As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen, there’s been an increase in countries closing their borders and travellers arriving from ‘affected’ countries potentially being placed into quarantine for a number of days. With border closures, we have also seen Visa Application Centres closed until further notice, USA, Munich and Rome in particular – the VACs in China have been closed for some time and remain closed. In light of the pandemic, many of our clients who hold a Sponsor Licence are unclear on what reporting requirements need to be made to UK Visas and Immigration to ensure Sponsors remain compliant.
The guidance published by the Home Office – ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): immigration guidance’ which was last updated on 27 February 2020, is for people in the UK whose immigration status is affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The Home Office policy provides flexibility to individuals whose visa may have already expired or is due to expire by providing an automatic extension of their visa until 31 March 2020. This guidance now appears to be out of date as it only concerns Chinese nationals whose visas are due to expire and those who are unable to return to China to submit their visa application.
As the coronavirus has now affected a significant number of countries especially Europe and the USA resulting in border closures and closed VACs, we expect the Home Office to update their guidance and set out the approach they will take post 31 March 2020 when the above guidance ends.
Absences and unpaid leave
The current position for Sponsors is that if an employee does not turn up for work on their first day, a Sponsor must report the delay in their start date. Once an employee has started work, if they have been absent from work for more than 10 consecutive working days without permission, a Sponsor must also report this via the sponsor management system.
The Home Offices Covid19 immigration guidance makes clear that ‘sponsors do not need to report student or employee absences related to coronavirus which they have authorised…sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship if they consider there are exceptional circumstances when an employee is absent from work without pay for four weeks or more.’ The Home Office recognises that these are unprecedented times and have confirmed not to take any compliance action against students or employees who are unable to attend their studies/work due to the coronavirus outbreak. We would advise all internal email communication with the relevant employee regarding any absences or unpaid leave due to the coronavirus should be retained on their individual personnel file.
Working from home
With the Government advising individuals to work from home for those who can, Sponsors are unsure whether a report needs to be made for each sponsored worker. Sponsor Licence holders must report whenever a sponsored worker’s work location changes. As long as the worker’s principal work address does not change, we would not advise it necessary to report that a worker will be working from home. Again, we would advise all email communication confirming the working from home arrangement be placed on the migrant’s personnel file.
Start date delayed
At present, the Home Office’s guidance allows a Sponsor to report a delay in a migrant’s start date after their Tier 2 General leave has been granted providing it is within 28 days from the later of:
- The date on which their entry clearance or leave to remain is granted
- The start date on their CoS (taking into account any changes to start date properly reported before leave is granted)’
Unfortunately, the Covid19 guidance remains silent on whether any flexibility will be provided to the above. We would advise that sponsors continue to ensure a worker’s start complies with the above. If sponsors require specific advice on the above or have a situation which may fall outside of the above, then we would suggest contacting the Home Office’s dedicated coronavirus immigration helpline to discuss their circumstances and obtaining guidance. The Home Office can also be contacted on 0800 678 1767 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm) or via email on CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk. Any communication received by email should be retained on the relevant employee’s personnel file.