Home Office Immigration Guidance in the COVID-19 Lockdown in the UK

4 February 2021 | Jonathan Martin

The UK’s Home Office are now regularly updating their guidance for immigrants in the UK and those wanting to make applications to come here during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The latest position is set out in their guidance most recently updated on 11 January 2021.


If your employee is absent:

  • UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will not take enforcement action against sponsors who continue to sponsor employees despite absences due to coronavirus and such absences do not need to be reported. This includes absences due to illness, a need to self-isolate or inability to travel owing to restrictions.
  • Sponsorship does not need to be withdrawn if coronavirus causes an employee to be absent from work without pay for more than four weeks.
  • Employers do not need to inform UKVI if their sponsored employees are working from home due to coronavirus.
  • Employers who cannot afford to pay a full salary because they have temporarily reduced or ceased trading can reduce pay in line with government job scheme support schemes. This must be part of a company-wide policy. These reductions must be temporary, and the employee’s pay must return to at least previous levels once these arrangements have ended.


Where a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) has been issued but the sponsored individual has not been able to apply for a visa:

  • The employee will still be able to apply for a visa. The start date for employment stated on the Certificate of Sponsorship may have changed. The Home Office will not automatically refuse such cases. For example, UKVI may accept a CoS if they have become invalid because the employee was unable to travel as a result of coronavirus. The Home Office will consider this on a case by case basis.


Where employees visas are ending:

  • Anyone in the UK who had leave to remain expiring between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 could have requested to have their visa extended until 31 July 2020 if they could not return home owing to travel restrictions and a further grace period was added up to 31 August 2020. Following that it was necessary to apply for an “exceptional assurance” to guard against adverse action or consequences after the leave to remain expired.
  • Anyone currently in the UK can who cannot travel owing to Covid can apply to switch to another category. This includes applications where you would usually need to apply for a visa from your home country. This includes people whose leave to remain ends up to 28 February 2021.
  • If they have made or are making an application and they cannot currently book appointments because application and service and support centres are temporarily closed owing to COVID-19 then people who have made appointments will be contacted and told when they can make new appointments.


People outside the UK

Most UK Visa Application Centres (VACs) are now open but some are still closed. Where this is the case, appointments cannot be made to submit documents for applications. For updates to the status of VACs in any country, contact TLS if they are in Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East or VFS global for all other countries. If employees have already made an appointment applicants will be contacted.


Right to Work Checks

Right to work checks have been temporarily adjusted due to coronavirus (COVID-19). This is to make it easier for employers to carry them out. As of 30 March 2020 the following temporary changes have been made. This guidance has not been further updated:

  • checks can now be carried out over video calls
  • 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
  • employers should use the Employer Checking Service if a prospective or existing employee cannot provide any of the accepted documents

Checks continue to be necessary and you must continue to check the prescribed documents listed in right to work checks: an employer’s guide. It remains an offence to knowingly employ anyone who does not have the right to work in the UK.

Because of COVID-19, some individuals may be unable to evidence their right to work. During this period, you must take extra care to ensure no-one is discriminated against as a job applicant or employee because they are unable to show you their documents.


Conducting a right to work check during the temporary COVID-19 measures

  • Ask the worker to submit a scanned copy or a photo of their original documents via email or using a mobile app
  • Arrange a video call with the worker – ask them to hold up the original documents to the camera and check them against the digital copy of the documents
  • Record the date you made the check and mark it as “adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19”
  • 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 while doing a video call – the applicant must give you permission to view their details
  • If the job applicant or existing worker cannot show their documents you must contact the Home Office Employer Checking Service. If the person has a right to work, the Employer Checking Service will send you a ‘Positive Verification Notice’. This provides you with a statutory excuse for 6 months from the date in the notice.


After the COVID-19 measures end

The Home Office will let you know in advance when these measures will end. After that date, employers should follow the checking process set out in right to work checks: an employer’s guide.

Employers will be asked to carry out retrospective checks on existing employees who:

  • started working for you during these measures
  • required a follow-up right to work check during these measures

Employers should mark this check: “the individual’s contract commenced on [insert date]. The prescribed right to work check was undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19.”

The retrospective check must be carried out within 8 weeks of the COVID-19 measures ending. Both checks should be kept for your records.

The Home Office will not take any enforcement action against employers if they carried out the adjusted check set out in this guidance, or a check via the Home Office, and follow this up with the retrospective check.

If, at the point of carrying out the retrospective check, you find your employee does not have permission to be in the UK you must end their employment.

If the check you have undertaken during the adjusted period was done in the prescribed manner, you do not need to undertake a retrospective check.


Get in touch for further support and advice

If you have any queries on how these changes will impact your business, contact our team.

The author

Jonathan Martin
Senior Consultant
Business Immigration
Global Mobility
D: +44 (0) 207 036 8397
T: +44 (0) 203 051 5711
F: +44 (0) 203 051 5712

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