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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

All your COVID-19 UK Immigration and travel questions answered

Updated 11 May 2022

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, including What are the new COVID-19 travel testing and quarantine rules for arrivals in the UK? – short answer: none (see below).

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.

COVID-19 FAQs for sponsoring employers

Can firms still conduct right to work checks without seeing someone in person due to coronavirus measures?

During the coronavirus pandemic, the Home Office have allowed remote right to work checks. This means employers do not need to lose out on statutory protection against illegal working penalties if new joiners send scanned copies of their evidence, then hold the originals up to camera on a video call, with dated records kept of these checks.

The Home Office concession allowing remote checks has now been extended once again until 5 April 2022. 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.

From 6 April onwards, 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.

There will be other changes to the way right to work checks can be conducted from 6 April, including online digital checks conducted by outsourced providers. You can read more about the new changes here.

The Home Office has also confirmed that employers do not need to carry out retrospective checks on those who had a COVID-19 adjusted check between 30 March 2020 and 5 April 2022.

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.

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 enquiries@vanessaganguin.com.

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 firms postpone a 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 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 enquiries@vanessaganguin.com for any more help with this.

Can sponsored staff work from home?

During the pandemic the Home Office relaxed certain reporting requirements. With many workers still working 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.

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.

What immigration concessions are there for health workers and their employers during the pandemic?

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.

Can health workers start work while awaiting a decision on a work visa application?

Those assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) and applying for a Health and Care Worker visa can  start work before their visa application has been decided if they submitted their application before their current visa expired and they show their sponsor evidence of this and the job is the same as the one listed on the CoS.

If not applying under the Health and Care visa, they must wait until the visa application has been granted before starting work, unless their current visa allows you to work in that job.

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, Global Business Mobility: Senior or Specialist Worker, Intra-company Transfer or T2 Worker visa and your NHS job is a second job
  • visiting academic researcher
  • holder of a short-term visa and permitted to volunteer

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.

UKVI will contact employers to identify those eligible and will arrange for them to be issued with indefinite leave to remain.

However, people who may be eligible and have not heard from the employer yet can contact the UKVI NHS team at: UKVINHSTeam@homeoffice.gov.uk.

For help with any of the above, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0207 033 9527 or enquiries@vanessaganguin.com.

covid 19 facemasks

COVID-19 FAQs for individuals

What are the new COVID-19 travel testing, quarantine and red list rules for arrivals in the UK?

From Friday 18 March, all pandemic regulations for travel to the UK were removed. When you travel to the UK from abroad you:

  • do not need to take any COVID-19 tests before you travel or after you arrive
  • do not need to fill in a UK passenger locator form
  • do not need to quarantine when you arrive

This applies whether you are vaccinated or not.

It includes people who are transiting through the UK.

You should follow any rules that your travel provider tells you to follow.

Other countries may have rules about what you need to do to leave the country to travel to the UK. You should check travel advice for the country you are travelling from.

Are there any policies to help EU Settlement Scheme applicants who have had absences from the UK due to the pandemic?

Continuous residence in the UK is a crucial requirement for EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) eligibility. Following concern that many applicants would have had longer than expected breaks due to the global pandemic, the Home Office published its Coronavirus (COVID-19): EU Settlement Scheme – guidance for applicants in June 2021.

Appendix EU now contains the provisions of this concession (which no longer operates) and provides that in a range of circumstances where, due to COVID-19 applicants would have exceeded the permitted absences from the UK and broken their period of continuous residence, they will continue to qualify for status under the EUSS. Applications may still be eligible with evidenced reasons for longer breaks due to the coronavirus pandemic. Visit the Coronavirus (COVID-19): EU Settlement Scheme – guidance for applicants for examples of the reasons that are acceptable and what evidence should be required.

Can people still apply to the EU Settlement Scheme?

The deadline to apply was 30 June 2021 for most people. People can still apply if either:

  • they have a later deadline – for example, they are joining a family member in the UK who was living in the UK by 31 December 2020
  • they have ‘reasonable grounds’ for being unable to apply by 30 June 2021 – for example, due to domestic abuse, an illness or difficulty accessing support to apply because of coronavirus restrictions

More details can be found here.

Will indefinite leave to enter/remain or naturalisation be affected by extended absence or inability to return to the UK?

Will applications for indefinite leave to remain or naturalisation 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.

If I can’t return to the UK due to the Coronavirus pandemic, will I lose indefinite leave to remain / indefinite leave to enter?

Indefinite leave to remain and indefinite leave to enter will lapse if someone is absent from the UK for over two years. If they lapsed on or after 24 January 2020, those unable to return to the UK due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions may apply under the Returning Resident visa route to return to the UK and get indefinite leave.

You need to complete the online Returning Resident application form and pay the fee. As part of your application you’ll need to explain how coronavirus restrictions prevented your return to the UK.

The Returning Resident application form can be filled out online. There is a fee and applicants will need to explain how coronavirus restrictions prevented their return to the UK.

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

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

What should I do if my 90 day visa vignette to work or join family has expired?

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.

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

What should I do if my 90 day student visa vignette has expired?

Students with an expired visa vignette resuming studies undertaken online back in the UK or with studies completed remotely under COVID concessions and coming to the UK to pursue the Graduate visa route should familiarise themselves with the guidance and fill the online form above. They will also have to pat £154 and resubmit biometrics.

Those who have been unable to study remotely meaning the course cannot be completed within their existing visa period, or who have a new course end date and would like a new visa reflecting that, should submit a new paid student visa application with a new Certificate of Acceptance of Study (CAS) to cover the revised dates. Biometric information will need to be resubmitted too.

What should I do if I arrived in the UK after my visa vignette expired due to COVID-19 measures?

Those who entered the UK outside the 30 or 90 day window allowed by their entry clearance vignette due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can apply to remain in the country without having to return overseas or reapply.
To make use of this coronavirus concession, for which there is no Home Office fee, e-mail ECActivation@homeoffice.gov.uk with the following details:

  • a photo of yourself
  • a photo of your Entry Clearance vignette and passport biodata page
  • a photo of the Entry stamp in your passport
  • details of how your travel was impacted by COVID-19 regulations
  • residential address where an updated Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) can be returned

An updated BRP will then be sent out with the correct conditions of leave.

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

Can I apply for a visa if my local Visa Application Centre (VAC) is shut due to COVID and what VAC services may be suspended?

Most UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) Visa Application Centres (VAC) around the world are open. 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. Where services are resuming, existing customers will be contacted. Priority and Super Priority services are only available in some locations. If available,  these services will be able to be purchased when booking an appointment.

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 30 June 2022.

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.

English language tests are available in most countries but may be temporarily suspended in some countries due to coronavirus restrictions.

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

Those unable to return to another country who have a visa, leave or ‘exceptional assurance’ that expires before 31 May 2022 may request additional time to stay, known as ‘exceptional assurance’ if they intend to leave when it becomes possible. This is a concession that now applies only to countries on the Red list (see question on travel measures above) or exceptional cases where a country or territory has closed their borders or where quarantine facilities are temporarily over-subscribed, preventing people returning.

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 the reason why they are unable to leave the UK

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. Or evidence of inability to book quarantine accommodation in a country of residence.)

If granted exceptional assurance, it will act as a short-term protection against any adverse action or consequences after leave has expired.

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.

Can I extend my visa to stay in the UK?

Those wishing to apply for leave to remain in the UK must be permitted to apply in-country by the Immigration Rules relating to the relevant category. Otherwise they will need to return home to apply for entry clearance.

The terms of their current permission will remain the same until the application is decided. If  switching into work or study routes they may be able to commence work or study whilst the application is under consideration, depending on the terms of the current permission.

Some routes have no provision in the Immigration Rules for making an in-country application, such as T5 Youth Mobility Scheme, or Adult Dependant Relative. The concession allowing discretionary switching in-country has now been narrowed.

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

What should I do if I arrived in the UK after my visa vignette expired due to COVID-19 measures?

Those who entered the UK outside the 30 or 90 day window allowed by their entry clearance vignette due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can apply to remain in the country without having to return overseas or reapply.
To make use of this coronavirus concession, for which there is no Home Office fee, e-mail ECActivation@homeoffice.gov.uk with the following details:

  • a photo of yourself
  • a photo of your Entry Clearance vignette and passport biodata page
  • a photo of the Entry stamp in your passport
  • details of how your travel was impacted by COVID-19 regulations
  • residential address where an updated Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) can be returned

An updated BRP will then be sent out with the correct conditions of leave.

What if I have overstayed my 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.

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

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

What concessions are there for Global Talent applications?

If an endorsement from an endorsing body has expired because someone has not been able to make an application for a Global Talent visa within the three-month deadline due to COVID-19 related reasons, they may still be eligible. They should provide an explanation of the delay when submitting their application.

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.

Please do not hesitate to contact us promptly on +44(0)207 033 9527 or email enquiries@vanessaganguin.com to discuss if you have concerns about any of the above.

What happens to Start-up visas if the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted 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. Applications for an additional year under these arrangements will not be accepted after 30 September 2022.

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.

How does COVID-19 disruption impact immigration requirements for 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.

On 10 September 2021, the Home Office released their latest statement of changes to the UK’s Immigration Rules (these are in addition to the less formalised “policy concessions” above, which have been regularly updated since the start of the pandemic).

For those currently under the now closed to new applicants Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route, the Immigration Rules are being updated. If you temporarily extended your Entrepreneur visa by relying on the Home Office’s policy concession where you were unable to employ two new starters under the creation of jobs requirement due to Covid-19, you will now still have to comply with the jobs creation requirement when you come to apply for settlement.

This means that when you apply for settlement, you will have to show that you have created four jobs (of 12 months duration), or two jobs (of 24 months duration). This rule change took effect from 6 October 2021.

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

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

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 can apply for an extension of leave. Under the family Immigration Rules there must be a good reason why and evidence that the ceremony will be held within the next six months.

Cancellation of a wedding or civil partnership ceremony due to COVID-19 will be considered a good reason under this policy.

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 31 October 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 31 October 2021 will usually be disregarded, along with the impact on employment income from the same period for future applications.

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 between 1 March 2020 and 19 July 2021, a short break of up to 6 months 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 30 June 2021. However, the latest Home Office guidance says that those who returned to the UK and did not make a valid application to stay upon re-entry must now make arrangements to leave.

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.

For the latest on booking English language test centres in the UK, please check: IELTSTrinity CollegePearson or LanguageCert.

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

Can migrants with no recourse to public funds receive payment when furloughed or in extreme circumstances?

The good news is that payments for furloughed staff as part of the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme were not classified as ‘public funds’ for migrants, so they would not have been breaking any regulations. The bad news is that the furlough scheme (formally known as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme) has now come to an end.

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  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.