Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQs for charities who are sponsorship licence holders

With the UK entering the ‘delay’ phase of their coronavirus plan and restrictive travel and quarantine measures being imposed, our Head of Immigration and Partner, Julie Moktadir, has addressed key concerns that organisations with sponsorship licences may have.

Are my current Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsorship licence duties affected?

Ordinarily, Level 1 Users on an organisation’s sponsorship licence are required to report when a sponsored worker is absent, using the Sponsor Management System (SMS). Relevant absences include, if a worker does not attend their first day of work and if the worker is absent, without permission, for more than 10 consecutive working days.

The Home Office have recognised that the Coronavirus will prevent many workers from coming into work for a variety of reasons, such as a result of illness or quarantine measures. In light of this, they have confirmed in their guidance, found here, that Sponsors do, ‘not need to report student or employee absences related to coronavirus’.

Licence holders also usually have to cease the sponsorship of a worker if they are absent from work without pay for 4 weeks or more in any calendar year, unless the absence falls within one of the listed exceptions such as maternity leave or sick leave. The Home Office has indicated in its guidance that an exception will apply in this situation and that no compliance action will be taken against sponsors who continue sponsorship for this reason.

Organisations must still comply with all other reporting duties and record keeping duties which includes a duty to retain a record of sponsored workers absences. We would therefore advise organisations to retain correspondence regarding any coronavirus related-absences and seek legal advice if they are unsure of any action they must take.

Can a sponsored worker’s start date be delayed if they are unable to travel to the UK?

Ordinarily, a Tier 2 worker’s start date can be delayed by up to 28 days from the date their visa was granted. However, due to travel restrictions currently in place, this may not be possible for many visa holders. The Government guidance has been updated to state: 

If you have issued a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) or a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS) and the sponsored employee or student has not yet applied for a visa

The employee or student will still be able to apply for a visa.

The start date for the course or employment stated on the CoS or CAS may have changed. We will not automatically refuse such cases.

For example, we may accept a CoS or CAS if they have become invalid because the employee or student was unable to travel as a result of coronavirus. We will consider this on a case by case basis.

Where workers are working from home, and this is an exceptional arrangement, should this be reported on the SMS?

The current position is that any significant changes to a sponsored individual’s circumstances, including if the location they are working from changes, must be reported on the SMS within 10 working days. With the country now in lockdown, many sponsored individuals will now be working remotely, which should ordinarily be reported on the SMS.

The Home Office have confirmed in their Coronavirus guidance that ‘you do not have to notify us if you’re sponsoring employees who are working from home due to coronavirus.’ All other changes in working arrangements should however continue to be reported.

How can I comply with right to work checks?

As of 30 March 2020, the Home office have confirmed that right to work checks can be carried out remotely via video call during the COVID-19 pandemic. The procedure for conducting the right to work checks has been laid out by the Home Office:

  • Employers should ask the applicant to submit a scanned copy or photo of their original documents via email or using a mobile app.
  • Employers must then arrange a video call with the applicant. On the call, applicants should be asked to hold up the original documents to the camera for the employer to check them against the scanned copy or photo.
  • Employers are advised to record the date the check was made and mark it as “adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19”.

Should the applicant hold a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) or have status under the EU Settlement Scheme, the employer should use the online right to work check whilst on the call, providing they have permission from the applicant.

Once the measures in place for COVID-19 cease, employers will be asked to carry out retrospective checks on existing employees who either started work during the temporary measures or required a follow-up right to work check during the measures. Any of the retrospective checks should be marked as “the individual’s contract commenced on [insert date]. The prescribed right to work check was undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19”.

Retrospective checks must be carried out within 8 weeks of the COVID-19 measures cessation, and immediate action must be taken if employers discover that an employee does not have permission to be in the UK.

Has the current crisis had any effect on the UKVI Priority Service?

Despite the circumstances, the service is still functioning. We are however aware that the opening times have changed to 10am-2pm, Monday to Thursday.

The UKVI’s Priority Service is a useful tool used by organisations who are Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsors to expedite change of circumstance requests, such as adding a level 1 user. Using the service expedites the decision on the request from many months, to within 5 working days.

Further information regarding the UKVI’s Priority Service can be found here.

Why have we received an email to notify us of the expiry of our annual allocation for Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS)?

The Home Office notify all organisations that hold a sponsor licence of annual allocation for CoS. All organisations with sponsorship licences are requested to renew their annual allocation of CoS between March-April every year. The annual allocation is for restricted CoS only.

The Home Office has confirmed that it will keep its guidance under review and we will provide further updates in due course. If you have any questions relating to the above or require further assistance please do get in contact.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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