Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQs for employers 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 have indicated in their 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.

Employers 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 employers 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 workers 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.

Can sponsored employees be placed on furlough?

Yes- the Government have confirmed that sponsored employees are able to be placed on furlough and the scheme is not defined as public funds. Therefore, the condition attached to most visas of not accessing public funds would not be breached. We would advise that you report any sponsored workers who have been placed on the Job Retention Scheme through the SMS as well as any reductions in salary.

In light of the travel restrictions currently in place, are visa holders currently in the UK able to extend their visa or switch visa categories?

Yes, on the 22 May 2020 the Government announced here, that visa holders unable to return home due to Coronavirus are able to extend their visa or switch into a different category until the 31 July 2020. 

This will apply to anyone whose leave expired after the 24 January 2020 and cannot leave the country because of travel restrictions or self-isolation. It does not apply to anyone in the UK on temporary visas such as visitor visas. To take advantage of this extension, it will be necessary to complete a form contained in the above announcement.

The Home Office have confirmed that they will keep their 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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