Owing to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, the UK government has announced a number of immigration changes, including visa extension and switching measures as well as a mandatory self-quarantine period for those entering the United Kingdom from June 8, 2020. Other announcements include changes to the guidance for EEA nationals applying for nationality and a Statement of Changes affecting the Startup, Innovator, EU Settlement Scheme, Tier 4, and Global Talent visa categories.
VISA EXTENSION ANNOUNCED FOR THOSE UNABLE TO DEPART THE UK OWING TO COVID-19
Further to our recent LawFlash, the Home Office has now announced that individuals whose visas expire between January 24, 2020 and July 31, 2020 and who cannot return to their home countries owing to COVID-19 will be able to extend their visas until July 31, 2020.
For those individuals who have already had their visas extended to May 31, 2020, their visas will be automatically extended to July 31, 2020.
In addition, individuals currently in the United Kingdom who hold leave expiring between January 24, 2020 and July 31, 2020 may switch to a long-term UK visa while in the United Kingdom. This applies even where the individual would normally be required to return to their home country to apply for a visa in a different category. The same relevant visa requirements and application fees for the applicable visa category will apply.
If an individual intends to remain in the United Kingdom beyond July 31, 2020, a valid extension application should be submitted prior to the expiry of their current visa. It is likely that the individual will encounter delays in attending a biometric appointment and in the processing of their application owing to the ongoing temporary closures of all UK visa application centres in the United Kingdom. However, the terms of their leave will remain the same until their application is decided, and they will not be regarded as an over stayer.
MANDATORY QUARANTINE RULES FOR INDIVIDUALS ENTERING THE UK
From June 8, 2020, individuals arriving to the United Kingdom (including by air, ferry, or train) will be required to self-isolate at a specified address for 14 days upon arrival.
Before travelling to the United Kingdom, individuals will need to complete an online form to provide their contact details, travel itinerary, and accommodation details. On arrival, individuals could face spot checks to ensure that they have completed the form. Individuals will also be encouraged to download the NHS COVID-19 app. If individuals are unable to show where they will self-isolate, they will be required to do so in accommodation arranged by the government.
Individuals entering the United Kingdom from the Common Travel Area Ireland (i.e., Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man) will not be required to self-isolate. In addition, there are exemptions for certain individuals, including key workers in key freight arrivals, food supplies, critical national security supply and infrastructure. Read a full list of those who are exempt from these quarantine measures.
Health officials will perform spot checks to ensure compliance with the quarantine measures and those who do not comply may be subject to a fine of £1,000.
These measures are expected to last until at least July, but could last longer. The government will review these measures every three weeks.
Employers should be aware of these measures to ensure that their employees can meet their obligations while also complying with the requirement to self-isolate for 14 days.
NATURALISATION GUIDANCE CHANGES
Changes have been made to the naturalisation guidance for EU nationals holding settled status. These individuals will now be required to show that they were exercising EC treaty rights in the United Kingdom up until the point of applying for settled status.
Individuals can demonstrate this by showing that they were in the United Kingdom as a qualified person (such as a worker, student, self-employed, self-sufficient, retired, or incapacitated person) or as the family member of such a person.
STATEMENT OF CHANGES
On May 14, 2020, a statement of changes to the UK’s Immigration Rules was announced, which will take effect from June 4, 2020. A summary of the most relevant changes for employers are as follows:
Changes to Startup and Innovator Categories
- Changes have been made to clarify that applicants must be founders of their business and rely on their own business plans. An innovator applicant’s business may already be trading, provided they were a founder.
- Applicants may now change their business venture without the need to obtain a new endorsement or make a fresh application, provided the endorsing body is satisfied that the new venture satisfies the endorsement criteria.
- Changes have been made to the criteria for becoming an endorsing body, which will enable higher education providers and government departments to become endorsing bodies.
Representative of an Overseas Business
- Changes have been made to clarify that overseas businesses must be active and trading and intend to maintain their principal place of business outside the United Kingdom.
- Applicants under this category must have the skills, experience, knowledge, and authority to represent the overseas business in the United Kingdom.
- Applicants must be senior employees and cannot engage in their own business or represent any other business in the United Kingdom.
- Changes have been made to prevent majority owners from entering as the dependent spouse, civil partner, unmarried, or same-sex partner of a representative of their own business.
- In order to qualify under the extension criteria, the branch or subsidiary must have been established in the United Kingdom, and not overseas.
EU Settlement Scheme
The following changes will come into effect from August 24, 2020:
- Changes to permit the spouse/civil partner, children, and family members of an EEA citizen to retain their right of residence in the United Kingdom following the termination of the marriage, provided the marriage lasted for at least three years and the couple lived together in the United Kingdom for at least a year while married.
- Changes to permit the spouse/civil partner, children, and family members of an EEA citizen whose family relationship has broken down permanently as a result of domestic violence or abuse against them or another family member will have a continued right of residence.
On Monday May 18, 2020, the House of Commons passed the Immigration Bill, which will see an end to the EU’s rules on free movement and sets out the government’s new points-based system. This marks the next step taken in relation to the government’s implementation of the immigration system, which is due to come into force on January 1, 2021. (Read more for further information about the plans.)
Note that EU citizens living in the UK by December 31, 2020 are eligible to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme and will have until 30 June 2021 to submit their application. (Read more for information about the EU Settlement Scheme.)
SHORTAGE OCCUPATION LIST CONSULTATION
In preparation for the new immigration system due to be introduced by the government on January 1, 2021, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is conducting a public consultation allowing employers and business organisations to share information about medium-skilled occupations (covered under Regulated Qualifications Framework Levels 3-5) that should be added to the UK Shortage Occupation List. Under the new immigration system, it will be possible for employers to sponsor individuals in medium-skilled occupations and therefore the consultation will help the MAC to determine which jobs are currently in short supply across the UK labour market.
A role that falls within the Shortage Occupation List is currently exempt from the resident labour market test for a Tier 2 (General) visa. The government has announced plans to abolish the resident labour market test when the new immigration system is implemented. Other advantages that will remain include a lower minimum salary for visa sponsorship and a lower minimum salary for indefinite leave to remain applications for individuals who fulfil a shortage occupation role.
The shortage occupation consultation will close on Wednesday June 24, 2020 and the report is expected to be published in September 2020.
The Home Office is also operating a Coronavirus Immigration Helpline, which can be reached at +0800.678.1767 (Monday to Friday, 9:00 am–5:00 pm GMT) or email CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk.