Further immigration update for UK employers
The global immigration landscape is changing on a daily basis for employers. The Government has made further announcements regarding UK visa holders since our article last week. All UK visa centres have now been closed for six weeks, with appointments postponed until mid-May. However, the relaxation of the usually very stringent “right to work” checks will be welcome news for employers. Reassuringly, there has also been some good news for visa holders working in the NHS. We summarise these changes below:
Right to Work checks
The usually strict “right to work” checks that employers are required to conduct for new staff members and visa extensions have been temporarily relaxed, making it easier for employers to carry out checks remotely. As of 30 March 2020 the following temporary changes have been made:
- checks can now be carried out over video call; and
- job applicants and existing workers can send scanned documents for checks via email rather than sending original documents (passports, residence cards, etc).
It remains an offence to knowingly employ anyone who does not have the right to work in the UK, so continuing to undertake these checks remotely is important. HR staff should follow the four steps below to remain compliant:
1. Ask the employee to email a photo of their original documents.
2. Arrange a video call with the employee – ask them to hold up original documents to the camera and check them against the emailed photo of the documents and their appearance on screen.
3. Record the date you made the check and mark it as “adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19”
4. 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 on the video call.
An important point to note for employers – once the government’s COVID-19 measures end, you will need to retrospectively revert back to the old “Right to Work” regime, and re-do any remote/virtual checks in person with their original documents. You must then keep both checks on the employee’s HR file.
Visa application centre closures
All visa application centres within the UK are closed as of 27 March 2020. The centres will be closed for six weeks and any existing appointments have been postponed. Please note although the visa centres are closed, it is still important that your employees continue to submit their visa applications and pay the visa fees using the normal online system. This will maintain their visa status and allow them to continue to live and work in the UK. The final step of attending the visa centre to provide their biometric details and documents can occur at a later date without any detriment to their visa status.
As this is a global pandemic, the majority of visa centres abroad are also closed due to countrywide lockdowns. The UK visa centres in Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Bermuda, Bhutan, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Cambodia, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Fiji, Guatemala, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jamaica, Japan, Kuwait, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mexico, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Oman, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, St Lucia, Suriname, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad & Tobago, UAE, Uruguay, USA, Venezuela and Vietnam have all closed for at least the next 3 weeks.
Please note, if an employee or potential employee is unable to submit their visa application abroad due to the closures, it is possible for them to work remotely from their home country while they wait for the visa centres to re-open. They can start work for the UK entity which is permitted as they are not physically present in the UK and therefore do not need the right to work (visa) to work remotely. However be aware that this is subject to local tax rules and potentially re-drafting the employment contract. Please speak with Stephen Hall who can advise further.
Visa extensions for NHS staff
The Government have announced this week that NHS frontline workers will have their visas automatically extended for one year so that they can concentrate on the important job in hand. Any frontline NHS worker whose visa will expire between now and 1 October 2020 will obtain the automatic extension. At the moment it appears this is only for Tier 2 work visas, it is unclear whether this will also apply to spouse visas. However, in any case, this is a very welcome announcement and shows the Government can offer automatic blanket extensions if necessary. This will give visa holders in other industries hope that the Government is softening its approach in these uncertain times.
EU Settlement Scheme delays
The Government’s centre that deals with EU settled status enquiries has closed. Documents are not being accepted by post and we are advised that there will be delays in online decision-making. Although, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is by no means a priority at the moment, this is worrying for your EU employees. It is important to reassure any EU employees to expect delays in processing times for applications submitted to confirm their right to work after January 2021. It is too early to speculate, but this closure is pointing towards a possible extension to the transitional period.
British Citizenship ceremonies
The process of becoming a British citizen is not legally complete until an individual has attended a citizenship ceremony at a local town hall to receive their Naturalisation Certificate. Unsurprisingly, local councils have closed their offices and buildings, and therefore the process of obtaining British citizenship has ground to a temporary halt.
The government is still to provide clarity on a number of other issues. For example: what are the implications of furloughing a worker who holds a Tier 2 visa? What happens to individuals in the UK holding a fiancé(e) visa if they cannot get married within the 6 month time frame? Will the current EU transitional period be extended to allow EU workers more time to apply under the Settlement Scheme?…
We will be providing further updates as necessary over the coming weeks. In the meantime if you have any questions please contact Stephen Hall.