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Update 8: coronavirus advice note on immigration

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On 23 March 2020, the UK government enforced a nationwide lock-down preventing people from leaving their homes unless under certain circumstances.

Many countries had already prevented travellers from the UK from entering, and several had even closed their borders to anyone other than their own citizens. This has created issues for migrants in the UK on time-limited visas where either that visa is expiring or where a new visa needs to be applied for from overseas. Many who had returned home to make applications found themselves first needing to self-isolate for two weeks before submitting a new visa application. 

On 24 March 2020, the Home Office announced the following measures to address these concerns:

  1. Automatic visa extensions: Migrants with visas expiring between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020 can have their visas extended until 31 May 2020 with permission from the Home Office. Migrants will need to contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team, providing their full name, visa reference number and reason for not being able to return i.e. the border is closed or a migrant is self-isolating. The Home Office will then confirm in writing whether or not their visa has been extended. 

  2. Visa switching: Migrants who are in the UK and who need to switch visa category can now do so in the UK where they would normally be required to make the application from their home country. This will be permitted until 31 May 2020. This will apply to visa categories such as Tier 5 (Youth Mobility) or a PBS Dependant switching to Tier 2 (General), and visitors switching to other visa categories, for example.

  3. Visa Application Centre (VAC) closures: Most VACs outside the UK are now either closed until further notice or are offering reduced services. Many who had biometric appointments already booked have had their appointments cancelled with an email that they will be contacted once the centres are open again.

  4. Right to work: In order to check a person’s right to work, his or her identity document must be checked in his or her presence in order to compare the document to the document holder. Under lockdown, an individual due to start work may have to start working remotely initially and so will not be able to present his or her identity document in person. The Home Office right to work guidance also allows for a person’s identity to be confirmed remotely by video-call as long as the employer holds the original document. The online right to work checker can be used for anyone other than a UK or EU national. 

  5. Change of work address: The Home Office has confirmed that sponsors do not need to update the Home Office via the Sponsor Management System (SMS) of a worker’s change of address since many workers are now working from home. Sponsors will need to make sure that they have the sponsored worker’s most up to date home address and contact telephone number and make sure that there is a clear channel of communication between the company and the sponsored worker. 

  6. Other SMS notifications: Other than a change of work address, sponsors will likely have to report other changes to work circumstances, particularly changes to salary or working hours, for example where sponsored workers are on furlough with reduced pay. We will await any notice from the Home Office with regards disruption to the department’s ability to continue processing visas in the UK. Until such time, applications that do not require biometric appointments such as sponsor licence applications do not seem to have been disrupted. However, owing to the closure of centres run by intermediary companies that process biometric data for visa applications, there is severe disruption to visa applications at the present time. 

Further updates

For further information regarding the immigration update, contact our experts below or visit our page dealing with coronavirus.

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