This is a fast-moving time, and unfortunately the Home Office so far is struggling to keep up with the practical impacts of the coronavirus lockdowns taking place around the world - including in the UK. For this reason, it is simply the case that not all situations are currently catered for in terms of new procedures from the Home Office and for those circumstances we remain hopeful of receiving further updates from the Home Office in due course.
However, we set out here some of the recent changes:
-UK visa centres (for extension/switching cases) are now closed. Applicants with existing appointments will have their appointment automatically rescheduled for 6 weeks from the original date. If the new date is not convenient, it will be possible to reschedule in the usual way.
-Migrants whose visa is coming up for renewal can still submit their application online, but will be unable to book an appointment until the centres reopen.
-Migrants with visas that expire before 31 May 2020 will be given an extension of their existing visa until 31 May 2020. This is not automatic, and it is necessary to contact the Home Office to obtain the extension. This avoids the need for migrants to have to leave the UK during these difficult times.
-Similarly, migrants with visas expiring before 31 May 2020 may instead choose to apply to switch to a different visa category (e.g. from Tier 5 Youth Mobility to Tier 2 (General), etc.). Although it will not be possible to attend a UK visa centre appointment to complete the process, the application can still be submitted online so that you can take advantage of this unique opportunity to switch visas in-country even where usually that may have only been possible as an Entry Clearance application.
-Sponsors do not have to report if their employees are absent related to coronavirus - which can include illness, isolating or an inability to travel due to travel restrictions.
-Sponsors do not need to report if their employees are absent from work without pay for more than 4 weeks and do not have to withdraw sponsorship. This in effect also means that Sponsors are able to use the government’s Furlough Leave (job retention) scheme to claim back up to 80% of wage costs for migrant workers who are on a PAYE scheme.
-Sponsors do not have to report if migrants are working from home due to coronavirus.
-Right to Work checks requirements have been amended temporarily - checks can now be made through video calls, and workers can send scanned documents (or a photo of a document) instead of originals. Note that when these special measures end, you will need to conduct a retrospective check on the migrant in the usual way. In any event, if a migrant has a BRP card, you should use the online service; and if a migrant cannot show you any documents you should use the existing Employer Checking Service.
-Submission Sheets produced following a change of circumstances notification on the Sponsorship Management System can now use an electronic signature instead of original, and the Home Office will accept electronic documents instead of originals (to avoid the need for people to visit Post Offices). The Home Office retains the discretion to be able to request the original documents at a later date.
We will of course aim to keep you updated, but please always take specific legal advice at the time you need to take action, because rules and procedures are changing very frequently.
For any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact one of our team.