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Woman waiting in a long line for a flight wearing a N95 face mask during a global pandemic

By Vanessa Ganguin

Latest updates to all your UK immigration COVID-19 questions

Updated 15 January 2020

We have done our best to answer the main UK immigration questions thrown up by the coronavirus pandemic. These are based on the major urgent questions firms, individuals and families have been contacting us with, as well as the latest Home Office updates.

If you have any other questions you would like to add, or for any more clarification, please do contact us on 0207 033 9527 or enquiries@vanessaganguin.com

From 4am on Monday 18 January 2021, arrivals must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test to travel to England, with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland expected to announce similar measures. A test must be taken within three days of departure even by UK citizens. (For more details and possible exemptions see below).

Also from 4am on Monday 18 January ALL Travel Corridors are set to close in a move the Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was making to “protect against the risk of as yet unidentified new strains” of Covid. The measure announced on Friday 15 January, he said would last until at least 15 February.

The travel ban from Southern African countries has been extended too with the Government discussing similar measures for travel from Brazil due to new Coronavirus variants. (See below.)

The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested these measures are due to concerns in case the UK’s vaccination programme may not be effective against the new South African variant of COVID-19.

There is a ten day quarantine in place on arrival, though exceptions are constantly being updated and there is a Test to Release scheme to have a test on day 5 to cut it short in England (see questions below).

Arrivals must also follow the same health guidance and national restrictions as people who live in the UK. Check the guidance for:

 

COVID-19 FAQs for sponsoring employers

What COVID-related delays could sponsoring employers face and what concessions are there?

Most Visa Application Centres (VAC) abroad and all UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) in the UK are open despite pandemic measures. 

Here is up to date information on UKVCAS (operated by Sopra Steria) which are classed as essential services so will remain open in all tier areas during the next stage of COVID-19 restrictions.

We advise checking the websites of VFS Global and TLScontact for latest updates on VACs in other countries.

Priority and Super Priority services have been suspended in the UK since the start of the pandemic, but outside the UK it should be possible to expedite visa applications at the moment for those using these faster services.

Until 31 December 2020, the Home Office was allowing migrants in the UK to start their sponsored employment while still waiting for approval once a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) had been assigned and the online application has been submitted and paid for.

However if the CoS was assigned from 1 January 2021, unless it is under the Health and Care visa, they will need to wait until their application has been approved before starting the new sponsored work.

If their CoS was assigned before 1 January 2021 or they are applying under the Health and Care visa, an employer may allow employees to start work before their visa application has been decided, as long as:

  • the employee submitted their application before their current visa expired
  • the role they are employed in is the same as the one on their CoS.

Contact us on +44 (0) 207 033 9527 or enquiries@vanessaganguin.com for more details.

Can an employee start work while waiting for a visa?

Employers may allow employees to start work before their visa application has been decided if  their CoS was assigned before 1 January 2021 or they are applying under the Health and Care visa, as long as:

  • the employee submitted their application before their current visa expired
  • the role they are employed in is the same as the one on their CoS.

If the employee’s application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused, their employment must be terminated.

Contact us on +44 (0) 207 033 9527 or enquiries@vanessaganguin.com for more details.

Can sponsored staff work from abroad due to the pandemic?

This is a question that often comes up. The answer is yes, although, sponsors will need to ensure they continue to meet their record keeping, reporting and other sponsor duties throughout the time the employee is working overseas.

Sponsors should make a report on the Sponsorship Management System notifying UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) of the temporary change of work location.

The employee will also need to be careful to ensure that their absences do not exceed the 180 day (in any 12 month rolling period) threshold. Although note that changes to the Immigration Rules that came into effect from 1 December 2020 specify that absences due to travel disruption related to a pandemic will not be counted towards the 180 day limit.

Employees should retain evidence of any travel disruption to support future applications for indefinite leave to remain.

Can sponsored staff work from home?

As part of measures taken to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the Home Office has relaxed certain reporting requirements. With workers following social distancing guidelines at home, the Home Office confirmed that employers with sponsor licences will not have to report a change of location for sponsored migrants working from home on the Sponsorship Management System (SMS).

Do sponsors need to report employees' sickness absences and self-isolating to the Home Office?

There is no need for sponsors to report sponsored staff sickness absence, the need for self-isolation or indeed an inability to travel due to travel restrictions if they are related to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Can employers reduce sponsored staff's pay under the Job Retention Scheme and what precautions should they take?

If trading has reduced or ceased temporarily,  an employer that cannot pay the full salaries of sponsored staff may temporarily reduce their pay in line with government job retention schemes. Sponsored employees are eligible for these schemes in the same way as resident workers.

Reductions in salary must be part of a company-wide policy to avoid redundancies and in which all workers are treated the same. Be aware that sponsored workers’ rate of pay for the hours they work cannot be reduced below the going rate for their occupation (subject to any discounts they qualified for when they were granted permission).

These changes of status must be reported and must be temporary. The employee’s pay must return to at least previous levels once arrangements have ended.

We advise that sponsors should make a further report once employees are back at work. For any more clarification, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0207 033 9527 or enquiries@vanessaganguin.com.

What if the employer tops up a sponsored furloughed employee's salary so it stays the same?

If they are sponsored migrants, it is still advisable to report this change to their status as well as their subsequent return to work.

 

How does absence without pay affect sponsored employees during the coronavirus pandemic?

Ordinarily a sponsor is required to report and to cease sponsoring a sponsored employee if they are absent without pay for more than four weeks (although there are exceptions). Under COVID-19 policy, sponsors are no longer required to withdraw sponsorship in these circumstances. We would advise that an absence over four weeks and return to work are reported on the SMS with an explanation of the circumstances. 

For any more clarification, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0207 033 9527 or enquiries@vanessaganguin.com.

Can sponsors reduce the salary or the hours that Skilled Workers work?

