The Home Office and UK Visas and Immigration provided updated COVID-19 guidance on 3 April. The key changes are summarized below.
There will be an automatic one-year visa extension for NHS staff and their family members if the visa is due to expire before 1 October 2020. The extension is free of charge and the visa holder will not have to pay for the immigration health surcharge (which was set to increase to £624 per year) in respect of the one-year extension. The restriction on the number of hours NHS doctors, nurses and paramedics can work or volunteer has been removed for certain visa categories.
Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)
If the business of a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa holder has been disrupted, then the business will no longer have to employ at least two people for 12 consecutive months per employee. Instead, the 12 month period can be made up of multiple employees across different months. If the business has not been able to employ staff for 12 months in total by the time the visa expires, then the applicant will be able to extend his or her leave temporarily in order to meet this requirement. However, the time period during which an employee was furloughed will not count towards the 12 month period.
Global Talent, Start-up and Innovator visas
If an endorsement for a Global Talent, Start-up or Innovator visa has expired and the applicant has been unable to apply due to travel restrictions, then the applicant might still be eligible to apply for the relevant visa and the application will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
The new measures for NHS staff and their family members will certainly benefit the fight against COVID-19. However, it will be interesting to see whether the new immigration system (to be introduced by 2021) will attract migrants to work for the NHS for the long term.
We are expecting the Home Office to clarify whether the concession for the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa extension will apply for all Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa holders or just for those whose visa expires by a certain date. It also seems inconsistent with government policies and other areas of law to disallow the employee’s furloughed period for the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa employment requirements, when the Home Office is willing to relax other aspects of the same set of requirements.
We anticipate that there will be more updates from the Home Office as the situation evolves. In particular, we look forward to clarification on how absences from the UK due to COVID-19 will be treated for settlement and naturalisation applications.