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Coronavirus and the UK Immigration System

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Information for Tier 2 Sponsors – Guidance on Sponsored Employees’ Absences, Furloughs and etc.

This article will cover some frequently asked questions by our clients, who are mainly Tier 2 sponsors in the UK. 

The information provided in this article does not constitute legal advice and is for general guidance only. For further details, please contact your legal adviser or refer to the materials provided on official government websites. 

What do sponsors need to do with a sponsored employee’s absence?

The government has confirmed that there will be no enforcement action against sponsors who continue to sponsor employees who are absent due to coronavirus. 

There is no need to report the sponsored employee’s absence if:

  • The absence is due to illness;
  • Their need to isolate; or 
  • Inability to travel due to travel restrictions. 

It is recommended that sponsors continue to keep some evidence of the sponsored employee’s absence – for instance, email communication with the employee to show that the sponsored employee’s absence is attributed to coronavirus-related concerns. 

Are sponsors required to withdraw sponsorship of an employee who has been absent from work without pay?

Sponsors are not required to withdraw sponsorship due to coronavirus if a sponsored employee is absent from work without pay for more than 4 weeks. 

What should sponsors do if they have issued a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) and the sponsored employee has not yet applied for a visa?

The government has confirmed that the employee will still be able to apply for a visa and the Home Office will not automatically refuse cases where the start date for the employment stated on the CoS may have changed. 

Application for visa will be considered on a case by case basis, for instance, the government may still accept a CoS if they have become invalid as a result of a restriction on travel due to coronavirus. 

Do sponsors need to notify the Home Office if sponsored employees are working from home?

The current Home Office position is that sponsors will not be required to notify the Home Office of any sponsored employees who are working from home due to coronavirus. 

For other reasons of changes to the sponsored employee’s working arrangements, such changes must still be reported as usual. 

What can sponsors do about a sponsored employee who is still waiting for their Tier 2 visa application decision? 

Sponsors may allow employees to start work before their visa decision if: 

  • You have assigned them a CoS; 
  • 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.

Sponsors’ reporting responsibilities for an employee begin from the date a CoS was assigned, not from the date the application is granted. However, sponsors will not be able to report the information using the sponsor management system. 

As such, sponsors must record and maintain all the relevant information set out in the sponsor guidance on their internal systems. Further, any changes that will impact the subsequent consideration of the employee’s visa application should be updated on the CoS as normal. 

Please note that if the employee’s application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused, sponsors must terminate their employment. 

Can sponsors furlough or reduce the pay of sponsored employees as a result of a temporary cessation of trading?

The government has confirmed that sponsors are allowed to reduce the pay of sponsored employees up to 80% of their salary or £2,500 per month, whichever is the lower. 

Any reductions must be a part of a company-wide policy to avoid redundancies and in which all workers are treated the same. 

Such reductions must be temporary and the sponsored employee’s pay must return to at least previous levels once these arrangements have ended. 

Sponsors must report that the sponsored employee has been placed on to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and report to the Home Office the reduction in salary. The reports should be made in accordance to the timeframe stipulated in the Sponsor Guidance. 

Any sponsored employees put on furlough will not be in breach of the conditions of their visa because the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is not defined as “public funds” in Part 6 of the Immigration Rules. 

Are sponsors still required to conduct a right to work check during temporary COVID-19 measures?

Yes, sponsors are required to conduct a right to work check although the government has relaxed the requirements. 

At the time of writing, the following temporary changes have been made: 

  • Checks can be conducted over video calls; 
  • Job applicants and existing employees are permitted to send scanned copies of documents or photo of documents for verification using email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals; 
  • Employers should use the employer checking service if a prospective or existing employee is unable to provide any of the accepted documents

It must be noted that it remains an offence to knowingly employ anyone who does not have the right to work in the UK. Sponsors who are employing either domestic or international employees must continue to verify the prescribed documents listed in the “Right to Work Checks: An Employer’s Guide”.  

Call our tier 2 sponsored general work visa solicitors in Manchester 0161 820 8888 or call 0208 889 8888 for our solicitors in London. We will happily provide a free 30-minute consultation on your matter. Give us a call today!

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