All your COVID-19 UK Immigration and travel questions answered
14 July 2020
We have done our best to answer the main UK immigration and arrival 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.
We have divided our FAQ on UK immigration and travel during the pandemic into questions specifically for employers and sponsors, and below these some more general questions.
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 email@example.com.
Quarantine measures for arrivals and immigration concessions for those caught up in the pandemic are detailed below. In the UK social distancing measures are set to relax. Find out more about:
- Coronavirus restrictions in England
- Coronavirus restrictions in Northern Ireland
- Coronavirus rules in Scotland
- Coronavirus regulations in Wales
COVID-19 FAQs for sponsoring employers
During the coronavirus pandemic, remote right to work checks meant employers did not need to lose out on statutory protection against illegal working penalties if new joiners sent scanned copies of their evidence, then held the originals up to camera on a video call, with dated records kept of these checks.
The Home Office concession allowing remote checks was due to end on 21 June but has now been extended until 31 August. This will be a relief for HR staff who did not relish insisting on in person checks for prospective staff before social distancing measures are lifted.
After 1 September, prospective employees will still be able to send their original documents by post or courier and employers check their likeness over a videocall if that is preferable to an in person check. Though not everyone may feel comfortable entrusting important documents to a courier service.
The other good news is that the Home Office’s updated advice confirms employers do not need to carry out retrospective checks on those who had a COVID-19 adjusted check between 30 March 2020 and 31 August 2021 (inclusive). The original plan was for firms to have to do the checks again after the disruption of the pandemic ended – a nightmare for companies with high turnovers of staff.
Do, as always, be aware that while third parties such as recruiters and professional advisers may provide systems for such checks, the responsibility for conducting them (and the consequences for not conducting them) remains with the employer, according to the Home Office.
You can find more on the latest advice on right to work check changes here.
Employers must take care not get caught by changes. Since lockdowns have ended, the Home Office has resumed compliance visits as well as issuing fines for right to work check breaches.
For any more questions on right to work checks and compliance, do call 0207 033 9527 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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 sponsors are not normally permitted to extend the start date by more than 28 days, although the Home Office has confirmed that compelling circumstances will be considered, including where the start date cannot be met due to the pandemic.
Please do not hesitate to contact us on 0207 033 9527 or email@example.com for any more help with this.
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.
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 – although sponsors will not be penalised for any salaries reduced below the going rates prior to 23 December 2020.
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.
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.
For any more clarification, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0207 033 9527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
Which healthcare workers’ visas can be extended for free during the pandemic?
Eligible frontline health and care workers, including midwives, radiographers, social workers and pharmacists can apply for a free one-year visa extension if their visa expires between 1 April 2021 and 30 September 2021. The scheme includes husbands, wives, partners and children under 18 dependant on eligible health workers’ visas.
Front-line healthcare staff can be working for the National Health Service or an independent healthcare provider. They are encouraged to check with their employer if they are in an eligible profession. The Home Office have listed the following eligible professions:
- biological scientist
- dental practitioner
- health professional
- medical practitioner
- medical radiographer
- occupational therapist
- social worker
- speech and language therapist
- therapy professional
Who can apply for a health surcharge refund?
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. More details of the scheme can be found here.
If you’re working on coronavirus research
If you’re a scientist researching coronavirus, you may be able to apply for a Global Talent visa using the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) endorsed funder option, and you will only need confirmation from the endorsed funder of an award granted for a minimum of one year instead of the usual two for Global Talent. The minimum employment contract or hosting agreement only needs to be one year too. This concession has been extended until 31 December 2021 now.
The letter from the employer or host institution must confirm that the work is on a coronavirus related grant and provide the corresponding unique database reference number from the UK Collaborative on Development Research COVID-19 Research Project Tracker. Applicants who are successfully endorsed under this Home Office concession and who are already in the UK, will be able to switch into the route from any other category of visa. Find out about the requirements for the coronavirus researchers here.