If trading has temporarily ceased or reduced, employers can temporarily reduce the pay of sponsored employees to 80% of their salary or £2,500 per month – whichever is lower.

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.

To discuss further, please contact us on 0207 033 9527 or enquiries@vanessaganguin.com.

Can sponsored health workers move to different sites, perform different jobs or extend visas during the pandemic?

Temporary flexibility has been introduced around sponsored frontline healthcare staff working at different sites due to Coronavirus; sponsors will not need to notify UKVI if, for example, staff have to work in a different hospital. Sponsored staff can also carry out supplementary work in any role at any skill level with no restriction on the number of hours they can do this.

There is also no longer a limit on the number of hours those with leave in certain categories including healthcare workers sponsored as Skilled Workers can work or volunteer for the NHS, and a facility to extend visas for free.

The Home Office announced a coronavirus concession for eligible healthcare professionals to be granted a 12-month visa extension is being extended to include those whose visas expires between 1 October 2020–31 March 2021. This extension will be free of charge and is open to their dependants if their leave expires before 31 March 2020. In​dividuals will be required to submit a ‘simple online form to verify their identity’ and employers will need to confirm the individual’s eligibility.

In another Coronavirus concession, pre-registration nurses or midwives on the Temporary Register in the UK have had their deadline to sit the Occupational Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) extended to 30 September 2021. Those who do not pass on the first attempt, will have until 31 December 2021 to pass the exam.

(See below for more details or contact us on 0207 033 9527 or enquiries@vanessaganguin.com).

Can firms postpone a sponsored Skilled Worker's start date? 

Normally once a CoS has been assigned the employee only has three months to submit the online visa or leave to remain application form. The Home Office has stated that applications submitted beyond the three months will not be automatically refused, if for example the individual was unable to travel. This will be looked at on a case by case basis. If a sponsored employee is in this position it is still worth submitting the application. If the application is approved the sponsor will be able to extend the start date by way of a sponsor note provided this is done before the application is submitted. 

For those whose visa has already been issued clarification is still being sought around whether the position continues to be that their start date cannot be delayed more than 28 days after the later of the original start date detailed on the CoS or the date the visa was issued. Otherwise, in the meantime a workaround would be for this to be reported as an unpaid leave scenario until they are able to commence work. 

Please do not hesitate to contact us on 0207 033 9527 or enquiries@vanessaganguin.com for any more help with this.

Can firms conduct right to work checks without seeing someone in person during social distancing measures?

Social distancing measures, self-isolation and travel restrictions make it more difficult to see people in person, and postal delays make sending original documents harder too. To mitigate this, the Home Office is temporarily allowing employers to use the online right to work check process and then check original documents via video calls for those with EU pre-settled or settled status, a Biometric Residence Card or Biometric Residence Permit. Otherwise scans or photos of the documents can be emailed or sent over on a phone app before employers check them via video conferencing. 

Retrospective follow up checks must be done when these temporary measures come to an end. For more details call 0207 033 9527 or email enquiries@vanessaganguin.com

What should employers do to be ready to use the new post-Brexit immigration system during the pandemic?

The Home Office launched a campaign to urge employers, many of whom who have been distracted by the pandemic and do not already hold a sponsor licence to consider applying for one, in advance of the post-Brexit immigration system which commenced on 1 January 2021.

The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2019-21 passed into law on 11 November 2020 ending freedom of movement and work within the European Economic Area (EEA).

Despite the challenges to businesses of the coronavirus pandemic, the Brexit transition period was not extended beyond the end of 2020, when the new post-Brexit immigration system replaced free movement from the EEA. 

For companies that may wish to sponsor employees from outside the UK, now is the time to start thinking of setting up a sponsor licence or renewing one if it is due to run out in 2021.

For more details about sponsor licence readiness and preparations for next year, call us on 0207 033 9527 or email enquiries@vanessaganguin.com

COVID-19 FAQs for individuals

covid 19 facemasks

 

Are there coronavirus restrictions on travel to the UK due to new strains of COVID-19?

Please check the latest travel restrictions and any travel disruption to and from the UK from your country following the new Coronavirus variant identified so far in the UK and several other countries.

The new strain identified in South Africa has led to the UK’s travel ban on arrivals from South Africa now being extended to other Southern African countries too. (See below.)

The new Coronavirus variant first identified in Brazil has also meant bans on travel from Brazil, other South American countries and Portugal. (See below too.)

There are currently no other extra restrictions imposed by the UK government on people entering the country lawfully because of COVID-19 and passengers are still being processed, though there will be a requirement of a negative COVID test to be taken within 72 hours of departure to the UK. (See below). 

There is a ten day quarantine in place on arrival in the UK, though it has been lifted for passengers from certain countries and there are some exemptions, and a scheme to have a test on day 5 to cut it short in England (see below).

If  travelling to the UK from anywhere outside the Common Travel Area (Ireland, The Channel Islands, Isle of Man) passengers should provide their journey and contact details. They must also provide the address where they will self-isolate. The public health passenger locator form can be filled in online 48 hours before arrival.

On arrival at the UK border, people should be able to show either a printed copy of the document attached to the confirmation email or the document attached to the confirmation email on a mobile phone. Certain categories of traveller are exempt from filling in the passenger locator form or from quarantine, there is a list here. Also see question below.

Arrivals must follow the same Coronavirus protection measures as people who live in the UK, even if exempt from self-isolating. Check the rules for:

Are COVID tests necessary before travel to the UK and what exemptions are there?

From 4am on Monday 18 January 2021, arrivals must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test to travel to England, with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland expected to announce similar measures. A test must be taken within three days of departure even by UK citizens. Prior to departure passengers will need to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test result to carriers, as well as their passenger locator form.

The UK Border Force are set to conduct spot checks on arrival to ensure that passengers are fully compliant.

The test must:

  • meet performance standards of ≥97% specificity, ≥80% sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml
  • this could include tests such as:
    • a nucleic acid test, including a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or derivative technologies, including loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) tests
    • an antigen test, such as a test from a lateral flow device

People may not be able to travel to the UK if the test does not meet these standards. Where information about providers of tests is available locally, FCDO travel advice pages will be updated with this information. For consular assistance people can contact the nearest consulate, embassy or high commission.

This will apply to people arriving in England by plane, train or boat and a negative result will not preclude having to self-isolate for ten days. Those who test positive must not travel. Inconclusive tests must be repeated.

The original test result certificate must be provided and it must be in either English, French or Spanish. Translations will not be accepted. The test result can be provided as a printed document or on an email or text message on a phone. It must include the following information:

  • person’s name, which should match the name on your travel documents
  • their date of birth or age
  • the result of the test
  • the date the test sample was collected or received by the test provider
  • the name of the test provider and their contact details
  • the name of the test device

If the test result does not include this information people may not be able to board to travel to England. Anyone arriving without a test result that includes this information could receive a £500 criminal fine, even if it is because they were not able to get tested in a country they transited through, so it is worth testing before departing.

Travellers from which countries are exempt from having to take a COVID-19 test before departure?

A test is not necessary for those who began their journey to England from:

  • Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Jersey or Guernsey
  • Ascension, Falkland Islands, St Helena

For a limited time period as preparations are made, people do not need to take a test if travelling from:

  • Antigua and Barbuda, St Lucia or Barbados (until 4am Thursday 21 January 2021 – a test to travel will be necessary on or after this date)

Do children need to take a COVID test before travel and are there medical exemptions?

Children aged under 11 do not need to take a test.

Nor do those travelling to the UK:

  • for urgent medical treatment or accompanying someone who is travelling for urgent medical treatment, and it is not reasonably practicable to obtain a negative COVID-19 test in the three days before departure
  • with a medical condition which means they cannot take a test – a note from a medical practitioner must be presented at check-in and to Border Force staff on arrival in England

What professions are exempt from having to do a Coronavirus test before travel to the UK?

People doing the following jobs do not need to take a test:

  • border and customs officials
  • channel tunnel system workers
  • defence personnel, visiting forces and government contractors
  • hauliers
  • air, maritime and rail crew
  • civil aviation inspectors
  • people transporting human cells and blood products
  • seamen and masters and inspectors and surveyors of ships
  • specialist technical workers doing emergency works

Also, in limited circumstances:

  • foreign government officials
  • UK government officials conducting essential state business, essential government work or essential policing

See more details of job exemptions to COVID measures below to see if they apply.

 

What restrictions are there on travel to the UK from South Africa and countries nearby?

Since Thursday 24 December 2020, visitors who have been in or transited through South Africa in the previous 10 days will not be permitted entry and direct flights are banned due to the new SARS-CoV-2 variant identified there. This excludes cargo and freight without passengers.

The ban does not include British and Irish Nationals, visa holders and permanent residents, returning to England who will be able to enter but are required to self-isolate for 10 days along with their household. Similar measures for UK citizens returning to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland apply.

From 4AM on Saturday 9 January, the measures will be extended to those who have travelled from or through any southern African country in the last 10 days, including Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique and Angola – as well as Seychelles and Mauritius.

 

 

What South American and European countries is travel banned from due to the new COVID variant identified in Brazil?

Travel to the UK from every country in South America, as well as Portugal, has been banned due to fears over the coronavirus variant first identified in Brazil.

From 4am on Friday 15 January 2021, there will be a ban on travel from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Travel from Portugal to the UK is also suspended due to its strong travel links with Brazil. However, there is an exemption for hauliers travelling from Portugal (only), to allow transport of essential goods.

These measures do not apply to British and Irish nationals and third country nationals with residence rights. However passengers returning from these destinations must self-isolate for 10 days along with their households.

Who needs to fill in a public health passenger locator form before travelling to the UK and when?

Passengers to the UK from all countries apart from the Common Travel Area (CTA) of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man must complete the public health passenger locator form before they travel, though they can not submit it until 48 hours before their arrival in the UK.

Those who entered the CTA within the last 10 days will still need to complete the form. A boarding pass or itinerary would be shown to help confirm how long has been spent in the CTA.

Everyone in a party must complete their own form, though under-18s staying with adults throughout are included on the adult’s passenger locator form.

On arrival at the UK border, people should be able to show either a printed copy of the document attached to the confirmation email or the document attached to the confirmation email on a mobile phone.

Failure to complete the form is a criminal offence.

There are a small number people who do not have to complete the form because of their work.

Do people arriving in the UK need to quarantine?

Arrivals have to fill an online form with an appropriate address at which they will quarantine for 10 days, with enforcement through random spot checks and fines if arrivals in England are found to have broken the rules.

Since 15 December 2020, arrivals to England can reduce the length of self-isolation by taking a private COVID test on day five of their quarantine. (See below.)

Those who share a household with arrivals from or those who have passed through South Africa will also need to self-isolate for 10 days. From 4AM on Saturday 9 January, households of those who have travelled from or through any southern African country in the last 10 days, including Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique and Angola, as well as Seychelles and Mauritius will have to self-isolate too. This also applies to households of those returning from South America or Portugal. There is no option to cut the ten days down by testing on day five.

The Government is regularly amending a list of countries with lower rates of COVID-19 which are exempt from these quarantine measures. (See the full list in the question below.) The arrangement will not always be reciprocal – some of the exempted countries may still quarantine arrivals from the UK.

Passengers to the UK from all countries, whether on the list or off must complete the public health passenger locator form before they travel, though they can not submit it until 48 hours before their arrival in the UK. Everyone in a party must complete their own form, though under-18s staying with adults throughout are included on the adult’s passenger locator form.

