The Home Office’s recent publication of a Statement of Changes (SoC) to the Immigration Rules (HC 617) has introduced adjustments to a number of immigration provisions.
We flag key changes for employers to be aware of as well as discuss the recent announcement made by UK Visas and Immigration, and the impact that it may have on visa processing times.
1. Entry to the UK – national identity cards
Businesses should be conscious that EEA and Swiss nationals travelling to the UK must have their documentation in order. From 1st October 2021, most EEA and Swiss nationals could only travel to the UK using a valid passport. Previously EEA and Swiss nationals could travel using their national identity cards.
Only limited exceptions to this requirement exist for those holding specific visas to enter the UK, such as those who have applied or have an application pending under the EU settlement scheme. Businesses should ensure that EU employees travelling to the UK hold a valid passport, unless an exemption applies.
2. Coronavirus concessions – incorporation into the Immigration Rules
Since February 2020, the Home Office has introduced a number of concessions for individuals who have had their immigration statuses or pending applications impacted by COVID-19. The SoC has confirmed that from the 6th October 2021, these concessions have been incorporated into the Immigration Rules, whereas previously they appeared only as separate guidance.
Migrants on the Skilled Worker and Tier 2 Sportsperson routes who were allowed to start working for a new sponsor whilst their application was pending can count the time spent waiting for a decision towards the five-year qualifying period for settlement.
Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa holders may extend their visas without the usual requirement to demonstrate that jobs created have existed for a minimum period of at least 12 months.
Guidance currently stipulates that absences due to COVID-19, which would usually exceed the amount permitted without breaking continuous residence, will not break continuous residence for EU nationals, for the purposes of qualifying for Settled Status. From 6th October, this concession will cease to operate. Absences of more than 6 months in a 12-month period will break continuous residence. One absence of up to 12 months is permitted if for ‘an important reason’. Employers should ensure their employees with Pre-Settled Status are aware of the consequences of excessive absences from the UK to their status.
3. Delays to UK Visa processing times
UK Visa and Immigration recently released a statement regarding their service standards. Due to increased global demand, some visa categories are taking longer than normal to be processed. Anyone who has submitted a UK visa application since March 2020 will no doubt be aware of this. Third-party commercial service providers, such as VFS Global or TSL Contact, are unable to expedite or track applications, due to the number of requests they are receiving.
These delays should be borne in mind by employers and applicants when making visa applications.
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