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COVID-19 and immigration in the retail sector

Gateley Legal

On 23 March 2020 normal life, as we knew it in the UK, changed when the nation went into lockdown.  COVID-19 has impacted all facets of life and all sectors, not least the Retail Sector.  

There are many thousands of non-EU nationals currently working in the Retail Sector, occupying specialist roles. Here, we take a brief look at some of the implications of COVID-19 on immigration in the Retail Sector.

Application of the Job Retention Scheme (Furlough)

The latest updates from the Home Office confirm that employers are able to reduce the salary of sponsored workers to 80% of their salary or £2,500 per month, whichever is lower. Any changes must be part of a company-wide policy to avoid redundancies. The reduction is permitted as a temporary measure and, once the furlough arrangement has come to an end, the salary must return to the rate specified in the Certificate of Sponsorship. As with any changes of circumstances to a migrant’s working conditions, a report must be submitted via the Sponsor Management System to notify the Home Office of any salary change.

Right to Work for new starters and existing workers

A right to work check will usually entail an employer meeting with a new starter or existing employee in person to check their documents. This is unlikely to be possible whilst social distancing measures are in place. The Government’s current guidance requires all employers to continue conducting right to work checks even though a face to face meeting may not be possible. Employers can therefore review scanned copies instead of original documents for now. Once the restrictions are lifted, it is advisable to carry out full checks and review original documents. In relation to existing staff, both those who are at work and those who are furloughed, employers should continue to request proof of a continuing right to work where a visa has expired, or the migrant employees has changed visa category.

Automatic Visa Extensions

Migrants with visas expiring before 31 May 2020 can extend their visas until 31 May 2020 with permission from the Home Office. Migrants will need to contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team at CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk providing their full name, visa reference number and reason for not being able to return overseas, i.e. the border is closed or the migrant is self-isolating. The Home Office will then confirm in writing whether or not their visa has been extended.

Indefinite Leave to Remain

Tier 2 (General) migrants who wish to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK must be able to demonstrate that any absences from the UK do not exceed 180 days in any 12-month period as a general rule. Some exceptions are allowed. Those who are unable to travel back to the UK due to Covid-19 reasons may be able to argue (if necessary) that the lockdown in many countries amounts to an exceptional circumstance at the time of applying for indefinite leave to remain. No formal policy on this issue has been published as yet. Migrants should, in the meantime, keep a careful note of absences from the UK and the reason for these absences.


Our understanding is that despite COVID-19 the Government continues to negotiate a deal with the EU and there is nothing to suggest, at present, that free movement will not end as scheduled on 31 December 2020.  As such, those in the retail sector should be considering their workforce planning strategies to take account of the new Immigration System from 1 January 2021 and make sure existing EU nationals are taking steps to secure their status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

More information

For more information regarding  the implications of COVID-19 on immigration in the retail sector please contact one of our experts listed below.

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