On arrival at the UK border, people should be able to show either a printed copy of the document attached to the confirmation email or the document attached to the confirmation email on a mobile phone. Certain categories of traveller are exempt from filling in the passenger locator form or from quarantine, there is a list here. Also see question below. Film and high end TV drama productions have quarantine advice which can be found here too.

Click here for the latest guidance for arrivals self-isolating in Scotland.

The Welsh Government has also issued this guidance for people arriving from abroad and self-isolating in Wales. The Northern Ireland Government has also issued this guidance for those arriving or returning from abroad.

Those arriving from within the Common Travel Area (CTA) which consists of Ireland, the Isle of Man and Channel Islands, who have been in the CTA for the last 10 days before entering the UK, will not need to complete the Public Health passenger locator form or to self-isolate for 10 days.

Those who entered the CTA within the last 10 days will need to complete the form still and self-isolate only until they have spent a total of 10 days in the CTA. A boarding pass or itinerary would be shown to help confirm how long has been spent in the CTA.

Arrivals will be asked to try to avoid public transport and to travel to their accommodation by car “where possible”, and to try not to go out to buy food or other essentials “where they can rely on others.”

The measures apply to those arriving by sea and train as well as air.

Arrivals must follow the same Coronavirus protection measures as people who live in the UK, even if exempt from self-isolating. Check the rules for:

How long do arrrivals need to quarantine for and can people shorten self-isolation with a COVID test?

Arrivals in the UK have to fill an online form with an appropriate address at which they will quarantine for 10 days, with enforcement through random spot checks and £1,000 fines for breaking the rules in England. England, Scotland and Wales publish a list of their exemptions from quarantine (see below).

Since 15 December, those self-isolating in England can choose to take a coronavirus test on the fifth day under the Test to Release scheme. Private COVID-19 tests cost around £65 to £150 and results typically take 24 to 48 hours, cutting the time people spend self-isolating in England if the result is negative.

This scheme is not open to arrivals from the Southern African countries mentioned above, who must self-isolate for the full 10 days along with their household.

Are countries are on the 'travel corridor' list still exempt from self-isolation measures on arrival?

From 4am on Monday 18 January ALL Travel Corridors are set to close in a move the Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was making to “protect against the risk of as yet unidentified new strains” of Covid.

Passengers returning or visiting from certain destinations which pose a reduced risk to the public health of UK citizens up to 18 January did not need to self-isolate.

Below is the updated list of countries that are exempt from self-isolating on arrival in England up to Monday 18 January when the travel corridor ceases.

There are slightly different rules for:

Don’t forget, passengers making a transit stop in a country or territory that is not on the list in the 10 days before arrival in England will still have to quarantine.

Those arriving from within the Common Travel Area (CTA) – Ireland, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, who have been in the CTA for the last 10 days before entering the UK,  do not need to complete the Public Health passenger locator form or self-isolate for 10 days.

(Though those who entered the CTA within the last 10 days will need to complete the form still and self-isolate only until they have spent a total of 10 days in the CTA. A boarding pass or itinerary would be shown to help confirm how long has been spent in the CTA.)

Arrivals must follow the same Coronavirus protection measures as people who live in the UK, even if exempt from self-isolating. Check the rules for:

Who is exempt from self-isolating for a 10 day quarantine on arrival in England?

Those arriving from within the Common Travel Area (CTA) which consists of Ireland, the Isle of Man and Channel Islands, who have been in the CTA for the last 10 days before entering the UK, will not need to complete the Public Health passenger locator form or self-isolate for 10 days.

Those who entered the CTA within the last 10 days will need to complete the form still and self-isolate only until they have spent a total of 10 days in the CTA. A boarding pass or itinerary would be shown to help confirm how long has been spent in the CTA.

The Government published a list of countries with lower rates of COVID-19 which are exempt from quarantine measures – see question above – and it will be worth checking the list which will be constantly updated.

The Test to Release for International Travel scheme began on 15 December 2020. Those only allowed to leave self-isolation for work-related activities in England can choose to take a coronavirus test under the Test to Release scheme and end their quarantine early if negative (see above for more details.)

The Home Office updated the list below on 13 January. Some categories must still complete the Public Health passenger locator form before they travel.

NB: If you arrive in England from the Southern African countries mentioned above, the exemptions below do NOT apply and you must self-isolate along with members of your household. You cannot be released early through Test to Release. This also is likely to apply for those arriving from Portugal or South America (see above).

Every category has its own rules – click on the links below – for instance, those working on British film, television and advertising productions will be able to leave their place of self-isolation to travel to work on their production within their work ‘bubble’ (see below).

NB: Please check the Home Office’s guidance for full details of requirements and updates before travelling, or contact us on 0207 033 9527 or enquiries@vanessaganguin.com

The following have been listed so far (Home Office list updated 13 January 2021) as exempt from self-isolation on arrival in the UK – click on work categories for the specific exemptions:

