As lockdown continues, the Home Office has made a number of changes to its COVID-19 guidance.
There is an unwelcome change to the concession that allowed applicants for Tier 2 General/Skilled Worker visas to start work whilst their application was still pending. This concession now only applies to those applying for a Health and Social Care visa, or whose Certificate of Sponsorship was assigned before 1 January 2021. This means we are back to a position where most applicants will need to wait for their biometric appointment and then a decision on their application before they can start their new job.
Biometric enrolment is considered an essential service and centres remain open during the current lockdown. However it is generally taking 28 days to get an appointment. Individuals who are shielding and are unable to attend an enrolment centre should contact Sopra Steria, who run the centres, for further guidance.
We understand some priority visa application services have recently resumed, but it is inconsistent and remains to be seen how long these will be available. The position can really only be confirmed at the point when the visa application is being submitted.
Most of the other amendments extend existing concessions to a later date.
For example regarding minimum income requirements in family applications, where a loss of income has occurred due to coronavirus, UKVI will consider prior income when assessing the minimum income requirement. Furlough payments will be considered as if 100% of the salary is being paid. These concessions now apply to periods up to 1 January 2021.
Applications involving Tier 1 Entrepreneurs and Start-up visa holders whose business has been disrupted by lockdowns and the furlough of staff will be allowed to extend their visas to allow additional time to meet agreed staffing/development plans. This is welcome news for those who have struggled during the latest lockdowns. However this is a complex area of immigration law and we suggest that individuals in these categories consider taking professional advice during this period.
Those who work in healthcare whose visas expire between 1 October 2020 and 31 March 2021 continue to be eligible for a free extension to their visas. This does not apply to those changing employer.
The Exceptional Assurance Scheme has been further extended so that individuals whose visas will expire between 1 January 2021 and 28 February 2021 may request additional time to remain in the UK, known as ‘exceptional assurance’ in cases where they are unable to leave the UK due to local and national restrictions. Applications must be made by email to the Coronavirus Immigration Help Assurance Team at [email protected].
The Government has launched a Covid Visa Concession Scheme to help migrants who left the UK and found their leave expired before they could return. Unfortunately, this only applies to those who left the UK with valid leave before 17 March 2020 and who were unable to return before leave expired, due to travel restrictions caused by the pandemic. It does not apply at all to visit visas.
The cut-off date has been set on the basis that from 17 March 2020 the Foreign Office was advising against international travel. Those who left after this, will only be considered for the scheme in “exceptional circumstances”, for example serious illness or death of a close relative overseas, or travel for the purpose of receiving medical treatment.
Potential applicants are advised to contact the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre in the first instance. They will be told to complete a SMART form online. There is no requirement to attend a biometric appointment.
If you have already applied for entry clearance under the Immigration Rules to allow you to return to the UK, this can be amended so you get leave outside the rules for three months, subject to the same conditions as your previous grant of leave. There are concerns that many visa types do not allow you to switch in the UK from leave outside the rules, but the Home Office says caseworkers will be told to apply the spirit of the concession scheme. This is not entirely satisfactory and it remains to see how this will work in practice.
Once confirmation is granted, the individual will have 21 days to travel to the UK. They will have entry clearance valid for three months, during which time they will need to apply in the UK for further or indefinite leave to remain as appropriate.
We were concerned that individuals would still face problems applying for indefinite leave to remain, because of COVID-19 related absences taking them over the maximum of 180 days in a 12-month period.
Continuous Residence in the Immigration Rules has now been amended to say that absences caused by travel disruption due to pandemic will not be counted towards that limit.
These articles are from the January 2021 issue of Employment and Immigration Law Update, our monthly newsletter for HR professionals. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. For further information please contact a member of Birketts’ Immigration Team.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at January 2021.