It has been just over seven months since the Covid-19 pandemic impacted sponsors and UK visa applications inside and outside the UK. There were some relaxations and concessions introduced from March and these have continued to change as the situation has developed. We have broken down the main concessions to those that are still in place and the ones that have changed.
What has remained the same?
Remote right to work checks continue to be the permitted and we have a detailed explanation of the process. It is essential that retrospective checks are made within eight weeks of the concession ending.
Employees are still able to work remotely from home without this being reported to the Home Office. However, if employees have returned to their home countries to work remotely, we recommend updating this on their Certificate of Sponsorship and being mindful of absences for indefinite leave to remain purposes.
Salary reductions and furloughing continue to be permitted, provided that it is reported and it can be evidenced that the business has taken this step to deal with the impact of the pandemic.
Those that have applied for Tier 2 or 5 visas in the UK and are waiting for a decision can start work prior to a decision being made on their application as long as a valid Certificate of Sponsorship and application form has been submitted online. It is important to note that the work must be the job listed on the Certificate of Sponsorship.
Those applying for entry clearance visas for more than six months will continue to receive 90-day entry vignettes until the end of this year and this will allow greater flexibility on making travel arrangements to the UK.
Absences due to coronavirus do not need to be reported and sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship if absences are beyond four weeks, however, it is very important that there is a clear paper trail and evidence of this.
Areas where there has been some changes
Automatic extensions were initially introduced when the biometric centres were closed and there were restrictions on travelling. This policy changed a few times and the current provision is that anyone that cannot travel outside the UK and has a valid visa status expiring between 1 September 2020 and 31 October 2020 must contact the Home Office under the "exceptional assurance" concession. This allows extra time for individuals to leave the UK beyond the expiry of their visa without becoming an overstayer. Under the current guidance, those with visas that allow work or study in the UK will be able to continue with these activities until their departure from the UK. We strongly advise contacting the Home Office as early as possible with sufficient evidence that you cannot travel outside the UK and obtain their approval prior to the expiry of the visa.
Another area that the policy was amended a few times was the concession for switching visa categories in the UK where you would normally need to submit the application from overseas. There was initially a concession for those with visas expiring by the end of May 2020 and this was later extended to the end of August 2020 but requiring applications to confirm why the individual could not leave the UK. This has now been severely restricted to those with "urgent" cases and, unhelpfully, the Home Office has not defined the scope of urgent cases it will allow. Unless there are exceptional circumstances that can be evidenced, it is now much quicker and safer to submit an application from outside the UK rather than relying on this concession.
In the first few months of lockdown most biometric centres were closed inside and outside the UK. As these slowly started opening, the Home Office began processing the backlog of applications. Temporarily in the UK, the government allowed for some applications to be able to use old biometrics details submitted as part of previous visa applications. This has now stopped and everyone must attend an appointment with the exception of some visa categories. As part of the closures, expedited services were also suspended globally, but, more recently, these services have now been reintroduced outside the UK. We are still waiting to hear when the priority or super priority will return in the UK.
It is inevitable that these policies and concessions will continue to develop and change as we progress further and depending on the coronavirus situation. We recommend you keep in touch to ensure you remain up to date with these changes.