Right to Work checks for EU nationals, COVID concession for Right to Work checks, UK-Australia free trade agreement, COVID travel restrictions, the Migration and Mobility Partnership agreement, visa extensions for health workers and EU Settlement applications are all covered in this Immigration Update.

UK-India - Migration and Mobility Partnership agreement

In May, the UK Government signed the Migration and Mobility Partnership deal with the Indian Government, which as well as dealing with the effects of illegal immigration, has proposed a new scheme to allow young professionals aged 18-30 to live and work in each other’s countries for a period of up to two years under the ‘Young Professionals Scheme’.

The scheme will be limited to a maximum of 3,000 individuals a year who must:

  • be between the ages of 18-30;
  • hold a degree, diploma or relevant professional experience;
  • be able to maintain themselves in the UK without recourse to public funds; and
  • be able to speak English.

Participants on the scheme will not be able to be accompanied by their dependants and they will only qualify for the scheme once.

We have yet to see the full detail of the scheme, but it is likely that those accepted will be able to work in the UK without requiring sponsorship. Visas will be limited to two years and it is expected (but not yet confirmed) that individuals will be permitted to switch to alternative immigration categories from within the UK while they have a valid visa, allowing them to apply for the Skilled Worker visa or to perhaps to remain in the UK on the basis of a long-term relationship.

While limited in the number of individuals who can benefit, the new scheme is a welcome addition to the T5 Youth Mobility Scheme and the Graduate Visa (which comes into force this July), allowing individuals to come to the UK to gain valuable experience at the start of their careers. We will provide more detail on the scheme, including details of the application process, as it is released.

In the meantime, as Britain seeks to deal with the effects of Brexit, we anticipate that further schemes may be introduced for other nationalities, or perhaps even for EU nationals. We will provide updates as and when that occurs.

Right to Work checks for EU nationals

The Home Office have published new Right to Work check guidance for all employers recruiting new EU nationals from 1 July 2021. The change in guidance requires all employers to check the EU Settlement or visa status of any EU national recruited and on-boarded from 1 July 2021. Most checks are expected to be undertaken use the online verification and share-code process. The Home Office have however advised:

“Whilst you may encourage use of the online check, employers cannot insist that individuals use the online service or discriminate against those who wish to prove their right to work by presenting documents which are detailed within the list of acceptable documents.”

Employers are reassured that there is no need to undertake retrospective checks on EU settlement status for any EU nationals hired before 1 July 2021.

COVID concession for Right to Work checks

On Friday 18 June, the Home Office announced a further delay in the return of in-person Right to Work checks. In light of the delay in lifting of wider COVID restrictions and with current Government advice to continue to work from home where possible until at least 19 July, the Home Office have confirmed that remote Right to Work checks (undertaken by video call) can be retained until 31 August 2021. In-person checks are expected to be re-instated from 1 September 2021.

UK-Australia free trade agreement

On 15 June, Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison announced the core facets of a UK/Australia free trade agreement had been agreed. This agreement will cover both goods and services and aims to support economic growth and job creation. Also included in the proposal were some concessions on mobility.

Key provisions that are welcomed include a proposed enhancement to the existing Youth Mobility Scheme visa programme. This would see an:

  1. increase in eligibility for applicants up to the age of 35 (the current age limit to apply is 30); and
  2. increase the permitted duration of stay to three years (currently the limit is two years).

For UK applicants moving to Australia, a concession will also be added to remove the requirement to undertake regional work/farm labour to qualify for extended visa rights.

The agreement in principle states an intention that these changes will be phased in over the next five years.

If introduced these proposals would benefit employers who can recruit and retain staff for longer without being required to provide company visa sponsorship and incurring additional recruitment/retention costs.

COVID travel restrictions to the UK

Due to a surge in the Delta variant, the UK delayed the further lifting of COVID restrictions from 21 June to 19 July. COVID restrictions on travel to the UK remain in place with the green, amber and red listing for countries remaining in place and official advice against travel to amber and red countries is sustained.

Additions to red list countries are:

  1. Afghanistan
  2. Bahrain
  3. Cost Rica
  4. Egypt
  5. Sri Lanka
  6. Sudan; and
  7. Trinidad and Tobago.

These were added to the red list with effect from 8 June 2020 – this prevents visitors from these countries arriving in the UK. British/Irish nationals or those with UK residence rights will still be able to enter but will be subject to Government managed quarantine in hotel facilities.

