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Coronavirus and immigration FAQs for individuals

These Coronavirus related immigration questions are for employees.  There are 2 sections; one covering Tier 2 (general) visa enquiries and one covering general immigration queries relating to employees.

Tier 2 (general) visa enquiries

In this section, we answer questions on Tier 2 (general visa) enquiries that we have received as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak.

I am in the UK on a Tier 2 (General) visa as a nurse and my visa expires in August. There is a great need for NHS staff at the moment so is there any option for me to extend my visa to stay longer and help out? 

Yes. The Home Office announced on 31 March 2020 that doctors, nurses and paramedics who are employed by the NHS (and their dependents) and whose leave expires before 1 October 2020 have been granted an automatic one-year extension to their leave. This has now been extended to other frontline workers, including midwives, radiographers, social workers and pharmacists, who have visas due to expire before 1 October 2020. This applies to those working both in the NHS and in the independent sector on any type of visa and includes their family members.

There will be no fee for this extension and it will be exempt from the Immigration Health Surcharge. It will be an automatic extension with no need to make an application. However, recent guidance from the Home Office confirms they will be asking individual NHS trusts to tell them who is eligible within their trust (and confirm they want to continue to employ these individuals) so if you are in this position we recommend you speak to your HR representative about it.  

The Home Secretary has also confirmed that family members and dependants of healthcare workers who sadly pass away as a result of contracting the virus will be offered immediate indefinite leave to remain without a requirement to pay a fee.

Furthermore, normally student nurses and doctors are restricted on the numbers of hours they can work during term time under their visa requirements. However, the Home Office has announced that it has lifted this restriction for those working in the NHS to help with the Coronavirus pandemic.

I’m on a Tier 2 (General) visa and my employer wants to place me on unpaid leave because of the Coronavirus situation. I thought I couldn’t take a lot of unpaid leave without it affecting my visa. Is this true? 

Normally this would be true. The normal rule is that a Tier 2 sponsored worker can’t take more than four weeks of cumulative unpaid leave per calendar year, according to their normal working pattern, otherwise their sponsor has to withdraw sponsorship.

However, as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic the Home Office has made an exception. You can take authorised unpaid absence from your job if it is due to the Coronavirus and your employer won’t face compliance action or be required to withdraw sponsorship. You should ensure that you keep careful records of any unpaid leave you take and ask your employer to make it clear in any written correspondence that the leave is due to the Coronavirus.

I’m on a Tier 2 (General) visa and my employer wants to reduce my salary because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Can they do this without it affecting my sponsorship?

Yes. In an update to the guidance on 3 April 2020, the Home Office has stated that employers can temporarily cut the pay of sponsored employees to 80% of salary or £2,500 a month (whichever is lower). Although this is not specifically stated, the implication is that if your salary drops below the minimum salary required (either £30,000 or the minimum required under your SOC code), sponsorship will not have to be withdrawn as it usually would be.

However, this will only apply if the reduction in pay is part of a company-wide policy to avoid redundancies and all workers are treated the same. The reduction must also be temporary and your salary must return to normal, or higher, once the arrangements have ended. This updated guidance suggests that your employer could reduce your salary in line with the furlough scheme without this affecting your visa.

I’m on a Tier 2 (General) visa and my employer has asked me if I would change my role to cover different tasks during the Coronavirus pandemic. Will this affect my sponsorship?

It may, depending on exactly what changes your employer wants to make. If they want to ask you to carry out different duties to those listed on your Certificate of Sponsorship, then this might not be possible. To be able to change your role and duties, your employer would need to make an application for a change of employment and, if the role requires it, they would also need to carry out a resident labour market test.

However, where your new duties still fall within your sponsored SOC code then this would be permitted and a new application would not be required.

I’m on a Tier 2 (General) visa. Can my employer furlough me? 

The Home Office has not given specific guidance on how the furlough scheme may apply to those on Tier 2 (General) visas. However, foreign nationals are eligible to be furloughed.

An employer can put an employee on furlough leave (usually as an alternative to redundancy) and then reclaim 80% of their wage costs (up to a maximum of £2,500) from the government under the scheme. Employees on furlough leave can do no work for the employer but they remain employees throughout this time.

As stated above, in an update to the guidance on 3 April 2020, the Home Office has stated that employers can temporarily cut the pay of sponsored employees to 80% of salary or £2,500 a month (whichever is lower). However, there are ambiguities in the Home Office guidance around how the furlough scheme relates to the Tier 2 requirements and we await further clarification on this issue.
The fact that the government are paying for the scheme has raised a question as to whether the payments under the scheme are “public funds”. Tier 2 (General) sponsored workers and their dependents are prohibited from having recourse to public funds. However, the furlough scheme makes payments directly to the employer. Therefore, as an employee you would still be paid by your employer and the Home Office has confirmed that this will not count as public funds.