  1. Advertising productions
  2. Aerospace engineers
  3. Aircraft pilots and crew
  4. BBC broadcasting transmission network and services
  5. Border security duties – UK officials and contractors
  6. Border security duties – non-UK officials and contractors
  7. Bus and coach drivers
  8. Business directors bringing jobs and investment to the UK
  9. Channel Tunnel system workers
  10. Civil aviation inspectors
  11. Clinical trials or studies
  12. Crown servants or government contractors
  13. Data infrastructure maintenance
  14. Defence personnel, visiting forces and government contractors
  15. Diplomatic missions, international organisations and conferences
  16. Downstream oil facility workers
  17. Drivers of goods vehicles
  18. Electronic communications networks
  19. Elite sportspersons – international
  20. Elite sportspersons – domestic
  21. New domestic elite sportspersons
  22. Environment Agency relating to flood and coastal erosion risk management
  23. Eurostar International workers
  24. Eurotunnel workers
  25. Government contractors – the conduct of negotiations
  26. High-speed rail workers
  27. International prison escorts
  28. IT and telecoms workers
  29. Journalists
  30. Medical evacuation
  31. Medical treatment
  32. Urgent medical treatment
  33. Medicines – human and veterinary
  34. National Lottery
  35. Network Rail workers
  36. Nuclear personnel
  37. Nuclear emergency responder
  38. Offshore oil and gas workers
  39. Offshore oil and gas
  40. OPCW and IAEA inspectors
  41. Performing arts professionals
  42. Postal workers
  43. Quality assurance inspectors for human and veterinary medicines
  44. Regular work abroad
  45. Registered health or care professionals
  46. Regular work in the UK, living abroad
  47. Representatives of a foreign country or territory or British overseas territories
  48. Seamen and masters and inspectors and surveyors of ships
  49. Seasonal agricultural workers
  50. Seasonal poultry workers
  51. Specialist technical workers – sub-sea telecommunications infrastructure
  52. Specialist technical workers – goods and services
  53. Specialist technical workers – waste
  54. Specialist technical workers – power infrastructure
  55. Specialist technical workers – space infrastructure
  56. Television production
  57. High-end television production and film
  58. Transiting airside through the UK
  59. Transporting human cells or blood
  60. Water supplies and sewerage services workers

Arrivals still need to follow the same Coronavirus self-distancing rules as people who live in whatever region of the UK they are in, even if exempt from self-isolating for 10 days after you arrive. Local areas will have their own rules. Check the rules for:

Have Priority and Super Priority services to speed up visa applications been suspended due to pandemic disruption?

Priority and Super Priority services have been suspended in the UK since the start of the pandemic, but outside the UK it should be possible to expedite visa applications at the moment for those using these faster services.

Do contact us on +44 (0)207 033 9527 or email enquiries@vanessaganguin.com if you encounter problems.

Are Visa Application Centres reopening after services were suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions?

Most UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) Visa Application Centres (VAC) around the world are open. This will continue to be subject to local circumstances.

Keep checking the websites of TLScontact for Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East; VFS Global for all other countries; as well as USCIS (which have US centres as well as VFS) for the latest information on when and where VACs have reopened.

In the UK, UK Visa and Citizenship Application Centres (UKVCAS) are classed as essential services and so will remain open in all tier areas during COVID-19 restrictions. One can click here to get the latest details on UKVCAS centres and Christmas season hours. Appointments are released 28 days in advance and the free appointments are always booked up very quickly.

Priority and Super Priority services have been suspended in the UK since the start of the pandemic, but outside the UK it should be possible to expedite visa applications at the moment for those using these faster services.

Informally, the Home Office is extending the usual deadline for attending a biometric appointments to allow for delays for booking biometric appointments.

Feel free to contact us on +44 (0)207 033 9527 or email enquiries@vanessaganguin.com for any help.

Can I apply for a visa if my local Visa Application Centre is shut due to COVID?

If  applicants’ local Visa Application Centres (VAC) are closed due to coronavirus restrictions, they can apply online and select a VAC in another country worldwide to submit an application and biometrics.

The Home Office has stated that people will be able to make any type of application, but at the start of the application the country where biometrics will be submitted must be picked.

This concession has been extended to 31 March 2021.

Those who have submitted applications through Access UK and now intend to submit a new application at a different VAC from the one selected in that application, will need to make a new application and select the VAC where it will be submitted.  Click here to request a refund for an earlier application.

What happens if I cannot travel to the UK before my visa vignette expires?

Those whose 90 day vignette has expired may apply for a replacement by completing this online form. The cost of replacing an expired 90 day vignette is £154 and an appointment to resubmit biometric information must be made.

Those with 30-day temporary visa vignettes which have expired or are about to expire may email the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre (CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk) up to the end of 2020 to receive a new 90 day replacement short-term visa for free once Visa Application Centres reopen.

Emails should have “REPLACEMENT 30 DAY VISA” as the subject and include the applicant’s name, nationality, date of birth and the GWF reference number from their application form. 

Applicants will then be contacted when Visa Application Centres (VAC) reopen to arrange for a replacement visa vignette to be endorsed in their passport.

Alternatively, if your local VAC is open, you can arrange to return your passport for a new vignette.

(Those who have applied from an enrolment location operated by Immigration New Zealand will be subject to a slightly different process.)

The Home Office has also insisted that no one will be penalised if they have not been able to collect their Biometric Residence Permit.

For any queries please contact us on +44 (0) 207 033 9527 or email enquiries@vanessaganguin.com.

Will my indefinite leave to remain or naturalisation application be affected by extended absence from the UK?

Normally absences from the UK must not exceed 180 days in any 12 month period to qualify for indefinite leave to remain. However the Home Office has the discretion to waive excess absences where serious and compelling reasons can be demonstrated. The current pandemic has severely disrupted many people’s ability to travel, so we would expect people applying for indefinite leave to remain not to be penalised in such cases.

The new rules in place for applications made from 1 December 2020 state that absences from the UK caused by pandemic travel disruption will not count towards the 180 day limit.

In addition, from 1 September 2020, the Home Office updated its guidance on naturalisation applications to announce it now has discretion to waive excess absences in certain circumstances when absences were due to the global pandemic.

We would advise people to retain evidence around their reasons for their inability to return to the UK. If working remotely, we would also advise retaining evidence relating to this.

You can contact us on +44 (0) 207 033 9527 or email enquiries@vanessaganguin.com to discuss this further.

Can I extend my visa if I am unable to leave the UK?

If you intend to leave the UK:

Those unable to leave the UK yet with a visa or leave that expires between 1 December 2020 and 31 January 2021 may request additional time to stay, known as ‘exceptional assurance.’

