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The Immigration Implications of Coronavirus

Coronavirus has posed a challenge to UK immigration law affecting UK employers and universities in particular.  Restrictions on global mobility imposed by various countries at different times during the last 12 months have significantly complicated matters, as have changes to the employment situation of many individuals.  In addition to overseas nationals being unable to travel to the UK in order to take up employment or study, there are many who are currently residing in the UK who have been adversely affected. 

The government published guidance last May (“Coronavirus: advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents”), for those affected by changes to UK immigration due to coronavirus.  It contains some welcome temporary concessions.  The guidance has been updated this week. 

In summary, overseas nationals are expected to leave the UK on expiry of their visa if they can, or to apply to regularise their stay in the UK. 

  • People intending to leave the UK but who are unable to travel, may apply to the Home Office for additional time to stay (known as “exceptional assurance”).  This has been extended to cover individuals with leave expiring in January.  Whilst their application is being considered, they are not treated as overstayers and any previous conditions attached to their visa remain in place.  This acts as short term protection.
  • People wishing to remain in the UK on expiry of their current visa should apply for the necessary permission to stay.  At the moment, these applications can be submitted from within the UK, rather than from overseas.

Government guidance also considers detailed questions, for example the requirement for sponsors to update the Home Office in relation to changes to an employee’s place of work (when many are now working from home).  This does not need to be reported, although other changes to working arrangements must still be updated on the Sponsor Management System as usual.  Another common question relates to sponsored workers on furlough.  The salary of sponsored workers can temporarily be reduced to 80% of their salary or £2,500 per month, whichever is lower.

Concerns over a shortage of low skilled workers

There are concerns in several different industries over the recruitment of low skilled workers, in particular seasonal agricultural workers.

One example of this is flower pickers.  80% of the world’s daffodils are grown in Cornwall.  Around 2,700 people are needed to pick 900 million flowers during the next 3 months.  Usually 95% of pickers come from overseas.  Businesses this year are trying to avoid a shortage of workers by using Europeans who are already in the country.

In 2021 the government has agreed that there will be an extension of the Seasonal Workers Pilot.  This should help many in the fruit and vegetable industry.  Flowers do not qualify for this scheme at the moment; the government has decided that flowers should be added, although not in time for this year’s harvest.

Music and sport: hard hit yet again

The devastating effect of coronavirus has taken its toll on the music industry.  In addition to this, there is considerable concern over the effects of Brexit in relation to touring, gigs and performances.  Performers and bands from the UK will now need visas for each European country they enter to perform in gigs.  Similarly, artists from Europe will now require immigration permission to enter the UK.  This requirement extends to their entourage. 

Numerous visa applications will come in very costly for an industry reeling already from loss of income.  The same will apply to sportspeople wanting to take part in fixtures around Europe.  There has been a petition, signed by over 250,000 people already, asking the government to negotiate a “free cultural work permit” to enable visa-free travel across the EU for bands, musicians, artists and sporting stars.  Watch this space….