Immigration FAQs

The spread of COVID-19 around the globe is having significant effects on the immigration system and businesses are already having to take action to minimise the economic effects of the crisis.

FAQs for employers and sponsors

In light of recent Home Office guidance, take a look at our FAQs for employers and sponsors.

What effect does the current crisis have on any right to work checks I may have to carry out?

As of 30 March 2020, right to work checks can now be carried out via video calls. Employees can submit a copy of their passport or ID rather than the original, and verify it by showing you the original on a video call.

The process for conducting a right to work check during the Coronavirus pandemic is as follows:

Ask the employee to submit a scanned copy or a photo of their original documents via email or using a mobile app.

Arrange a video call with the employee. Ask them to hold up the original documents to the camera and check them against the digital copy of the documents.
Record the date you made the check and mark it as “adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19”.

If the worker has a current Biometric Residence Permit or Biometric Residence Card or status under the EU Settlement Scheme you can use the online right to work checking service while doing a video call. The applicant must give you permission to view their details.

If the above is not possible, you can use the Employer Checking Service.

It should be noted that this COVID-19 concession will end on 5 April 2022. From 6 April 2022, employers must once again either:

  • check the potential employee’s original documents in person; or
  • check the potential employee’s right to work online (if they have provided their date of birth and share code). It will not be possible to conduct online right to work checks in every case, as not all individuals will have an immigration status that can be checked online.

When the temporary COVID-19 measures were implemented, the Home Office said that follow-up checks on any employees who had had a COVID-19 adjusted right to work check would need to be carried out within eight weeks of the temporary measures ending. However, the Home Office has now confirmed that these retrospective checks will not be required. Employers will maintain a statutory defence against a civil penalty as long as they did a normal check or a COVID-19 adjusted check at the relevant time.

What do I do if the Tier 2 employee or Tier 4 student I am sponsoring is absent?

Sponsors are not currently required to report any absences from students or employees sponsored under Tier 2, Tier 4, or Tier 5 (temporary workers), where those absences have been the result of the consequences of the Coronavirus outbreak. This can include absences due to illness, the need to self-isolate or the inability to travel due to travel restrictions.

Unlike normal, sponsors will not be required to withdraw sponsorship for affected students who have been unable to attend for more than 60 days or for employees who have exceeded four weeks of absence without pay.

The relaxation of these requirements is being kept under review by the Home Office. We would recommend that sponsors keep some evidence (for example, email communication with the individual) to demonstrate that the period of absence was due to Coronavirus related concerns.

Can I continue to sponsor a Tier 4 student who is distance learning?

Yes. Tier 4 students are now permitted to do distance learning (whether they are in the UK or another country). You do not need to inform the Home Office when students have moved to distance learning. However, if they withdraw form their course altogether (or defer for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic), this must be reported on the Sponsorship Management System as usual.

These arrangements will apply for the entirety of the 2020/2021 academic year when they will be reviewed by the Home Office.

Do I need to inform the Home Office if an employee I am sponsoring under a Tier 2 visa is now working from home in line with government guidance?

No. Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsors do not need update the Home Office if workers are now working from home provided that the switch to home working is because of the pandemic. However, other changes to their working arrangements must be reported on the Sponsorship Management System as usual. In addition, you should also ensure that you continue to be able to monitor attendance at work as part of your other ongoing sponsor reporting and monitoring duties.

I have issued a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) but the sponsored employee has not yet applied for their visa. Will they still be able to apply?

Yes. The start date for employment stated on the CoS may have changed but the Home Office has confirmed that they will not automatically refuse such cases. For example, they may accept a CoS if it has become invalid because the employee was unable to travel as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. All cases will be considered on an individual basis.

Can I temporarily reduce the pay of my Tier 2 sponsored workers?

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 the employee’s salary drops below the minimum salary required (either £30,000 or the minimum required under the employee’s SOC code), sponsorship will not have to be withdrawn as it usually would be.

The guidance states that any reductions must be part of a company-wide policy to avoid redundancies and in which all workers are treated the same. These reductions must be temporary, and the employee’s pay must return to at least previous levels once these arrangements have ended.

Can I put my Tier 2 employees on furlough leave under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS)?

The Home Office has not given specific guidance on how the furlough scheme may apply to those on Tier 2 visas. However, they have confirmed that 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 CJRS. Employees on furlough leave can do no work for the employer but remain employees throughout this time. Furlough leave is for a minimum period of three weeks.

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.