On 24 June, further additions to the red list were announced to include:

  • Dominican Republic
  • Eritrea
  • Haiti
  • Mongolia
  • Tunisia
  • Uganda.

These six countries will be red-listed effective from 30 June 2021.

In more positive news, the UK Government have also announced a further 16 territories that will be added to the Green-list from 30 June, including a number of popular European holiday destinations.

Vaccination passports and easing of quarantine for double-vaccinated travellers

The UK is continuing to review its COVID travel restrictions, with pressure from the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors to open up the economy for summer trading. The UK Government is continuing to review data and is considering removing the requirement to quarantine on return to the UK for British residents that are double vaccinated and have been in amber list countries. This is still under consideration and is yet to be announced.

Operational delays at the Home Office

Sponsorship licence applications

The UKVI have confirmed that they have plans to deliver a more simplified sponsorship system, which is to be more efficient and simplified to use. As part of this process the Home Office have stated that they aim to speed up the sponsorship licence application process to allow employers to begin sponsoring individuals a lot earlier than they are currently able to do.

Nevertheless, the Home Office have confirmed this month that they do not currently intend to open more slots for priority sponsorship licences as they do not have the capacity to deal with these on a priority basis. There are only currently 10 priority slots for sponsor licences available per day, with requests for priority service taken on a daily basis from midnight each day. In our recent experience, companies are waiting in excess of four weeks to be able to access a priority service. This then requires payment of a £500 fee and the Home Office will seek to deliver a decision on the sponsor licence application within 10 working days. In practice, the Home Office have started to refund priority fees for those applications they are unable to deal with in priority timescales.

With guidelines for standard processing aimed at eight weeks, clients are currently benefiting little from the priority service.

Sponsorship Management System Changes

As well as significant delays regarding access to the priority sponsor licence applications, we are also experiencing significant delays for clients being able to make any changes to their existing sponsor licences. Changes to:

  1. appointed authorising officers
  2. key contacts
  3. level 1 users; and
  4. legal representatives

appear to be taking in excess of 12 weeks to process, leaving many clients struggling to ensure timely reporting of changes in line with business needs.

Visa extensions for health workers during COVID – extended

In more positive news, the free 12-month visa extensions for health workers, which were introduced last year, have now been extended for a further six months until 30 September 2021. This includes overseas recruits whose leave expires between 1 April 2021 and 30 September 2021.

EU Settlement scheme – less than one week left to apply

The Home Office have ruled out any further extension of the EU Settlement Scheme registration deadline. This means 30 June 2021 is the deadline for all EU nationals and their dependent family members to file an application under the EU Settlement scheme to obtain either Pre-Settled or Settled Status, enabling them to continue living and working in the UK.

We have seen enquiries from clients unaware that they needed to take action. Individuals born in the UK are reminded that they are not always automatically British by birth and may need to register; it is important in these final days to take action to register if in doubt.

Applications are free of charge and most applicants can register using a mobile app.

An application to the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June secures your existing rights in UK law until you are granted a status. It usually takes around five working days for complete applications to be processed, but it can take up to a month. Some cases may take longer to process applications if they are more complex. We are currently seeing protracted processing times for all applicants due to the high number of applications being made during these final days.

COVID concessions for EU Settlement applications

On 10 June, UKVI published guidance as to how absences from the UK, arising due to COVID-19 will be treated for applicants under the EU Settlement scheme. Provisions in this guidance are very generous and show the Home Office taking a highly flexible approach to issue status to individuals despite being outside of the UK for a prolonged period and which would ordinarily render them ineligible for EU Settlement status. The Home Office have confirmed that the following COVID-related reasons will be deemed as valid reasons for absence from the UK for up to 12 months and therefore treated as exceptions to enable an EU Settlement status to be granted:

  • to those ill with coronavirus; or
  • in quarantine, self-isolating or shielding in accordance with local public health guidance on coronavirus; or
  • caring for a family member affected by coronavirus; or
  • prevented from returning earlier to the UK due to travel disruption caused by coronavirus; or
  • advised by your university that, due to coronavirus, your course was moved to remote learning and you were advised or allowed to return to your home country to study remotely; oradvised by your university or employer not to return to the UK, and to continue studying or working remotely from your home country; or
  • absent from the UK for another reason relating to coronavirus, for example, you left or remained outside the UK because there were fewer coronavirus restrictions elsewhere; you preferred to work or run a business from home overseas; or you would have been unemployed in the UK and preferred to rely on support from family or friends overseas.