March 25, 2020 SPECIAL COVID-19 ISSUE

UNITED KINGDOM – Immigration

By: Marcia Longdon, Kingsley Napley LLP, London

UK employers are being hit hard by the impact on the UK immigration system as a result of coronavirus. The information coming out from the Home Office is literally changing on a daily basis and as I write this the government has confirmed that the country is on lock down and people must stay at home and only go outside for food, health reasons or essential work. The government has defined essential work, as typically roles that are considered key workers, such as health services, supermarket staff, pharmacy etc. In addition, the government announced welcomed financial support for businesses and in many cases has confirmed that it will provide up to 80% salary payments for employees.

As well as employers having to consider managing their employees, who are all, in most cases, required to work from home, the immigration perspective is causing huge problems. For example, employers are concerned that they are not being compliant with their obligations as sponsors of migrants. How are they (employers) to manage the migrants’ right-to-work check, which should, typically, be done face to face? Due to the coronavirus outbreak, for obvious reasons that is no longer possible at the moment. In some circumstances an online right-of-work check may be possible, but where that is not the case employers are well advised to rely on copy documentation until the original documents can be provided. These limited checks, including potentially by video conferencing, should be carried out before the employment commences. We have advised employers to make written records of what they are doing during this time as they may be required to produce evidence if they are audited by the Home Office.

In addition, employers are concerned for their sponsored workers in terms of reporting a change of work location. The Home Office has confirmed to us that those sponsored workers who are required to work from home due to the coronavirus outbreak will not need to report the change on the Sponsor Management System (SMS), which is the on-line immigration system for employers. In addition, unfortunately, we are receiving a number of queries from UK employers who are having to terminate the employment of sponsored workers, which raises various immigration implications as well as employment. We have written to our contacts at the Home Office asking for leniency in these extreme circumstances such that the usual 60-day curtailment notice period is extended, which applies when a sponsored workers’ employment is terminated earlier than expected.

Where employees in the UK have an imminently expiring visa, this raises the prospect that hopefully the Home Office will automatically extend visas for everyone where necessary, to ensure that migrants are not overstaying and being in breach.

Most of the above is unofficial guidance from the Home Office, which has not yet updated the Immigration Rules or provided policy documents.

Marcia Longdon

Kingsley Napley LLP, London