What other concessions are there for the work of health workers and their employers 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 UK Visas and Immigration (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 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.
For help with any of the above, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0207 033 9527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
COVID-19 FAQs for individuals
The UK has adopted a ‘traffic light’ system for arrivals from other countries to replace the pandemic ban on all non-essential travel with a more nuanced approach as part of the country’s roadmap out of restrictions. Countries have been divided into the following ‘traffic light’ categories, depending on COVID-19 risk factors and public health advice – to be reviewed every three weeks. This is the advice for arrivals in England (see rules for arrivals in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland, which are generally very similar below):
Green: the ban and guidance against non-essential holiday travel has been lifted for countries on the ‘green’ list such as Australia and Singapore. Some countries added to the green list are at serious risk of moving to amber, and so appear in the Government’s list below with a warning they are on the green ‘watchlist.’ Passengers coming from any green countries will not have to quarantine on arrival unless they test positive or show symptoms. But they must book two coronavirus tests: one in the three days before departing, then a second PCR test on or before day two after they arrive. They must also complete a passenger locator form any time in the 48 hours before arriving. Children aged four and under are exempt from any travel testing. Children aged five to 10 will only need to do a day two PCR. Before booking a holiday to a country on the green list bear in mind none of the arrangements are reciprocal and every country has its own policy for arrivals. For instance, while Australia, New Zealand and Singapore were put on the UK’s first ‘green’ list, their own strict criteria for arrivals would not allow holiday visitors from the UK.
Amber: Arrivals from around 140 medium-risk ‘amber’ countries must self-isolate for 10 days in their home or indeed any accommodation of their choice. Passengers from ‘amber’ countries must book three tests before setting out – one pre-departure, and then PCR tests on day 2 and day 8 after arrival. They must also complete a passenger locator form any time in the 48 hours before arriving. The Test to Release scheme allows arrivals from these countries to pay for a fourth test on day 5, and if it comes back negative they can leave quarantine early. Children aged four and under are exempt from any travel testing. Children aged five to 10 will only need to do a day two PCR and 11 to 18 year olds will need to take both a pre-departure test and a day two PCR (like the regime for arrivals from green list countries). From 4am on 19 July, there will no longer be a Government recommendation against non-essential travel to these destinations.
From 4am on 19 July, arrivals who have received both vaccine doses from the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and children under 18 will not have to quarantine on arrival in England from amber list countries – apart from France – so long as they have not passed through any red list countries in the 10 days before arriving. To avoid self-isolating, 14 days should have passed since the final dose of a vaccine which must have been administered by the NHS. Arrivals will still have to take pre-departure tests and will be required to take a PCR test on day two of their arrival. It will mean the requirements for around 170 green and amber list countries will be the same for those fully-vaccinated in the UK and those under 18 arriving in England. Those eligible must declare they have been fully vaccinated on the passenger locator form and show proof of vaccination status to their carrier (ferry, airline or train) when they travel. (New details on the NHS COVID pass can be found here.)
The above exemption from self-isolating from 19 July on arrival in England and Wales does not apply to France which is on the amber list, though arrivals will still have to quarantine for ten days as the UK Government has warned cases of the Beta variant of COVID-19, first identified in South Africa is still “persistent” there. People who have been in France in the 10 days before arrival must quarantine for 10 days on arrival and take day two and day eight COVID-19 tests.
The UK Government is still looking into allowing people who have been vaccinated in other countries to enjoy such quarantine-free travel arrangements to the UK from amber list countries. (This would appear easier from some destinations such as the EU with similar digital vaccination records than from other countries with different record keeping.)
Red: you cannot travel to England if you’ve been in a red list country in the previous 10 days unless you’re a British national, an Irish national or anyone with residence rights in the UK (ie: not just a visitor without a long-term visa). Arrivals from high-risk ‘red list’ countries must quarantine for 10 days as part of the Quarantine Hotel scheme at designated hotels near airports at £1,750 a head. They must also take three tests – the same as the amber group – but cannot pay to stop self-isolating early with the Test to Release scheme.