The government has announced that those whose pay is affected by the current Coronavirus pandemic may be able to apply for benefits to cover any shortfall. I’m on a Tier 2 (General) visa, does this apply to me too? 

No. As a Tier 2 (General) visa holder you are not entitled to use “public funds” in the UK. This applies to your dependents too. If you do make an application you will be in breach of your immigration conditions. Your permission to be in the UK on your current visa could be cancelled and any future applications you make could be refused. 

I’m on a Tier 2 (General) visa and my employer has furloughed me. Can I take on another temporary role or volunteer with the extra time I have on my hands? 

Yes, you can carry out voluntary work as long as it is not for your employer.

You can also carry out supplementary work as long as you keep to the limits imposed by both the furlough scheme and your Certificate of Sponsorship. If you want to do extra work it must be in a shortage occupation or in the same role and at the same level as the role you are being sponsored to do. You can’t work for more than 20 extra hours a week and you can’t work during the same hours that you normally work for your employer. Those hours are listed on your Certificate of Sponsorship.

I’m on a Tier 2 (General) visa. Can my employer fire me because of the Coronavirus pandemic? 

Unfortunately, yes. Normal employment rules continue to apply during the COVID-19 pandemic and your employer might consider ending your employment or making you redundant if they don’t have enough work for you.

If your employer does want to end your employment they will have to notify the Home Office through the sponsorship management system within 10 working days of your last day of employment. This will normally start the visa curtailment process and you will receive a letter from the Home Office giving you 60 calendar days to leave the UK, unless you can find a new sponsored role or are able to make an application to stay in the UK under a different category. This will also apply to any dependents who are in the UK with you.

It will also start a 12-month “cooling-off period” once you have left the UK which means that you cannot make a fresh application for a Tier 2 (General) visa until that “cooling-off period” had ended. There are exceptions to this but they are limited.

Where can I get advice on the implications of the Coronavirus pandemic on my Tier 2 (General visa)? 

You can get advice on your specific situation from one of our specialist immigration advisers. If you’d like to arrange a fixed fee appointment please contact our Immigration Team who will be happy to help.

Alternatively, the Government has set up a Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre. You can email them at CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk. Your email must be in English and they will reply within 5 working days. You can also call them free of charge on 0800 678 1767, Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. They are asking people to either phone or email but not to do both.

General immigration FAQs for individuals

This section answers all other general immigration questions we have received.

My leave is due to expire soon but I can’t leave the UK to make a fresh application. What can I do? 

The UK Government has confirmed that if you are in the UK on a visa that will expire between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 and you cannot leave the UK because of the current travel restrictions or self-isolation related to Coronavirus, your visa will be extended until 31 July 2020. 

The guidance issued by the Home Office states that, in this situation, you won’t be regarded as an overstayer or suffer any detriment in the future. However, you must fill in a Home Office form to benefit from this concession. The form can be found at COVID-19 UK Visas & Immigration form – visa extension to 31 July 2020. If you have already submitted a form and had your visa extended to 31 May 2020, your visa will be extended automatically to 31 July 2020. There is no need to resubmit this form. You should receive a notification from the Coronavirus Immigration Team that your request has been received and then subsequently that your visa has been extended. If you need a status letter confirming the extension or a new BRP with the revised expiry date you can request this from the Coronavirus Immigration Team as well, otherwise you will not get any other documents. We recommend that you take a screenshot of the completed form before submitting it, for your own records.

The Home Office guidance is not legally binding though and it does not change the legislation governing immigration applications. This scheme is only intended to be used by those on short term visas who cannot leave the UK by the date their visa expires due to COVID-19 and who would otherwise be an overstayer which would be recorded on their immigration record. The Home Office has made it clear that those people currently in the UK on a temporary visa, such as a visitor visa, should return home as soon possible. Therefore, if there are flights returning to your home country and you are not unwell and you are therefore able to travel, you are still expected to return home.

If you have leave to be in the UK and were planning on applying to extend that leave during this period you must still follow the relevant process for your visa application and apply online for the visa extension as normal. 

I was due to apply to extend my visa to stay in the UK long term but I can’t leave the UK to make this application. What can I do?

The government has confirmed that even if normally you would have to leave the UK to make an application, at the moment you will be able to apply from within the UK to switch (i.e. change your visa) instead if you can’t return home due to travel restrictions or self-isolation. You can apply from the UK to switch to a long-term UK visa until 31 July 2020 if your leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020. You will have to meet the same visa requirements and pay the UK application fee. This also applies to people whose leave has already been extended to 31 July 2020.

