Immigration Update – additional Government announcements and clarifications for employers
In this third update, we review the latest COVID-19 related Government guidelines and explain how these changes can assist employers with managing and reassuring their workforce. Our Real Estate department has also commented on the temporary adjustment to the “right to rent” checks, which will make it easier for tenants to provide evidence of their UK immigration status. We discuss the changes in more detail below.
Temporary relaxation of minimum salary thresholds for visa holders
Since the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was introduced on 20th March 2020, employers have been grappling with some difficult questions about how the Scheme will operate in practice. One of the main questions we have been asked is; “Does placing an employee on furlough leave have an impact on their immigration status?”
There has been useful guidance from the Home Office regarding furloughing employees who are sponsored Tier 2 visa holders. Usually the Home Office imposes strict minimum salary levels for Tier 2 visa holders. This minimum salary threshold figure depends on:
- occupation type;
- level of experience; and/or
- the visa holder’s age.
The Home Office have recently relaxed the minimum salary requirement. The new guidance allows employers to temporarily reduce a visa holder’s salary, thus aligning UK immigration rules with the wider Job Retention Scheme. Therefore, it is now permitted under the immigration rules for employers to reduce the pay of sponsored Tier 2 employees to 80% of their salary or £2,500 per month, whichever is the lower. Any reductions must be part of a company-wide policy to avoid redundancies, ensuring all employees (including visa holders) are treated the same. Please note a visa holder’s pay must return to the previous level once the furloughing arrangements have ended, as the strict minimum visa salary thresholds will be re-introduced. If you have any questions on Tier 2 visa minimum salary levels please contact Stephen Hall.
We are actively working with clients to assist with their workforce planning during this difficult time (including preparing communications for ‘Furloughed workers’). If you require any assistance with that or any other employment issue, then please do not hesitate to contact Jonathan Bruck.
Clear guidance on access to the NHS for your non-UK workforce
The government has helpfully made it clear that all non-UK nationals have the same access to life-saving care as UK nationals. We understand a lot of visa holders have been worried about their healthcare levels, especially those who are from private health care controlled countries. Please reassure all staff, regardless of nationality, to seek help if needed. No financial payment will be required for the diagnosis or treatment of COVID-19. Many short-term business visitors, who are usually based in overseas offices, have been stranded in the UK lockdown. This guidance will also apply to them so they also do not need to worry about travel insurance or private medial care bills. The Government has outlined the below:
- No charges apply to testing for COVID-19, even if the result is negative, or to any treatment provided for COVID-19 if the result is positive.
- No immigration checks are required for overseas visitors that are known to be only undergoing testing or treatment for COVID-19.
The Government have issued specific advice and guidance on the health needs of migrant patients. NHS 111 can help your employees if they have an urgent medical problem and access to translators is also available.
Temporary adjustment of Right to Rent checks
As part of the Government’s attempts to cut down on illegal migration, the Immigration Act 2014 introduced a number of measures to restrict access to services for those without the correct immigration status. One of these measures was a requirement on residential landlords to check that their tenants’ immigration status does not disqualify them from renting a property (a “Right to Rent” check).
The Government have temporarily relaxed the normal ‘Right to Rent’ checks to be carried out by residential landlords. The legal responsibility still remains on landlords to ensure that a prospective tenant has the right to reside in the UK. However the new relaxed requirements which came in to place on 30 March 2020 allow landlords to:
- carry out identity checks on tenants via video calls as opposed to in person; and
- accept scanned copies or photos of documents evidencing the identity and/or the right of a prospective tenant to reside in the UK, as opposed to original documents (passports, residence cards etc).
The Government have been keen to remind landlords that despite this relaxation, it remains an offence to knowingly let a property to a person who is not lawfully resident in the UK. Further guidance from the Government on these temporary changes can be found here.
Our Property department are actively working with clients to assist during this difficult time. If you require assistance with any property issue, then please do not hesitate to contact Janice Martin or Amit Bhangham.