Immigration updates for employers | January 2021

It has been a rollercoaster start for many businesses in 2021 as they attempt to navigate not only the UK's new points-based immigration system (which is now live for all non-UK nationals), but the constantly changing travel corridor and quarantine exemption rules due to the global pandemic. This article provides employers and visa sponsors with a brief round-up of the key business immigration developments that have taken place in January 2021. Please note that different rules under the 'employer' section may apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Travel corridors suspended

As of 4am on Monday 18 January 2021, travel corridors in England were suspended, as an attempt to prevent new strains of COVID-19 entering the country. This means that anyone travelling to the UK who does not come within the quarantine exemption rules and arrives In England after 18 January 2021, will need to self-isolate for 10 days. This decision is likely to hit the aviation industry hard at a time when they, like many businesses, are trying to survive but with the daily number of cases and deaths rising, the government was under mounting pressure to act.

Mandatory COVID-19 testing to bolster border measures

As of 4am on Monday 18 January 2021, all passengers (whether by boat, train or plane) arriving from any international destination are required to present a negative COVID-19 test result before departing for England, to help protect against new strains of the virus circulating internationally.  The test must be taken within 72 hours of departure and failure to provide a negative test result at the UK border could be subject to an immediate fine of £500.

All travellers arriving in England must self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of a negative pre-departure test. However, travellers have the option to reduce their period of self-isolation from 10 to 5 days by paying for a private COVID-19 test through the Test to Release scheme, unless they have been in or travelled through any country that is subject to a travel ban. The Test to Release scheme must be booked before returning to England. The UK Border Force are meant to be conducting 'spot checks' on individuals paperwork but based on latest reports in the media, it appears that most London airports are checking every passenger, resulting to significant delays on arrival.

List of quarantine exemption categories tightened

There are some exceptions to the travel corridor suspension and one of those is if your job qualifies for you to be exempt when arriving in the UK (i.e. aerospace engineer, specialise technical workers – power infrastructure, nuclear emergency responder). This means that in most instances, such individuals will not have to fill in a passenger locator form, take a coronavirus test pre-departure or self-isolate at all on arrival in the UK.

However, on Monday 21 January 2021, eight categories of jobs were removed from the exemption list (including but not limited to journalists, performing arts professionals and business directors bringing jobs to the UK).

The push-back from UK performers

There is currently no special provision for touring British citizens in the entertainment industry that travel to work in the EU. As such, they are having to seek work permits in each EU member state in which they work, which is time consuming and costly. The situation has led UK performers to start a petition, currently with over 279,700 signatures. It is hoped that a UK/EU wide visa for entertainers will materialise so that this industry is able to thrive again once the global pandemic is over. We shall keep you posted with any developments in this area.

Launch of the COVID Visa Concession Scheme

On 11 January 2021, the Home Office published the Covid Visa Concession Scheme. This scheme applies to those who left the UK before 17 March 2020, when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel guidance changed and who had, or are seeking to apply for, leave on an eligible route.

Provided certain eligibility criteria are met, authority for the passenger to travel without a visa will be processed by the UK Border Force and leave will be granted outside of the Immigration Rules for three months with the same conditions as the individuals' previous grant of leave.

The priority/super-priority service returns

The Home Office has confirmed that in-country priority and super-priority services for certain types of visas are back available (hooray!). This expedited service was closed at the start of the global pandemic and sponsors have been patiently waiting for its return. This will be welcome news for sponsors who wish to pay an additional £500 to allow the migrant to receive a decision within 5 working days of their biometric appointment. The visa categories that can again benefit from this service include the Skilled Worker visa, Health and Care Worker visa, Intra-company visas and most Temporary Worker routes.

Extension of 'exceptional assurance'

Where a migrant intended to leave the UK because their visa was due to expire between 1 December 2020 and 31 January 2021, but could not do so because of the travel restrictions in place, the Home Office allowed these migrants to request additional time to stay in the UK, known as 'exceptional assurance'.

On 17 January 2021, the Home Office updated its guidance webpage to extend the scope of individuals applying for a grant of exceptional assurance to include those whose leave expires up until 28 February 2021. This update should not come as a surprise to sponsors, given the ongoing national lockdown and the likelihood is that this request will be extended further again in due course.  

In my experience, individuals are still being hired into the UK from overseas and travelling into the country on necessary business, but it is vital that employers and sponsors understand the paperwork required before their departure and whether quarantine will be required upon arrival. If you would like to discuss any aspects of this article or have any other immigration queries, please get in touch.

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