The online form is currently experiencing technical difficulties, so applicants should email: 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 the email should read ‘Request for an assurance’.

Evidence should be attached to the email to show why someone cannot leave the UK. (For example, if a flight cannot be found before leave/visa expires, a confirmed flight ticket should be submitted. Or if someone has tested positive for coronavirus, confirmation of the test should be included.)

If granted exceptional assurance, it will act as a short-term protection against any adverse action or consequences after leave has expired. Work, study or renting may continue during the period of exceptional assurance.

If circumstances change or people are unable to leave the UK by the assurance date previously given, one can apply again with supporting evidence, clearly stating that this is a subsequent application.

 

If you intend to stay in the UK and your leave expires between 31 October and 31 December:

Those applying for leave to remain in the UK can submit an application in the UK where before they would usually need to apply for a visa from their home country.

The terms of their leave will remain the same until the application is decided. Those switching into work or study routes may be able to commence work or study while the application is under consideration.

They will need to show that their application is urgent, for example if starting a new job or course of study, providing full details of this in a covering letter with supporting documents.

People who have been given exceptional assurance can also apply for leave to remain to regularise their stay before exceptional assurance expires.

Those applying from 1 January 2021 will need to meet the switching rules of the route they are applying in. This will be based on the last route they were in before exceptional assurance was issued. For example, those in the UK visitor will not normally be able to switch into another route.

 

If you have overstayed your leave without permission already:

Those whose visa or leave expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 August 2020 will not face future adverse immigration consequences for failing to make an application to regularise their stay during this period. However, if no application to regularise stay or  request for an exceptional assurance have been made, then the Home Office insist arrangements should be made to leave the UK.

 

All this is being kept under review so is liable to change as Coronavirus measures do.

For further details, please contact us on 0207 033 9527 or email enquiries@vanessaganguin.com.

Can I apply for a different visa without having to leave the UK during the COVID pandemic?

While the UK is facing COVID-19 measures, switching visas has been made easier for those who would otherwise face having to leave the UK – especially those switching into worker categories.

Those switching into work or study routes may be able to commence work or study while the application is under consideration.

They will need to show that their application is urgent, for example if starting a new job or course of study, providing full details of this in a covering letter with supporting documents.

People who have been given exceptional assurance can also apply for leave to remain to regularise their stay before exceptional assurance expires.

Those applying from 1 January 2021 will need to meet the switching rules of the route they are applying in. This will be based on the last route they were in before exceptional assurance was issued. For example, those in the UK visitor will not normally be able to switch into another route.

The Home Office has also said that in some cases it will reuse biometric data that people have already given on previous occasions – though not in all cases, which should help clear the backlog.

If in doubt, please give us a call on 0207 033 9527 or email enquiries@vanessaganguin.com

All this is being kept under review so is liable to change as Coronavirus measures do.

 

Are visa centres in the UK open for biometric appointments?

Most UK Visa and Citizenship Application Centres (UKVCAS) have reopened for existing customers. Click here to check which UKVCAS centres are open and book an appointment.

UKVCAS Service Points are essential services and will remain open throughout the UK so customers can continue to book and attend appointments to progress their visa applications whatever the coronavirus measures in their area.

Service and Support Centres (SSCs) are essential services and will remain open too. SSCs are offering a reduced number of appointments because of coronavirus. Updated information, as well as opening days and times can be found here. As more appointments are made available UKVI will invite people to arrange an appointment by email or post.

Some people may not need to attend a service point if they have submitted biometric details in the past.

Are English language test centres open and where?

English language test centres have generally reopened now. To find out where and when you can book an English language test outside the UK, you can check these providers’ websites: International English Language Testing System (IELTS), Pearson Test of English or LanguageCert.

For the latest on booking centres in the UK, please check: IELTS, Trinity College, Pearson Test of English or LanguageCert.

Can I work for my new employer while waiting for my UK visa application to be processed?

Those with a Certificate of Sponsorship assigned before 1 January 2021 may start work with their new sponsoring employer provided an application for leave to remain has been submitted prior to the expiry of their leave and they only work within the parameters of the role detailed in the Certificate of Sponsorship.

Those with a Certificate of Sponsorship assigned from 1 January 2021 will need to wait for their application to be approved before starting work (unless they still hold leave in another category which allows them to do that job).

Contact us on +44 (0) 207 033 9527 or enquiries@vanessaganguin.com for more details.

If my endorsement for a Global Talent visa expires will I still be able to come to the UK?

If an endorsement from an endorsing body has expired because someone has not been able to make an application for a Global Talent visa, they may still be eligible.

An endorsement will be accepted if both:

  • it was granted on or after 24 January 2020
  • the application was made before 1 January 2021

Applications that do not meet these requirements will be considered on a case by case basis.

Please do not hesitate to contact us promptly on +44(0)207 033 9527 or email enquiries@vanessaganguin.com to discuss if this may apply.

If an endorsement for a Start-up or Innovator visa expires will I still be able to come to the UK?

If a Start-up or Innovator visa endorsement from an endorsing body has expired because an applicant has not been able to travel to the UK, they may still be eligible for a visa. The Home Office says it will consider all applications on a case by case basis.

In addition Home Office guidance provides that where an individual is unable to make a visa application within the three month timeframe following endorsement the endorsing body will need to issue them with a new endorsement.

Please do not hesitate to contact us promptly on +44(0)207 033 9527 or email enquiries@vanessaganguin.com to discuss if this may apply.

What happens to Start-up visas if the coronavirus pandemic disrupts business?

The Home Office has offered a concession during the pandemic for those on a Start-up visa allowing them to apply for additional leave of 12 months. This will allow a Start-up visa to go beyond the normal maximum two-year period to allow developing a business along the lines of an agreed business plan.

Requirements must be met as usual, including endorsement by an endorsing body. The endorsing body must assess and be satisfied that reasonable progress has been made, taking into consideration the impact of coronavirus and that the business remains viable.

The endorsing body must provide an endorsement letter stating it is an application for a temporary extension by completing the relevant sections and providing the required information, within the endorsement letter.

Please contact us for more details on +44(0)207 033 9527 or email enquiries@vanessaganguin.com. 

Would COVID-19 disruption impact Tier 1 Entrepreneurs seeking leave to remain?

Entrepreneurs no longer need to employ at least two people for 12 consecutive months each. The 12 month period can be made up of multiple jobs across different months but this must be equivalent to two full time jobs.

Time when employees were furloughed will count towards the 12 month period if they have been paid at least 80% of their normal salary.

Those who have not been able to employ staff for 12 months by the time their visa expires will be allowed to extend their stay for a further 2 years, if they can show they created at least two jobs by the date they apply and they have been unable to employ staff for 12 month due to the pandemic.

Please contact us for more details on +44(0)207 033 9527 or email enquiries@vanessaganguin.com. 

If weddings or civil ceremonies are delayed due to COVID-19 can people extend their fiancé/fiancée visas?

Those who are in the UK with six months’ leave as a fiancé, fiancée or proposed civil partner whose wedding or civil ceremony has been delayed due to coronavirus can request additional time to stay in the UK.

This is also known as ‘exceptional assurance’, and can be claimed (see above: Can I extend my visa if I am unable to leave the UK?) providing evidence of when the wedding will take place.

Otherwise, those affected can apply to extend their stay for a further six months to allow the ceremony to take place.

For any more clarification, please contact us on 0207 033 9527 or enquiries@vanessaganguin.com.

Will a loss of income due to COVID-19 affect a family or private life visa application?

For those suffering a loss of income due to coronavirus up to 1 January 2021, employment income for the period immediately before the loss of income would be considered instead, provided the minimum income requirement was met for at least six months immediately before the date the income was lost.

If furloughed, income will be counted as if earning 100% of salary.

For those who are self-employed, a loss of annual income due to coronavirus between 1 March 2020 and 1 January 2021 will usually be disregarded, along with the impact on employment income from the same period for future applications.

If you have any concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us promptly on 0207 033 9527 or email enquiries@vanessaganguin.com to discuss.

What other coronavirus concessions are there for applications to enter the UK or remain on the basis of family or private life?

As well as the concessions above on postponed ceremonies and income dips, the Home Office has announced other temporary concessions for those unable to meet the requirements of the family Immigration Rules.

For those unable to travel back to the UK due to coronavirus travel restrictions whose leave has expired, a short break in continuous residence will be overlooked. They are expected to make their next application as soon as possible.

There will be no future adverse immigration consequences if there has been a short break of continuous residence if leave expired between 1 March 2020 and 31 August 2020. However, those who did not make a valid application to stay by 31 August 2020 must now make arrangements to leave the UK.

Those intending to leave the UK who have been unable to do so, with a visa or leave that expires between 1 December 2020 and 31 January 2021, may request additional time to stay, known as ‘exceptional assurance’ (see above: Can I extend my visa if I am unable to leave the UK?)

If leave expires after 31 October 2020, an application can be made from inside the UK where one would usually need to apply for a visa from their home country if:

  • the application is urgent, for example, a family emergency that prevents applying outside the UK
  • one cannot apply from outside the UK due to coronavirus

This is being kept under review.

In some cases, the Home Office has also said that they will be able to decide an application without seeing certain specified documents if coronavirus as made them impossible to get hold of. Otherwise, it may be possible to submit specified documents at a later date, after the application.

Those with an English language test as part of their application can apply for an exemption if the test centre was closed or they were unable to travel to it due to coronavirus when they applied.

English language test centres generally remain open during coronavirus measures in all tiers in the country as essential services. (See above: When and where are English language tests reopening?)

For the latest on booking English language test centres in the UK, please check: IELTS, Trinity College, Pearson or LanguageCert.

You can contact us on 0207 033 9527 or email enquiries@vanessaganguin.com if you have any concerns regarding these Coronavirus concessions.

Will I to need to restart my five-year qualifying period towards EU Settled Status if absent from the UK due to COVID-19?

Continuous qualifying period will not necessarily be affected if applicants to the EU Settlement Scheme were impacted by coronavirus public health restrictions. For example, if they contracted COVID-19 abroad and could not return to the UK, or imposed travel restrictions meant an absence from the UK for longer than planned (providing the period does not exceed 12 months).

In such circumstances, applicants will not always have to restart their five-year qualifying period towards settled status.

Depending on the basis of an application to the Settlement Scheme, time spent in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man may be treated as time spent in the UK.

Absences from the UK of up to six months in any 12-month period

If absent from the UK for no more than six months in any 12-month period, in either a single absence or multiple absences, the continuous qualifying period will not be broken regardless of the reason for the absence(s) and additional information or evidence will not need to be provided in support of an application.

A single absence from the UK of over six months but not more than 12 months

An absence from the UK for a single period of over six months, but not more than 12 months, during the five year continuous qualifying period due to being ill with coronavirus will not be counted as breaking the continuous qualifying period if someone was unable to return to the UK because they were ill or in quarantine.

The EU Settlement Scheme allows for a single absence up to 12 months for an important reason, including serious illness and study.

However an absence or absences of over six months but not more than 12 months in total in any five year continuous qualifying period where coronavirus was not a factor will still interrupt that continuous qualifying period unless there was another important reason for the absence.

Self-isolating will only be considered an important reason for absence if an applicant was, or is, under quarantine conditions, for example:

  • when ill with coronavirus
  • sharing a house with someone ill with coronavirus
  • when required to self-isolate as a result of being, or being in contact with someone who is, in a vulnerable or high-risk category

In all cases where prevented from travelling due to coronavirus applicants should provide a supporting letter with their application outlining the details and the dates they were ill or in quarantine.

