As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to cause disruption for UK visa holders and 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.

See below the FAQs we’ve seen from clients:

Applying for a UK visa outside the UK

Before you travel to England:

Unless any relevant concessions apply, if you are travelling to England you will need to complete the Passenger Locator Form in the 48 hours before your arrival.

If you are considered as fully vaccinated, you must currently pre-book a lateral flow or PCR test to be taken in England before the end of Day 2 after you arrive. However, from 4am on 11 February, this will no longer be required and you will not need to take any Covid-19 test after you arrive in England.

If you are not fully vaccinated, you must take a Covid-19 test in the two days before you depart for England and pre-book a PCR test to be taken in England on Days 2 and 8 after you arrive and quarantine for the first 10 days. From 4am on 11 February, you will no longer need to book and take your Day 8 test or quarantine at the place you are staying but you must still take the Pre-departure Covid-19 test and pre-book and take a Covid-19 test on or before Day 2 after you arrive.

All passengers will need to carry the Passenger Locator Form and evidence of your booked test with you when you travel.

Depending on where you are arriving from, you may need to book a 10-day stay in a managed quarantine hotel for when you arrive in England before you travel. Please see below for more details.

When you arrive in England:

The UK government’s traffic light system means that, if you are travelling to England you will need to follow certain quarantine rules depending on where you arrived from, unless any relevant concessions apply. These rules must be followed even if you are fully vaccinated. Please note that you can only arrive in England at certain airports.

If you have travelled from or through a government ‘red list’ country in the 10 days before you arrive in England, you will not be able to enter unless you have a relevant exemption, are a British or Irish national, or have residency rights in the UK.

We understand a residency right to be those who have: Indefinite Leave to Remain; Leave to Remain under, for example, a Skilled Worker or Student visa; and all those who have pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

If you are in this ‘red list’ category, you will have to stay in a government designated hotel for a 10-day quarantine period, which should be booked before arriving in England. The charge for a single adult will be £2,285. Two Covid-19 tests (to be taken on day 2 and day 8) are included in the booking. More information can be found here.

Fines, checks and enforcement action will all be scaled up as part of this process. The government has announced that those attempting to conceal that they have travelled in a ‘red list’ country on their passenger locator form could face £10,000 fine or up to 10 years in prison. If you have not arranged a quarantine package before arriving in England, you can be fined up to £4,000 and will still have to pay for it in addition on your arrival.

If you arrive from a ‘green list’ country, it will depend if you are fully vaccinated or not. Please refer to our guidelines in ‘Before you travel to England’ for further information. 

For more information on the travel restrictions, please click here.

Can I apply for a UK visa at the moment?

Visa applications can be submitted online and many visa application centres around the world have reopened, though local restrictions may still apply. You should check the website of the visa application centre (VAC) you want to attend for details of which centres are open and what restrictions are in place in light of Covid-19. Centres are run by TLS in Europe, Africa and some countries in the Middle East and by VFS everywhere else.

As some visa centre operations are still affected by Covid-19, the Home Office has issued guidance confirming that, up until 31 March 2022, you may attend a visa centre in another country if the centres in your country are closed due to Covid-19. You will need to check travel restrictions and entry requirements before booking an appointment at a visa centre in a different country.

Priority and super priority services have resumed in some countries. You should check with your visa application centre 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.

Home Office guidance states that as visa application centres (VACs) re-open they will prioritise returning customer passports. If the VAC where you applied remains closed, they will not be able to return your passport. 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.

You can travel to the UK with a valid visa but please see ‘Can I Travel to the UK?’ above for information on Covid-19 restrictions for arrivals to the UK.

If you received a 90-day vignette which has now expired, you can request a replacement. The cost of a replacement is £154 and you will need to re-enrol your biometric information at a visa application centre (VAC). You should apply via this form.

You should follow the process to request a replacement vignette if you are a student whose 90 day visa vignette has expired and you either:

  • Have been unable to travel due to Covid-19, but have been undertaking your studies remotely from overseas and intend to travel to study the same course in the UK; or
  • Have completed an eligible course by distance learning under coronavirus concessions and are coming to the UK by the relevant date to apply under the Graduate route.

Your VAC may be able to directly re-submit your passport and provide you with the amended endorsement.  We recommend getting in touch with your VAC to see if they arrange this.

Alternatively, you will need to submit a new paid student visa application with a new Certificate of Acceptance of Study to cover the revised dates of your course, and attend a new biometrics appointment, if you are a student whose 90 day visa vignette has expired and you either:

  • Have deferred your course start date due to Covid-19 but have not been able to undertake your studies remotely and thus could not complete them during your existing visa period, and you now intend to travel to the UK; or
  • Can still complete your course within the dates covered by your existing visa period, but your course end date has changed, and you would like a new visa with a revised end date.