Arrivals from countries on any of these lists must fill out a Passenger Locator Form detailing contact details and where they will be staying within 48 hours of their journey to the UK.
None of these measures do apply for those arriving from the Common Travel Area (UK, Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man). There are certain professions exempt from some of these measures, such as airline pilots, representatives of overseas countries or certain specialist workers. There is a full list here.
The lists below apply to travel to England. The other UK nations tend to have their own variation on the system.
COVID-19 rules for arrivals in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland
There are different rules for each country:
- testing, self-isolation and quarantine rules for Northern Ireland
- testing, self-isolation and quarantine rules for Scotland
- testing, self-isolation and quarantine rules for Wales
Which countries are on the Green List?
NB: If conditions change in a country or territory, it can be moved from the green list to the amber or red list. If a country or territory on the green list is at risk of moving to amber, it is listed with a warning that it is on the ‘Green watchlist.’ However, if there is a sudden change in conditions, a country or territory may be moved between lists without warning.
- Anguilla (green watchlist – at risk of moving from green to amber)
- Antartica/British Antarctic Territory (green watchlist – at risk of moving from green to amber)
- Antigua and Barbuda (green watchlist – at risk of moving from green to amber)
- Balearic islands (Formentera, Ibiza, Mallorca, Menorca are all currently on the green watchlist. They will move to amber list 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England after then you need to follow the amber list rules)
- Barbados (green watchlist – at risk of moving from green to amber)
- Bermuda (green watchlist – at risk of moving from green to amber)
- British Indian Ocean Territory (green watchlist – at risk of moving from green to amber)
- British Virgin Islands (currently on the green watchlist. Will move to amber list 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England after then you need to follow the amber list rules)
- Bulgaria (currently on the amber list. Will move to green list 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England before then you need to follow the amber list rules)
- Cayman Islands (green watchlist – at risk of moving from green to amber)
- Croatia (currently on the amber list. Will move to green watchlist 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England before then you need to follow the amber list rules)
- Dominica (green watchlist – at risk of moving from green to amber)
- Falkland Islands
- Faroe Islands
- Grenada (green watchlist – at risk of moving from green to amber)
- Israel and Jerusalem (green watchlist – at risk of moving from green to amber)
- Madeira (green watchlist – at risk of moving from green to amber. Mainland Portugal and the Azores are on teh amber list)
- Montserrat (green watchlist – at risk of moving from green to amber)
- New Zealand
- Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands (green watchlist – at risk of moving from green to amber)
- South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands
- St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
- Taiwan (currently on the amber list. Will move to green watchlist 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England before then you need to follow the amber list rules)
- Turks and Caicos Islands (green watchlist – at risk of moving from green to amber)
Which countries are on the Amber List?
- Akrotiri and Dhekelia
- The Bahamas
- Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Bulgaria (will move to green list 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England before then you need to follow the amber list rules)
- Burkina Faso
- Central African Republic
- Cook Islands, Tokelau and Niue
- Côte d’Ivoire
- Croatia (will move to green watchlist 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England before then you need to follow the amber list rules)
- Cuba (will move to red list 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England after then you need to follow the red list rules)
- Czech Republic (Czechia)
- El Salvador
- Equatorial Guinea
- French Polynesia
- The Gambia
- Greece (including islands)
- Hong Kong (Will move to green list 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England before then you need to follow the amber list rules)
- Indonesia (will move to red list 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England after then you need to follow the red list rules)
- Marshall Islands
- Myanmar (Burma) (will move to red list 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England after then you need to follow the red list rules)
- New Caledonia
- North Korea
- North Macedonia
- The Occupied Palestinian Territories
- Papua New Guinea
- Portugal (including the Azores. Madeira is on the green watchlist)
- San Marino
- Sao Tome and Principe
- Saudi Arabia
- Sierra Leone (will move to red list 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England after then you need to follow the red list rules)
- Solomon Islands
- South Korea
- South Sudan
- Spain (the Balearic islands of Formentera, Ibiza, Mallorca, Menorca are currently on the green watchlist. They will move to the amber list 4am, Monday 19 July)
- St Kitts and Nevis
- St Lucia
- St Maarten
- St Martin and St Barthélemy
- St Pierre and Miquelon
- St Vincent and the Grenadines
- Taiwan (will move to green watchlist 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England before then you need to follow the amber list rules)
- United States
- Wallis and Futuna
- Western Sahara
Which countries are on the Red List?
