The COVID 19 outbreak was announced as a pandemic by the WHO on 12 March 2020. As self-isolation and travel bans continue to stretch, the Home Office issues an all-inclusive guidance on 24 March for visa holders whose visas have either expired or are just about to expire in coming days. Although this guidance is useful and contains plenty of great information, the ever-evolving nature of the disease has left the immigrants and businesses in an utter state of ambiguity and confusion.
Guidance for UK Visa Holders during Coronavirus Pandemic
Earlier, the Home Office announced that the Chinese residents living in the UK whose visas will expire between 24 January, 2020 and 30 March 2020 will be entitled to get an extension till 31st March, 2020. But, the latest announcement confirms that residents of all countries especially those who’re bound to delay their travel plans due to travel restrictions will be entitled to receive extension till 31st March, 2020. The only difference is that unlike Chinese residents, the visas of other nationalities won’t be automatic and persons looking to get extension must contact concerned authorities to discuss their individual case.
Apart from that, the Home Office also made adjustments for those Chinese nationals who hold ICTs with their visas ending between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020, enabling them to particularly shift their status into Tier 2 from within the country rather than going back to China. The current updates suggest that now all non-UK nationals who’re currently not able to leave the country because of self-quarantine or restrictions can specifically switch their current visa category from within the country. Those who’re looking to switch their current visa category will have to fulfill the similar visa prerequisites and need to pay the same fee. The application process must also be carried out online followed by a biometric appointment at the Home Office.
The current guidelines also validate that no individual living in the UK legally will be considered as an overstayer provided that their visa has already been expired or about to expire or who cannot follow their travel plan due to an ongoing COVID 19 travel bans and restrictions. Also, those who’re not able to attend the biometric appointment will also not be considered as an overstayer.
Guidance for Tier 2 Sponsors
The Home Office has also released guidance on sponsor duties. Since workers are continuously absent or working remotely due to the pandemic, UK businesses having a Tier 2 Sponsor License must take considerable steps to adhere with their associated duties. According to the Home Office,
- Registered workers absences due to the current pandemic do not have to communicated through SMS
- There is no need to withdraw a sponsorship during this crisis if a worker is on leave without pay for 4 weeks or over. Businesses should inform the Home Office if there’s an agreement for sponsored employees to go on leave without pay for one month and more
- The current guidance also states that while workers are required to report change of location within 10 working days through SMS, sponsors are not needed to inform the authorities if a person is working remotely due to a Coronavirus crisis
Impact of Coronavirus on ILR
Generally, applicants must not have more than 180 consecutive absences from the country when they apply for the UK Permanent Residence.
While this is a rigid requirement, the Home Office do offer some flexibilities for compelling reasons. It’s however important to understand that this doesn’t specifically refer to pandemic absence and it is highly suggested to keep the absence ratio as minimum as possible.
Compliant Right to Work
In order to perform compliant RTW checks when hiring a new worker, a company must generally meet the worker in person before they officially join the company and start work. According to the Home Office, during pandemic companies can carry forward RTW checks through video call. Employees can submit scanned copies of their credentials using email or a mobile app.
Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, companies may be able to keep workers on payroll if they’re not able to work during the crisis. Technically, this is called ‘temporary furlough’ in which the UK Government will reduce salaries by paying 80% of the worker’s base salary.
While the Home Office is yet to announce further clarification on this subject, it is expected that Tier 2 employees will be considered as furlough workers.
Impact on the British Citizenship Process
As applicants are currently not able to attend biometric meetings and they would also not be able to attend a Citizenship ceremony which are two integral elements of the British Citizenship process, it is pretty evident that the Home Office won’t be issuing the Certificate of Naturalisation for unspecified period of time.
Make sure you contact your immigration lawyer for further assistance and advice.