In any event, if you decide to furlough any Tier 2 sponsored migrants then it will still be necessary for you to remain compliant with your sponsor duties in relation to your sponsored workers throughout any furlough period. You will still need to report that the worker has been furloughed and report the reduction in salary on the Sponsor Management System as a change in migrant circumstances. Reports should be made within the time-frame set out in the Sponsor Guidance where possible. We would recommend that you keep detailed records of what has occurred in case of future audits.

The fact that the Government is paying for the CJRS has raised a question as to whether the payments under the scheme are “public funds”. Tier 2 sponsored workers and their dependents are prohibited from having recourse to public funds. However, the CJRS makes payments directly from HMRC to the employer. Therefore, the employee will still be paid by the employer and the Home Office has confirmed that this will not count as public funds.

What happens if I have to make my Tier 2 sponsored workers redundant?

If a Tier 2 worker’s employment is terminated, you must report the end of the employment on the Sponsor Management System within 10 working days of their last day of employment. This will lead to the Home Office curtailing their visa and writing to the employee giving them 60 calendar days to leave the UK, unless they can find a new sponsored role or they 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 the employee.

I am currently applying for a sponsor licence. Do I still need to send in all original documents?

The Home Office has confirmed that original documents are not required for sponsor submission sheets and sponsor licence applications at this time. The documents can be sent as scanned pdf files via email. Digital signatures are also acceptable at present for submission sheets.

I am in the UK on a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa. Do I still have to employ at least two people for 12 consecutive months each? I can’t afford to do this at the moment because of the Coronavirus pandemic

The latest guidance from the Home Office says that if a person on a Tier 1 visa has had their business disrupted because of the Coronavirus pandemic then they no longer need to meet the requirement to employ at least two people for 12 consecutive months each. The guidance sets out that you can meet the requirement by employing multiple employees across the 12 months (although time spent by those employees on furlough leave will not count).

If you have not been able to employ staff for 12 months in total by the time your visa expires, you will be allowed to temporarily extend your stay to give you time to meet the requirement. However, this exception should not be used as a substitute for meeting the requirements within the required time scales if you are still able to do so.

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 want to come to the UK to work in health care for the NHS. Can I do this?

Yes. A new Health and Care Visa was introduced on 4 August 2020. This is part of the Tier 2 (General) visa system and will be included in the points based system for skilled workers after Brexit. The new Health and Care Visa applies to eligible roles within the health and care sector including qualified doctors, nurses and allied health professionals who have been trained to a recognised standard. It includes qualified adult social care professionals but not care home workers.

To be eligible for a Health and Care Visa, the worker must be offered one of the eligible jobs, either for an NHS trust/health board or for one of several other medical and social care organisations listed in the guidance, and meet all the usual Tier 2 (General) criteria. The Health and Care Visa has a reduced visa application fee compared to that paid by other skilled workers, including exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge. Health and care professionals applying on this route can also expect a decision on whether they can work in the UK within just three weeks, following biometric enrolment.

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?

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.

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 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.

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.

I need to make an application for a visa but I don’t know whether I’ll be able to make an appointment. Is this still possible?

Most of the UK Visa and Citizenship Application Centres (UKVACs) have now reopened. It has been confirmed that this is an essential service and therefore centres will remain open throughout the lockdown period. However, given the second wave of the virus which is spreading in all countries this is being kept under review and closures at short notice are possible. This is also the case with the Visa Application Centres (VACs) abroad.

You can check which UKVCAS centres are now open and book an appointment here: https://www.gov.uk/ukvcas, 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 due to closures.

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. What can I do?

The Home Office expects those using the immigration system to take all reasonable steps to leave the UK where it is possible to do so or to apply to regularise their stay in the UK instead. The Home Office has confirmed that, if your visa or leave expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020, there will be no future adverse immigration consequences if you didn’t make an application to regularise your stay during this period and during the grace period which lasted until 31 August 2020.

In the first lockdown the UK Government extended visas automatically due to the travel restrictions. However, as travel restrictions are now lighter than they once were, you will no longer be able to extend your visa automatically on this basis.

However, the Government has confirmed that if you intend to leave the UK to return to a country or territory currently listed red but have not been able to do so and you have a visa, leave or ‘exceptional assurance’ that expires before 30 November 2021 you may request additional time to stay, known as ‘exceptional assurance’. There may also be exceptional cases where you may be unable to return to a country or territory listed as green where that nation has closed their borders or where quarantine facilities are temporarily over-subscribed, in which case you may also request ‘exceptional assurance’. You can request ‘exceptional assurance’ by emailing cihassuranceteam@homeoffice.gov.uk with the following details:

  • full name
  • date of birth
  • nationality
  • Home Office, GWF or any other reference number
  • type of visa
  • expiry date of visa
  • reason for request
  • evidence of flight or evidence showing reason you can’t leave

The subject header of your email should read “Request for an assurance”. In your email you should attach evidence to show why you cannot leave the UK. For example, if you can’t leave the UK because you can’t find a flight before your leave/visa expires, you will need to submit a copy of a confirmed flight ticket. If you can’t leave the UK because you have Coronavirus, you’ll need to submit confirmation of your positive Coronavirus test result.

