Immigration In The COVID-19 Lockdown In The UK

20 July 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.

The latest position is set out in their employer guidance.

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  • Sponsorship does not need to be withdrawn if Coronavirus causes an employee to be absent from work without pay for more than four weeks.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 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 an application has been made but the decision is outstanding, employers can allow the employees to start work where the CoS was assigned before 19 January 2021, the employee submitted the application before their current visa expired and the role they are employed in is the same as the one on their CoS.

Where employees’ visas are ending:

  • Anyone in the UK, who had leave to remain expiring by 30 June 2021 and could not return home owing to travel restrictions, can apply for an “exceptional assurance” to guard against adverse action or consequences after the leave to remain expired.
  • Anyone who was in the UK, and their visa expired up to 28 February 2021, who could not travel owing to COVID-19 could apply to switch to another category. This includes applications where they would usually need to apply for a visa from their home country.
  • People should be able to make applications and attend appointments because most UK Visa and Citizenship Application Centres have reopened for existing customers.

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

From 1 July 2021, EEA citizens are no longer able to rely on their EEA passport or national ID card and must have an immigration status in the UK. The UK Home Office has also published an updated draft code of practice on preventing illegal working that took effect from 1 July 2021.

Right to Work checks were temporarily adjusted due to Coronavirus (COVID-19). This was to make it easier for employers to carry them out. As of 30 March 2020, the following temporary changes were made and remain in force until 31 August  2021.

  • checks were carried out over video calls
  • job applicants and existing workers could send scanned documents or a photo of documents for checks using email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals
  • employers could use the Employer Checking Service if a prospective or existing employee could not provide any of the accepted documents

However, from 1 September 2021, these changes will revert back to the face-to-face and physical document checks that were in place before the pandemic.

Checks continue to be necessary and you must continue to check the prescribed documents listed in right to work checks: an employer’s guide (most recently updated 2nd July 2021). 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 were not asked to carry out retrospective checks on existing employees who had a COVID-19 adjusted check between 30 March 2020 and 16 May 2021 (inclusive).

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. Having carried out a check-in line with this guidance will provide a defence against the civil penalty.

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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