The coronavirus pandemic that has swept the globe has made changes to all our lives. Whether that’s increased home working, social distancing becoming the norm and less international travel, it’s unlikely that life will be returning to exactly how it was before the virus spread.
These have been particularly challenging times for migrants. With visa agencies closing, or offering a reduced service, this is a concerning time for migrants who already live in the UK or hope to do so. With families currently waiting to be re-united, and skilled people looking to fill vacancies, there is an urgent need for more clarity.
Visa applications & extensions
Due to visa agencies across the globe being closed, it has become significantly more difficult to obtain a UK visa. In many cases, it’s currently impossible. Appointments have been cancelled, and in some cases re-arranged. If you fall into this category, then it’s important to liaise with the office that’s dealing with your case.
If you’re already in the UK and unable to return to your home country, or are waiting to apply to settle long-term, then an extension has now been applied to UK visas until July 31st. If you wish to remain in the UK beyond that date you will need to make an online application here.
A dedicated coronavirus team is working with individuals to try and make the process as straightforward as possible. Further advice and support from the UK Home Office can be accessed here.
NHS Staff Scheme
Any current visa holder who is employed in the NHS as a doctor, nurse or paramedic will automatically be entitled to an extra year on their visa, if it expires before the 1st October 2020. This extra year will also be applied to family members. As well as the visa extension it will not be necessary to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) for that year. This is being rolled out automatically by the government, and there is no need to apply.
Under normal circumstances, the wages of a Tier 2 General Visa Holder’s wages must remain above a minimum level. Under the exceptional circumstances prompted by the pandemic, the government has allowed employers to furlough workers in order to reduce costs and retain staff. Businesses are able to pay furloughed workers up to 80% of their salary (to a maximum of £2500), and then claim the money back from the government through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
The scheme treats migrant and non-migrant workers the same and has been extended until the end of October.
As well as the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme, the government has been taking other measures to shore up the economy and employment during these unprecedented times.
The criteria for migrant entrepreneurs to employ at least 2 workers for a continuous 12-month period, to retain their visa has been relaxed. This 12-month period can now be split between multiple employees over different months. However, furloughed staff cannot be counted towards the qualifying period.
If your visa is close to expiring, and you haven’t been able to meet the 12-month employment criteria, the Home Office is currently offering temporary extensions to enable you to do so.
Challenging times for migrants
As lockdown is tentatively eased, we are about to enter a new phase of the crisis. Policy announcements are likely to come thick and fast, so it’s important to try and stay as informed as possible.
In times like this it is easy for people to fall into the cracks of the UK immigration system. If you need any advice about your migration status or need to discuss the specifics of a case that is affecting you, please get in touch.