Immigration update - Coronavirus immigration implications, increased IHS fees in the Budget and ILR salary levels

12 March 2020

As another emergency government Cobra meeting takes place today and the government is expected to move into the “delay” phase of the Coronavirus response, we answer key questions about the immigration implications for your business as you make contingency plans.  We also provide updates on increased IHS fees in the Budget and on ILR salary levels.

Coronavirus 

What’s the latest on the immigration implications of the Coronavirus virus?

Our recent blog highlighted concerns about the global immigration implications of the virus.  The latest Home Office guidance of 27 February 2020 includes:

  • Chinese nationals: where they do not intend to extend their UK visa but are unable to return to their home country, those Chinese nationals whose immigration permission expired or will expire between 24 January and 30 March will have their immigration permission to reside in the UK automatically extended to 31 March 2020.
  • Normally resident in China: non-Chinese (and non-EEA) nationals in the UK who are normally resident in China with a visa expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020 should contact the coronavirus immigration helpline.  The Home Office will then establish that the individual is normally resident in China and will then grant the extension to 31 March 2020.
  • Right to work: individuals granted such an extension will have the same right to work conditions that they held previously.  
  • Closures: UK Visa Application Centres outside the UK are closed in a number of locations, including for example China, Tehran and Barcelona.
  • Switching to Tier 2 (General): as mentioned in our previous blog, Chinese nationals in the UK on a Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) visa and need to switch to a Tier 2 (General) visa normally need to return to China to submit the application.  But on an exceptional basis due to the virus they can apply from within the UK if their visa has an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020.

Given the spread of the virus it is highly likely the Home Office will be forced to extend visas of those affected beyond 31 March 2020 and we anticipate guidance will be updated to cover individuals from other countries and not just China.  We also expect the guidance will need to generally be much more wide-ranging to take account of such issues as right to work checks, access to healthcare, registration with the police for immigration purposes and absences from the UK for indefinite leave to remain applications.

 

What about my sponsored workers?

For Tier 2 sponsor licence holding companies, there is concern about the rules in place where a sponsored worker is affected by the virus.  The 27 February Home Office guidance mentioned above addresses these issues only briefly and in our view needs to be much broader.  We are writing to our senior Home Office contacts with suggestions of the full the range of sponsor issues which need to be covered in the guidance and will update you as soon as we hear back.  In the meantime, we suggest you proceed as follows where a sponsored worker is:

  • Unwell because of the virus: as is normally the case with any illness, where the absence from work is authorised by you a report to the Home Office is not required.  Where a sponsored worker is off work for more than 10 consecutive days without permission, it should be reported to the Home Office within 10 working days of the 10th day of absence.
  • Put on unpaid leave for more than 4 weeks for exceptional reasons as a result of the virus: ordinarily this would mean the sponsorship needs to end but the Home Office guidance indicates an exception will be applied and the sponsorship can continue.
  • Required to work from a different location because of an office closure due to the virus: the existing guidance is not clear on this point and we are trying to clarify the policy with our contacts.  However, where as a result of the virus the sponsored worker’s main work location changes from one work location to another, such as moving from one client site to another, we suggest that is reported to the Home Office.  Whereas, where a sponsored worker is required to work from home as a result of the virus that should not need to be reported.  We hope that in all instances the Home Office will be pragmatic in its advice and any such reporting will not be required.  As soon as we hear further we will update you.

 

What about delivery of BRP VISA CARDS?

Where we assist with visa applications for your employees, the Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) (visa card) is often sent to our office address.  In the event that our Kingsley Napley office is required to close, we will seek to make arrangements for the BRP to be sent to the employee’s home address.

 

What about travel advice and restrictions?

With President Trump announcing a ban on non-US nationals travelling from the 26 Schengen area countries (which does not include the UK) if they have been in that area within 14 days of their entry to the US, you will be aware of major disruption to the global mobility of your workforce.  The latest FCO guidance is a useful starting point for guidance.

 

Immigration Health Surcharge Fee Increase

In other news, yesterday’s Budget included an increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) for overseas nationals to use the NHS.  It was only two years ago that the IHS fee doubled to £400 per year of the visa and now it is set to increase to £624 per year of the visa.  As mentioned in our previous blogs and videos, the government had announced its intention to increase the IHS fee in November last year.  The new fees will apply to non-EU citizens from October 2020 and to EU citizens from 1 January 2021.

As has previously been the case, those with student or Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) visas will pay a lower charge of £470 per year of the visa.  There is a small concession under the new IHS fee arrangements in that children under 18 will also pay a lower charge of £470.  We will shortly be releasing commentary on the IHS fee increase.

Minimum Tier 2 Salary for ILR Applications

In a number of rule changes announced today, the Home Office has confirmed a freeze on the increase in minimum salary requirements where sponsored Tier 2 (General) workers are applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).  The current minimum is £35,800 or the minimum expected amount for the type of job, whichever is the higher.  That amount was due to increase to £36,200 on 6 April 2020 but today’s announcement confirms the government will be following the advice of the Migration Advisory Committee which in its report of 28 January 2020 recommended a freeze on this threshold while the policy for ILR applications is considered.

Further information

If you have any queries in relation to the above immigration issues or any other matter, please contact our immigration team.

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