Only one absence exceeding six months (but not exceeding 12 months) is allowed for an important reason in a five-year continuous qualifying period.

If there is more than one such absence, applicants would need to restart their five-year qualifying period towards settled status when they return to the UK before the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.

Absence of more than 12 months

If applicants do not have permanent residence status under the EEA Regulations or Settled Status under the EU Settlement Scheme, an absence from the UK of more than 12 months will always interrupt a continuous qualifying period.

In these circumstances they will need to restart their continuous qualifying period by 31 December 2020 to be eligible for status under the scheme.

What if I cannot get hold of the documents I need for my EU Settlement Scheme application due to the coronavirus pandemic?

Applicant can use an alternative piece of evidence of identity and nationality, or (if applying from outside the UK) of entitlement to apply from outside the UK if they are unable to obtain or produce a passport or national identity card due to circumstances beyond their control or due to compelling practical or compassionate reasons specifically related to coronavirus public health restrictions.

Each case will be considered individually.

If asked by the Home Office to provide further information or evidence before an application can be decided, applicants will be able to provide this by email, and all evidence of eligibility will be accepted in digital format.

Click here for more details.

Can health and care workers still extend visas for free?

The Home Office announced on 23 November, 2020 that its coronavirus concession for eligible healthcare professionals to be granted a 12-month visa extension is being extended to include those whose visas expires between 1 October 2020–31 March 2021. This extension will be free of charge and is open to their dependants if their leave expires before 31 March 2020. In​dividuals will be required to submit a ‘simple online form to verify their identity’ and employers will need to confirm the individual’s eligibility.

Eligible frontline health and care workers, including midwives, radiographers, social workers and pharmacists will receive a free one-year extension. The scheme includes husbands, wives, partners and children under 18 dependant on eligible health workers’ visas. This scheme does not include healthcare workers changing employers.

Front-line healthcare staff are aged to check with their employer if they are in an eligible profession.

  • The Home Office have listed the following eligible professions:
  • biochemist
  • biological scientist
  • dental practitioner
  • health professional
  • medical practitioner
  • medical radiographer
  • midwife
  • nurse
  • occupational therapist
  • ophthalmologist
  • paramedic
  • pharmacist
  • physiotherapist
  • podiatrist
  • psychologist
  • social worker
  • speech and language therapist
  • therapy professional

There is also no longer a limit on the number of hours those with leave in the following categories can work or volunteer for the NHS:

  • Student (including Tier 4 student) working for the NHS in a list profession
  • worker with a Skilled Work, Health and Care Work, Intra-company Transfer or T2 Worker visa and NHS job is a second job
  • visiting academic researcher
  • holder of a short-term visa and permitted to volunteer

In another Coronavirus concession, pre-registration nurses or midwives on the Temporary Register in the UK have had the deadline to sit the Occupational Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) extended to 30 September 2021. If they do not pass on the first attempt, they have until 31 December 2021 to pass the exam.

If you’re working on coronavirus research

If you’re a scientist researching coronavirus (COVID-19), you may be able to apply for a Global Talent visa using the UKRI endorsed funder option. Find out about the requirements for coronavirus researchers.

Which frontline workers are exempt of paying the Immigration Health Surcharge?

Anyone holding a relevant visa, who has worked in health and social care continuously for at least six months commencing on or after 31 March 2020 and has paid the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) may be eligible for a reimbursement. Their dependants may also be eligible for a reimbursement if the IHS has been paid for them.The current surcharge is £624.

The reimbursement scheme is designed for claimants who are in the UK on visas that give them a generic right to work. Examples of this may include:

  • a dependant of a UK national or another migrant
  • someone on a Tier 4 student visa who can undertake up to 20 hours of work a week during term time
  • someone on the Tier 5 youth mobility scheme

Those eligible can now apply online and access guidance on claiming the reimbursement, which will be paid in 6six-month instalments.

There are other categories of people who do not need to pay the health charge too.

How does the Coronavirus Bereavement Scheme work?

Family members of NHS and independent health and social care workers who die from COVID-19 will be offered immediate indefinite leave to remain free of charge

They not need to do anything to receive this status. UKVI will contact employers to identify those eligible and will arrange for you to be issued with indefinite leave to remain.

However, people can contact the UKVI NHS team at: UKVINHSTeam@homeoffice.gov.uk.

Can migrants with no recourse to public funds receive payment if furloughed?

The good news is that payments for furloughed staff as part of the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme are not classified as “public funds” for migrants, so they would not be breaking any regulations.

Most migrants have the condition stipulated in their leave of “no access to public funds” and are unable to claim Universal Credit or other benefits available to ease people’s economic plight during social distancing measures. That said, “New Style” Jobseekers Allowance, Statutory Sick Pay, and “New Style” Employment Support Allowance do not count as public funds.

Can migrants have recourse to public funds in extreme circumstances?

Most migrants have the condition stipulated in their leave of “no access to public funds” and are unable to claim Universal Credit or other benefits available to ease people’s economic plight during social distancing measures. That said, “New Style” Jobseekers Allowance, Statutory Sick Pay, and “New Style” Employment Support Allowance do not count as public funds.

Those who are facing extreme hardship and have been granted leave to remain on family/private life grounds may be eligible to have the “no recourse to public funds” condition removed if their financial circumstances have changed since the leave was granted and they are no longer able to provide food or housing for themselves or their family; their child is at risk because of their very low income or they had financial problems when they first applied but failed to provide evidence of this.

Following a High Court judgement, Home Office guidance was further softened on 29 May so that if people granted or seeking indefinite leave to remain under the family or private life routes are destitute or at risk of imminent destitution, then the ‘no recourse to public funds’ stipulation should be lifted.