eligible healthcare worker, you and your dependants can reclaim any HIS fees incurred from 31 March 2020. 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 how to claim a refund for the surcharge once details of the new scheme are announced.

Family and private life applications

I have a family or private life visa, or I want to apply for one. Are there any relevant provisions for me?

Please see our separate piece about concessions for those applying under the family and private life provisions of the Rules.

My family member was a healthcare worker but has sadly passed away from COVID-19. Are there any relevant immigration provisions for me?

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.

Sponsored workers

Our organisation would like to apply for a sponsor licence. Can we still do this and do we need to submit original documents?

Sponsors are being encouraged to apply for sponsor licence, especially as the UK is now out of the UK. Submission sheets and supporting documents are currently being accepted O electronically by the Home Office although some of them must be certified in accordance with the Home Office’s guidelines. Electronic files should meet specific formatting guidelines. Documents must still be signed, although digital signatures are permitted for submission sheets, and they must meet all other requirements for the application. You should note that the Home Office still reserve the right to request original documents and these should be kept on file in case of an audit. If you cannot provide documents electronically, you must contact the Home Office.

Compliance visits are taking place for existing and prospective sponsors and this may be in the form of virtual visits. .. The Home Office may also request further information from prospective sponsors when considering a sponsor licence application.

Our sponsored worker’s visa application has been approved, but they can’t start work on the start date stated on the Certificate of Sponsorship (“CoS”). Can their start date be pushed back?

The current guidance states that sponsored workers can’t have their work start date pushed back by more than 28 days.

Our sponsored workers are working from home. Do we need to notify the Home Office?

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. Should this be a long term arrangement, you may need to consider whether the migrant’s work address must be changed on their CoS. Please contact us if you would like further information.

Our sponsored workers cannot return to work due to COVID-19. Do we need to notify the Home Office?

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:

  • Illness
  • The need to isolate
  • Inability to travel due to travel restrictions

The Home Office has confirmed that they will not take enforcement action against sponsors who continue to sponsor employees despite absences related to coronavirus.

Our sponsored workers will be working at a different NHS site than their usual place of work because of coronavirus. Is this allowed and do we need to notify Home Office?

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.

Our organisation would like to sponsor a new worker under the Skilled Worker visa who is already in the UK. Can we still do this?

You must first consider the individual’s eligibility and ability to switch into the category. It is also possible for employees to start work before their visa application has been decided provided that all three below requirements are met:

  • Sponsors have assigned them a Certificate of Sponsorship (“CoS”) and either;
  • they are applying under the Health and Care visa; or
  • their CoS was assigned before 1 January 2021.
  • The employee submitted their visa application before their current visa expired; and
  • The role they are employed in is the same as the one on their CoS.

This applies to:

  • Skilled Worker visa
  • Health and Care Worker visa
  • Intra-Company Transfer visa
  • T2 Worker visas
  • T5 Temporary Worker visas

In particular, this is good news for organisations who can also continue to recruit during the pandemic.

Sponsors should note that their reporting responsibilities in respect of the employee commences 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.. 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.

Can our sponsored workers take unpaid leave?

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.

Can we furlough our sponsored workers under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“furlough”) has been extended until 30 April 2021 in light of the announcement of a third national lockdown.

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.

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 by 23:59 30 October 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.

Worker and Temporary Worker priority change of circumstance service

Worker and Temporary Worker priority change of circumstance service

As of 5 October 2020, the Home Office have resumed their sponsor priority service under which sponsors can ask for the following requests to be expedited:

  •   additional certificate of sponsorship (CoS) allocation
  •   annual certificate of sponsorship (CoS) allocation
  •   adding a new level 1 user
  •   changing level one user
  •   replacing the authorising officer (AO)
  •   amending the authorising officer (AO)
  •   replacing the key contact (KC)
  •   amending the key contact (KC)
  •   adding a representative
  •   amending your organisation details – moved to new premises.

Provided a sponsor is eligible for use of the service, the first step is to submit the request on the SMS and email the priority service team thereafter with a completed request form. The service is open from 9am to 5:30pm Monday to Friday and any requests made outside these hours will not be considered. The Home Office charge £200 per request for use of this service.

The priority service is popular with sponsors and at present, and The Home Office only accept a maximum of 10 priority service requests each day.

SMS reports

The new immigration system has come into place as of December 2020, and The Home Office have now streamlined some of their processes to make it easier for some sponsors to update their licence details on the Sponsor Management System (SMS).

The changes will allow an organisation’s licence details to be updated as soon as they are reported and removed the need for a sponsor to wait for these requests to be agreed, which can take 18 weeks to be processed and accepted.

What type of changes are affected?