If you are granted ‘exceptional assurance’ it will act as a short-term protection against any adverse action or consequences after your leave has expired. If you were allowed to work or study under your visa then you may continue to do so during the period of your exceptional assurance. However, exceptional assurance does not grant you leave and therefore it is a weaker form of concession from the Home Office than the previous automatic extension of visas.

This is therefore only short term protection and you should take steps to leave the UK or apply for a new visa as soon as possible. If you’ve already been given assurance but your circumstances have changed or you’re unable to leave the UK by the assurance date previously given, you must reapply using the process above. You will need to clearly state that you’re making a subsequent application and you will be asked to provide new supporting evidence.

If you decide to stay in the UK, you should apply for the necessary leave to remain in the UK. You may also be able to submit an application form from within the UK where you would usually need to apply for a visa from your home country. For more information about this, please see the answer to the FAQ below “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?”

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?

You can make an application for permission to stay in the UK if you hold permission in a route that would normally allow you to do so, or if your current permission or visa expires before 1 July 2021. If you intend to leave the UK but have not been able to do so and you have a visa, leave or ‘exceptional assurance’ that expires before 30 September 2021,  you may request additional time to stay, known as ‘exceptional assurance’, by emailing cihassuranceteam@homeoffice.gov.uk. For more information about how to apply for exceptional assurance, please see the answer to the FAQ above “My leave is due to expire soon but I can’t leave the UK. What can I do?”

If your leave expires after 31 October 2020, you can make your application from inside the UK until 30 June 2021, rather than apply for a visa from your home country, if either one of the following applies to you:

  • your application is urgent, for example if you have a family emergency and cannot apply from outside the UK
  • you cannot apply from outside the UK due to Coronavirus

You will not be able to apply for a route for which there is no provision in the Immigration Rules for making an in-country application, such as Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme, or Adult Dependant Relative.

You will need to meet the requirements of the route you’re applying for and pay the UK application fee. The terms of your leave will remain the same until your application is decided. If you are switching into work or study routes you may be able to commence work or study whilst your application is under consideration.

The Government is keeping this under review so you should check the specific requirements as at the date you are considering your own application.

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

UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) has ‘Essential Service’ status during the current lockdown period and, as a result, UKVCAS Service Points will remain open throughout the pandemic.

This means that if you’ve booked an appointment taking place during the current COVID-19 restrictions, you can still travel to your selected UKVCAS Service Point to submit your application to UKVI. Before you travel to your UKVCAS appointment, you can check the Service Point News to see if they have had to temporarily close any Service Points (https://www.ukvcas.co.uk/flash-message-detail?flashmessageId=56249).

UKVCAS will contact you by email if they need to make any changes to your appointment, so make sure you check your registered email address.

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 if the Visa Application Centres are closed at the time you apply and so documents cannot currently be provided in person. You should be able to upload the documents online instead.

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.

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?

If you’ve experienced a loss of income due to Coronavirus up to 31 October 2021, the Home Office will consider employment income for the period immediately before the loss of income, provided the minimum income requirement was met for at least 6 months immediately before the date the income was lost.

If your salary has reduced because you’re furloughed, the Home Office will take account of your income as though you’re earning 100% of your salary.

If you’re self-employed, a loss of annual income due to Coronavirus between 1 March 2020 and 31 October 2021 will usually be disregarded, along with the impact on employment income from the same period for future applications.

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

If you’re asked to take an English language test as part of your application, you can apply for an exemption if the test centre was closed or you couldn’t travel to it due to Coronavirus when you applied.

If I have applied for a work visa and I am waiting for a decision on my application, can I start work?

You can start work before your visa application has been decided if:

  • you’ve been assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) and either you’re applying under the Health and Care visa or it was assigned before 1 January 2021;
  • you submitted your application before your current visa expired and you have shown your sponsor evidence of this; and
  • the job you start is the same as the one listed on your CoS.

If your application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused, your sponsor will stop sponsoring you and you must stop working for them. You should either leave the UK or seek to regularise your immigration status if this happens.

If your CoS is assigned from 1 January 2021 and you are not applying under the Health and Care visa, you must wait until your visa application has been granted before starting work, unless your current visa allows you to work in that job.

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