- Cape Verde
- Congo (Democratic Republic)
- Costa Rica
- Cuba (Currently on the amber list. Will move to red list 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England after then you need to follow the red list rules)
- Dominican Republic
- French Guiana
- Indonesia (currently on the amber list. Will move to red list 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England after then you need to follow the red list rules)
- Myanmar (Burma) (currently on the amber list. Will move to red list 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England after then you need to follow the red list rules)
- Sierra Leone (currently on the amber list. Will move to red list 4am, Monday 19 July. If you arrive in England after then you need to follow the red list rules)
- South Africa
- Sri Lanka
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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, test or self-isolate for 10 days.
Those who entered the CTA within the last 10 days will need to complete the form still and may or may not have to self-isolate as per the traffic light system (see question above) 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 exemptions below are for arrivals in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own rules and exemptions. Click on these links to find out:
Who is exempt from COVID-related travel restrictions in Northern Ireland?
Who is exempt from COVID-related travel restrictions on arrival in Scotland ?
Who is exempt from COVID-related travel restrictions on arrival in Wales?
The Home Office updated the list below on 29 June. Some categories must still complete the Public Health passenger locator form before they travel.
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).
Which sectors and jobs are exempt from COVID measures such as self-isolating in England?
- Aerospace engineers
- Aircraft pilots and crew
- BBC broadcasting transmission network and services
- Border security duties – UK officials and contractors
- Border security duties – non-UK officials and contractors
- Bus and coach drivers
- Business directors bringing significant numbers of jobs and investment to the UK
- Channel Tunnel system workers
- Civil aviation inspectors
- Clinical trials or studies
- Crown servants or government contractors
- Data infrastructure maintenance
- Defence personnel, visiting forces and government contractors
- Diplomatic missions, international organisations and conferences
- Downstream oil facility workers
- Drivers of goods vehicles
- Electronic communications networks
- Elite sportspersons – domestic
- Elite sportspersons – international
- Environment Agency relating to flood and coastal erosion risk management
- Eurostar International workers
- Eurotunnel workers
- High Speed 2 rail workers
- In-flight security officers
- IT and telecoms workers
- Medical evacuation
- Medical treatment
- Urgent medical treatment
- Medicines – human and veterinary
- Network Rail workers
- Nuclear personnel
- Nuclear emergency responder
- Nurses from red list countries coming to take up NHS employment
- Offshore oil and gas
- OPCW and IAEA inspectors
- Postal workers
- Prison escorts (international)
- Quality assurance inspectors for human and veterinary medicines
- Regular work abroad
- Representatives of a foreign country or territory or British overseas territories
- Seamen and masters and inspectors and surveyors of ships
- Seasonal agricultural workers
- Specialist technical workers – sub-sea telecommunications infrastructure
- Specialist technical workers – goods and services
- Specialist technical workers – waste
- Specialist technical workers – power infrastructure
- Specialist technical workers – space infrastructure
- Transiting through the UK (layovers)
- Transporting human cells or blood
- Water supplies and sewerage services workers
Anyone who needs to travel urgently to the UK for compassionate reasons, should explain the compelling or compassionate reasons for their visit in their visa application form and alert the Visa Application Centre staff during biometric submission. If they do not hear back from UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) or their request is exceptionally urgent, they can also contact UKVI for help.