The global pandemic has brought about significant changes to how companies and government agencies operate – and the UK Visas and Immigration has been no exception. With numerous changes and concessions for visa applications made in the UK and around the world, businesses that changed working practices during the pandemic need to review their actions and ensure compliance.
The global pandemic brought about significant changes to how companies and government agencies operated – and the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) was no exception.
In light of the pandemic, the UKVI made numerous changes and incorporated various concessions for visa applications made in the UK and around the world, most of which could be considered more reactive than proactive. These included:
- Closure of many overseas visa application centres.
- Cancellation of appointments overseas and in the UK.
- Amended Right to Work checks.
- Incorporating furlough reporting.
- Allowing short-term visa holders in the UK to switch to a long-term category (including when the individual usually would have had to return to their home country)
- Allowing those making a change of employer application to start working before their visa was decided (provided certain requirements were met)
- Accepting digitally submitted sponsor licence applications
As the country slowly eases out of lockdown, the UKVI will also ease out of and withdraw the concessions it made. As concessions end, it is important to be aware of the following:
- For those companies who furloughed sponsored workers, an updated report to the UKVI will need to be done to confirm furlough has ended and the sponsored worker is back at work "as normal".
- Short-term visa holders will no longer be able to switch to other visa types in the UK, as of 31 July 2020.
- Those with visas that were extended until 31 July 2020 (because they were unable to get home) will have a "grace period" until the end of August 2020 to leave the UK.
Currently the following remain in place:
- Digitally submitted sponsor-licence applications
- Allowing change of employer applications to start working for their new employer before their visa is decided (provided they meet certain criteria).
- Amended Right-to-Work checks currently remain in place but will eventually come to an end. The UKVI will announce the end date for amended checks and all employers who used the amended checks will need to carry out (within 8 weeks) updated checks on the respective employees. This check will need to be carefully documented along with the original amended check on an employee's HR file to ensure a statutory defence is established.
There are a number of actions that businesses need to take – and promptly – when returning to work, including:
- Compliance with sponsor management system reporting requirements for any: staff returning from furlough, applicable redundancies, changes to salary and places of work (if not from home), other working arrangements, or delayed start dates.
- Ensuring audit trails are robust and thorough (especially as we expect an increase compliance checks)
- "Normal" Right to Work checks undertaken as soon as possible
In summary, if you made any changes to your working practices other than simply staff working from home during the worst of the pandemic, we strongly recommend you speak to one of our experts to review the specific actions required for your business. Failure to follow the requirements can have significant consequences, and, given the confusion and rapidly changing environment, it is now more important than ever to ensure compliance.