Unfortunately, the option to attend an appointment in person isn’t currently available as most of the relevant centres are closed (although these are gradually re-opening). However, the application can be made online and then you can attend a biometrics appointment when they become available. The terms of your leave will remain the same until your application is decided.

I made an application for leave to remain in the UK before the current social-distancing measures were put in place and I had an appointment scheduled to provide my documents. Will my appointment still take place? 

Most of the Visa Application Centres (VACs) in the UK and abroad are currently closed and any appointments that had been scheduled were postponed. However, some UK Visa and Citizenship Application Centres (UKVCAS) have reopened for existing customers from 1 June 2020 (including the one in Southampton).

Unfortunately, if you did not have an existing appointment prior to the suspension of the service, you will not be able to book an appointment yet. However, if you had an existing appointment which was postponed then you should be receiving an email explaining the next steps you need to take to rebook your appointment at one of the UKVCAS which has reopened. Read more information on the re-opening of Visa Application Centres.

Your immigration status should not be negatively affected if you can’t attend an appointment. In addition, due to the ongoing closures, the Home Office has removed their normal requirement for applicants to attend a biometric appointment within 45 days.

Is it possible to apply for a UK visa at the moment?

Depending on the application you want to make it may still be possible to make your application.

The Home Office is still accepting applications. However, the process of providing your supporting information may be more complicated as the Visa Application Centres are closed and so documents cannot currently be provided in person. You should be able to upload the documents online instead.

What do I do if I have been issued with a 30-day visa and can’t travel to the UK before it expires?

The Home Office has confirmed that if your 30 day visa to travel to the UK for work, study or to join family has expired, or is about to expire, you can request a replacement visa with revised validity dates free of charge until the end of this year.

To make a request, you need to contact the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre by email. You’ll need to include your name, nationality, date of birth and your GWF reference number with ‘REPLACEMENT 30 DAY VISA’ in the subject line. If you have already contacted the Home Office about this, you should let them know in your email.

You will then be contacted when the Visa Application Centres reopen to arrange for a replacement visa to be endorsed in your passport. You will not be penalised for being unable collect your BRP while coronavirus measures are in place. The Home Office has confirmed that this process will be in place until the end of 2020.

I have heard that there are several changes to the immigration rules. Does this only affect the time frames and the process for making an application or have the qualifying requirements changed too? 

Unless there has been specific guidance issued about the application you are making, the immigration rules continue to apply as normal. The changes announced by the government have been to extend the time frames and how you can provide documents, but only in certain circumstances. They don’t change the requirements you have to meet to be granted a visa. Subject to the application you are making, this may mean verifying an overseas degree, passing a valid UKVI-approved English language test or passing the Life in the UK test.

However, we understand that some providers of the English language test and the Life in the UK test have temporarily suspended their services and there may be delays in receiving the results for tests that have already been taken.

We recommend you seek specific advice about how the Coronavirus affects your personal application and the steps you can take.

I have questions about my immigration application and how the Coronavirus is going to affect it, is there anywhere I can get advice? 

You can get advice on your specific situation from one of our specialist immigration advisers. If you’d like to arrange a fixed fee appointment please contact our Immigration Team who will be happy to help.

Alternatively, the Government has set up a Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre. You can email them at CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk. Your email must be in English and they will reply within 5 working days. You can also call them free of charge on 0800 678 1767, Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. They are asking people to either phone or email but not to do both.

What if my salary has been reduced or I have lost my job and therefore I cannot meet the minimum income requirement for my spouse/partner/fiancée visa application?

On 8 June 2020, the Home Office updated its Coronavirus guidance to include concessions for those who may no longer be able to meet the financial requirement in relation to spouse/partner/fiancée applications.

The Home Office guidance now states that it will consider employment income for the period immediately before the loss of income due to Coronavirus, provided the financial requirement was met for at least 6 months up to March 2020. In addition, the Home Office has confirmed that if your salary has been reduced because you have been furloughed, it will take account of your income as though you are earning 100% of your salary. It has also been confirmed that if you are self-employed, a loss of annual income due to Coronavirus between 1 March 2020 and 31 July 2020 will generally be disregarded, along with the impact on employment income from the same period for future applications.

In relation to fiancé applications, the Home Office has also confirmed that if you are in the UK with 6 months’ leave as a fiancé, fiancée or proposed civil partner and your wedding or civil ceremony has been delayed due to Coronavirus you can either request an extension of your visa until 31 July 2020 by updating your records with the Coronavirus Immigration Team, or you can apply to extend your stay for a further 6 months to allow the ceremony to take place.

What if I cannot take the English language test required for my spouse/partner visa application?

On 8 June 2020, the Home Office updated its Coronavirus guidance stating that if you are asked to take an English language test as part of your spouse/partner visa application, you can apply for an exemption if the test centre was closed or you could not travel to it due to Coronavirus when you applied.

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