Coronavirus has everyone feeling nervous, whether it is concern for the health of family members, missing the freedom of the pre-coronavirus world, or financial worries that come with being in lockdown – most people have been negatively affected in some way.
For those who rely on visas to remain and work in the UK, there is even more of a reason to worry. The virus has locked down almost the whole economy. Tens of thousands of businesses have been forced to close. Millions of workers have either been laid off or put on furlough leave. Their income has been substantially reduced or completely stopped.
A lot of these workers are migrants who are subject to various conditions of their visas to stay in the UK. In many cases, one of these conditions will be to meet a certain level of income. Covid-19 has clearly made this requirement more challenging than ever. The majority of the migrants are worried whether their immigration status will be affected, and if so, to what extent, if their income has reduced or completely stopped. The lack of speedy action from the Home Office has further exaggerated such concern.
In response to such anxiety, the Home Office finally updated their Guidance on 6th April 2020. Today we are going to see what those changes are and whether those changes have gone far enough to assist the migrants concerned
The changes to the Immigration Rules can be summarised as follows:
Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa:
The current Immigration Rules require that a Tier 1 entrepreneur visa holder needs to create two full-time employment positions which must last for no less than 12 months. Any position that lasts less than 12 months is discounted.
Following the above change, any position will be counted. Let’s say if a Tier 1 entrepreneur creates a receptionist position which lasts for 3 months, then creates a new sales position, which lasts for 9 months, he will be able to add the duration of these two positions together, which means that he has satisfied one full-time employment position.
On this point, it is clear that the new change is more flexible and makes it easier for the migrant to meet the requirement.
However, pursuant to the changes above, time where the Tier 1 entrepreneur’s employees are furloughed will not count towards the 12 month period. So if you have someone who is furloughed at the moment due to coronavirus, the time will not be going towards the necessary 12 consecutive months.
If that is the case and the Tier 1 entrepreneur has not been able to create two full-time employment positions during the duration of their visa, he/she will have to apply for further extension to prove that they can meet the requirement.
Is this fair?
The fact that the government has made it easier for Tier 1 entrepreneurs to meet the employment position requirement by adding up the duration of different positions is definitely a positive move.
However, it is our opinion that this is still rather harsh, all things considered. As the coronavirus situation continues, many companies face the risk of shutting down completely. It has been very difficult for firms to allow employees to suspend their work yet retain their salary. This is why we feel that the time employees are furloughed should still count towards the 12 month period needed by Tier 1 entrepreneur migrants to meet the job creation requirement.
The current coronavirus situation is out of everyone’s control. It appears to be a little scapegoating to make Tier 1 entrepreneur migrants who would have otherwise been doing fine if it were not for COVID-19 apply for further extension of their visas with additional cost and time.
Spousal visa issues:
There has been no mention in the guidance about whether or not a migrant on a spouse visa will be affected if they have less income or are left unemployed due to coronavirus. To qualify for spousal visas certain requirements must be met, which includes a household income of at least £18,600 a year.
At this point, we feel that spouse visa holders should not be punished as long as they are not at fault for the reduction in their wages or their unemployment. When they apply for a spouse visa, the immigration office should process and approve the application as appropriate in terms of salary income, rather than refuse them, in these circumstances.
Tier 2 employees and employers are also hit:
In addition, the guidance provides that, employers are allowed to put Tier 2 migrants on furloughed leave. It will not affect the employee’s visa or the employer’s sponsorship. However, once the current situation ends, the employer must immediately adjust the salary of the employee back to the original level.
This is rather harsh as well to Tier 2 migrants, in our opinion. What if the employers cannot survive the current crisis and close? In that case, we assume that the migrants will have to leave the UK, as the Home Office will argue then that they are not needed in the UK any longer. That could be true; however, surely they should be given a grace period of time to find new jobs?
Changes to the current restrictions on the number of hours you can work or volunteer:
There is no longer a limit on the number of hours you can work or volunteer each week if you work for the NHS as a doctor, nurse of paramedic and you are a:
- tier 4 student
- tier 2 worker and your NHS job is a second job
- visiting academic researcher
- holder of a short-term visa and are permitted to volunteer
If the original visa expires before October 1, that migrant’s visa will be automatically extended for one year, provided they are an NHS employee.
This extension for frontline workers is a most welcome token of gratitude for all of their hard work during this pandemic.
In summary, it is our view that the majority of what is outlined in this guidance has not gone far enough to support people during these challenging times. The government is clearly under a lot of stress, and there are many issues that must be dealt with during this pandemic, but this new guidance leaves a lot to be desired for many people up and down the UK.
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