If you have already entered the UK outside of the 30 or 90 day window allowed by your Entry Clearance vignette due to Covid-19 impacts, and your Entry Clearance was not activated as a result, you can apply to remain in the UK without having to return overseas or reapply. You will need to email [email protected] with the following details:

  • a photo of yourself
  • a photo of your Entry Clearance vignette and passport biodata page
  • a photo of the Entry stamp in your passport
  • details of how your travel was impacted by Covid-19 regulations
  • residential address where an updated Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) can be returned

An updated BRP will then be sent to you with updated conditions to match your Entry Clearance.

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. You can see a list of approved testing centres in the UK and abroad here.

For Student Route applicants it may be possible for sponsors to assess your English language ability and confirm this on the Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS).  You should discuss this with your course provider.

For some applications made on the basis of family or private life, it may be possible to apply for an exemption to the English language requirement.

Applying to the Home Office in the UK

You are expected to take all reasonable steps to leave the UK where it is possible to do so or apply to regularise your stay in the UK. If you are unable to leave the UK and your visa or leave expires before 31 March 2022, you can request additional time to stay, known as ‘exceptional assurance’. This is for those who are in the UK as their country of residence’s borders are closed or red-listed or there are exceptional circumstances, including where quarantine facilities are overbooked.

You should email [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” and you should attach evidence to show why you cannot leave the UK (e.g. cancelled flights, travel restrictions, confirmation of a positive Covid-19 test, etc.)

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.

‘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 your original visa.

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.

If you are in the UK with existing leave and had been planning to make an application to extend this, you should do so as normal before your current leave expires, so long as you are eligible to extend your stay by applying from within the UK.

If you intend to leave the UK or return to a country or territory but have not been able to do so and you have visa, leave or ‘exceptional assurance’ that expires before 31 March 2022 you may request additional time to stay, known as ‘exceptional assurance.’

If you have applied under the Health and Care Worker visa, you can start work before your application is decided if:

  • you have been assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS);
  • you are applying under the Health and Care visa;
  • 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. You will have to regularise your status under another route or leave the UK if this happens.

If 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.

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 start date is on or before 30 June 2021;
  • 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.

You are able to apply for permission to stay in the UK if you already hold permission in a route that would normally permit it. To do so, you will need to meet that route’s requirements and pay the application fee.

While waiting for your application to be decided, the terms of your current permission will stay the same. Therefore, depending on the terms of your current permission, if you are moving to a work or study route then it is possible you can start to work or study while your application is under consideration.

You can also apply for permission to stay to remain in the UK if you have previously been issued with an ‘exceptional assurance’ but you must submit your application before the ‘exceptional assurance’ expiry date.

You will not be able to apply for a route where there is no provision in the Immigration Rules for making an application within the UK, such as T5 Youth Mobility Scheme or Adult Dependant Relative.

If you are not permitted to apply from within the UK to extend your stay due to your visa type (for example, if you are a T5 Temporary Worker or a Visitor) and you wish to stay longer in the UK, you should take reasonable steps to leave the UK to make a new visa application.

If your visa or leave expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 August 2020 there will be no future adverse immigration consequences if you didn’t make an application to regularise your stay during this period. However, if you have not applied to regularise your stay or submitted a request for an exceptional assurance you must make arrangements to leave the UK.

Most UK visa application centres (VACs) have resumed services where local restrictions allow. However, Priority and Super Priority services are only available for some applications. If available, you’ll be able to purchase these services when booking your appointment.

See here for a list of applications that have Priority and Super Priority services available if you are making your application from within the UK.

You should take the Life in the UK and English language test before making your application. Many Life in the UK and English language test centres have re-opened, though restrictions may be in place. You can book the Life in the UK test here and see which English language test centres are open in the UK and outside the UK here.

If you cannot satisfy the English language requirement and there are exceptional circumstances that suggest a refusal would have unjustifiably harsh consequences on you, you still may be able to obtain entry clearance to the UK but it may affect the time it takes you to obtain settlement in the UK.

There is also a discretion to waive the life in UK and English language test if due a person’s physical or mental condition, it would be unreasonable for them to meet it but this is up to the caseworker’s discretion.

If you work in an eligible profession for the NHS or an independent health and care provider, you can work at any NHS hospital during the coronavirus outbreak provided 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 if you work for the NHS as a doctor, nurse or paramedic, and are a:

•           Student;

•           Skilled Worker and the NHS job is a second job;

•           Visiting academic researcher; or

•           Holder of a short-term visa and are permitted to volunteer.

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 seeking legal advice. 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.

You may be eligible for a full or partial refund on Immigration Health Surcharge payments depending on your role and when you made the payments.

If you have a tier 2 visa and work in a job “in the medical profession”:

You should automatically receive a full refund on payments made on or after 31 March 2020. For payments made before 31 March 2020, you will get a partial refund, covering any period of 6 months from the date the payment was made.

If you fit this criteria but haven’t received a refund, you should email the Home Office at [email protected] with the following details:

  • your name
  • your sponsor’s name
  • your Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) number
  • your IHS number
  • the date you paid the IHS

A list of jobs “in the medical profession” can be found here.

If you don’t have a tier 2 visa or you don’t work in a job “in the medical profession”

You may be eligible for a partial refund for payments made on or after 31 March 2020, covering any period of 6 months from the date the payment was made. You will first need to check Annex A to see whether you work for an eligible organisation. You will also need to have worked in your role for at least 6 months for an average of at least 16 hours a week. To claim the refund, you will need to make an application online. You must submit an application for every 6-month period you are claiming a refund on. You will not be eligible if you were unemployed or had unpaid leave for more than 28 days in the 6-month period before you submit your application.

Sponsored Workers

Sponsors are being encouraged to apply for sponsor licence, especially as the UK has now left the EU. Submission sheets and supporting documents are currently being accepted 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 reserves 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.

The current guidance states that sponsored workers can’t have their work start date pushed back by more than 28 days. The only exception to this rule is if the sponsored worker is required to carry out a contractual notice period with their previous employer (if allowed under their conditions of stay). If a start date is delayed by more than 28 days and the exception doesn’t apply, the sponsor must stop sponsoring the worker and inform the UKVI via the Sponsor Management System. 

No, provided they are working from home due to Covid-19. However, other changes must still be reported as usual. Should this become a long term arrangement, you may need to consider whether the migrant’s work address should be changed on their CoS. Please contact us if you would like further information.

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.

The Home Office guidance has been updated to state that individuals for the NHS 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.

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 19 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

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.

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.

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 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 Sponsor Management System 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 60 priority service requests each day.

The new immigration system has come into place as of 1 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?

Change submitted by a sponsor to its main organisation and head office address in the Sponsor Management System 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

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.

Employers can either:

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

Under normal circumstances you are required to have the physical evidence of their right to work in your possession (such as their passport or visa). In light of the pandemic and the government’s roadmap to recovery, the Home Office have introduced a temporary scheme under which:

  • Checks can be carried out over video calls where the worker holds up the original document to the camera and it is checked against the digital copy;
  • Job applicants and existing workers can send scanned documents or a photo of documents for checks using email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals; and
  • Employers should use the Employer Checking Service if a prospective or existing employee cannot provide any of the accepted documents.

This scheme has been in place since 30 March 2020 and will be available to use up to and including 5 April 2022. From 6 April 2022, Biometric Resident Card, Biometric Residence Permit and Frontier Worker permit holders must all have their right to work checks carried out online.

If the worker has a current Biometric Residence Permit or Biometric Residence Card or status under the EU Settlement Scheme you can use the online right to work checking service. The applicant must give you permission to view their details.

When the temporary scheme comes to an end, the Home Office have announced employers will no longer be expected to retrospectively carry out right to work checks in the usual way.

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

Employers must contact the Employer Checking Service for confirmation that an applicant still has 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.

Global Talent, Innovator or Start-up

If you are applying under the Global Talent route, Home Office guidance states that you may still be eligible for a visa if you had an endorsement from an endorsing body but you’ve not been able to make an application (for example, because you could not travel or other Covid-19 related reasons) within the 3-month period.

You will need to provide reasons as to why you could not make the application within the 3-month deadline and these applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis by the Home Office.

If you are applying under the Innovator or Start-up route, you may still be eligible for a visa if your endorsement has expired before you could travel to the UK. The Home Office will assess these applications on a case-by-case basis also.

Tier 1 Entrepreneur

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, but this must be equivalent to 2 full time jobs.

Time when employees are furloughed will count towards the 12 month period if they have been paid 80% of their normal salary.

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 for a further 2 years, if you can show:

  • You’ve created at least 2 jobs by the date you apply;
  • You’ve been unable to employ staff for 12 months due to coronavirus.

ILR and Citizenship

Your Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK (ILR) or Indefinite Leave to Enter the UK (ILE) will lapse if you are absent from the UK for over 2 years.

If your ILR/ILE lapsed on or after 24 January 2020, and you’ve been unable to return to the UK due to travel restrictions in place relating to coronavirus, you may apply under the Returning Resident visa route to return to the UK and get indefinite leave.

You need to complete the online Returning Resident application form and pay the fee. As part of your application, you’ll need to explain how coronavirus restrictions prevented your return to the UK.

You’ll receive a refund of the application fee and, where applicable, a refund of £55 if you submitted your application at a Mandatory User Pay Visa Application Centre. Confirmation of your refund will be sent to you by email once we’ve made a decision on your application.

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

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.

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.

New procedures have been put in place for lodging new appeals and different rules apply if you have a representative and 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.