Changes related to an organisation’s address

As of Friday 23 October 2020, any changes submitted by a sponsor to its main organisation and head office address in the SMS will take effect immediately, provided the organisation’s name has not been changed and where one of the following reasons for change has been selected as an option:

– Office / branch closed;
– Downsized business premises;
– Expanded business premises;
– Lease expired;
– Royal Mail Postcode changes;
– Moved to new premises.

Changes to Key Personnel

When submitting key personnel changes by way of ‘Amend your current Authorising Officer’, ‘Amend your current Key Contact’ functions and the ‘Amend user’ button for Level 1 users, the following will take effect immediately:

-work address, where the new address matches the main organisation or the head office address (or, for Key Contacts and Level 1 Users, the address of your appointed legal representative, if applicable);
– phone number;
– email address; –
– National Insurance number;
– position within the organisation;
– immigration status-related fields.

Please be advised that The Home Office will still carry out the necessary checks and sponsors will be required to still send the submission sheet and any required supporting evidence in support of the request within 10 working days of the request being submitted.

Please note that the above may only be applicable to some sponsors and our understanding is that The Home Office is emailing sponsors directly to inform them of the above.

Right to work checks

Do I still need to check people’s right to work under the current crisis?

Yes, you need to check the right to work of any new employee before you employ them and will still need to check that any existing employees with limited leave to remain have the correct permission to work for you and will be seeking to regularise their immigration status before their visa expires.

How do I carry out a right to work check under the current restrictions?

Employers can either:

There are a wide range of other documents that are accepted and we advise you further.

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 introduced a concession under which an applicant can send you a scanned copy/photo of their document to check and you can verify their identity by video call. You will also need to do the full, normal check within eight weeks of the concession ending.  Please see the Home Office guidance for more information.

What if an applicant doesn't have any documents to show the right too work in the UK?

Employers must contact the Employer Checking Service for confirmation that an applicant they still have the right to work. 

Employers should be careful that they  do not discriminate against someone who has the necessary status to work but cannot show documents to prove it.

Are there any other special arrangements for work restrictions under the current crisis?

Those working for the NHS or an independent healthcare provider in certain eligible professions whose visas are expiring between 1 October 2020 and 31 March 2021 should receive one-year visa extensions. Guidance suggests employers of those eligible will tell the Home Office if an employee is eligible. The Home Office has also lifted restrictions on the number of hours a Student (and certain other individuals) can work or volunteer for the NHS in a certain profession.

Global Talent, Innovator or Start-up

I want to apply under Global Talent, Innovator or Start-up but my endorsement has expired. Can I still do so?

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.

I am a researcher working on COVID-19 – are there are any special provisions that apply to me?

The Home Office recently announced a new concession for Global Talent applicants under the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) endorsed funder route, for those working on COVID-19 research. Applicants under the concession will have to meet the full requirements of the route as normal, except that:

  • the letter from the endorsed funder only needs to confirm the grant covers at least a year (not two as is usually required); and
  • the employment contract/hosting agreement only needs at least one year remaining (instead of two) at the time of the application for endorsement.

Applicants endorsed under the concession can switch into this route from any other category of the Rules. In all other respects the Rules remain the same. This concession will apply initially until 31 January 2021, but could be extended. Full details are available on page 16 of the Global Talent guidance.  

Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)

I am currently in the UK under Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) but my business has been disrupted. Are there any concessions that apply to me?

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.

ILR and Citizenship

I am stuck outside of the UK due to COVID-19. Will this affect my ability to apply for indefinite leave to remain or British citizenship?

Whilst the Home Office has the discretion to waive excessive absences in certain ‘serious or compelling’ circumstances, there is currently no specific guidance on whether these will be waived for ILR applications due to COVID-19.

In the case of British citizenship applications, excess absences caused because an applicant was unable to return to the UK due to the global pandemic is now a scenario where discretion may be exercised if the applicant has established their home, employment, family and finances in the UK. 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. 

Appeal listings

I have an upcoming appeal in the First Tier Tribunal (FTT). Will this still go ahead?

Initially all face-to-face hearings in the FTT were suspended but the tribunals have started to reopen on a reduced basis for appeals which require in-person hearings. Other appeals are continuing on a ‘remote’ basis (ie via phone/video call). 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 provide for a remote case management review hearing (CMRH), 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 remote CMRH will then assess how the appeal should proceed and give directions for a full hearing to be organised, either face-to-face, or remotely.

I have an upcoming appeal in the Upper Tribunal (UT). Will this still go ahead?

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.

I want to lodge a new appeal, can I still do so?

New procedures have been put in place for lodging new appeals and different rules apply if you have a representative or if you don’t. More information is available in this practice statement by the President of the First Tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber). It is strongly recommended to seek advice if you want to appeal a decision, but also that you should submit any appeal within relevant time limits.

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 January 18, 2021.

How can we help?