The ongoing restrictions on travel to/from China have affected Chinese nationals who are currently in the UK. The Home Office has therefore taken a pragmatic approach in the guidance and announced measures to try to minimise the impact on them, including:
- Chinese nationals currently in the UK whose leave to remain expires between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020 will have their leave automatically extended to 31 March 2020. This extension will only be given if the individual has complied with the conditions of their current grant of UK leave. If an individual’s leave is extended, they won’t be issued with a new visa or Biometric Residence Permit and (unless the position changes) will have to apply to extend their leave on or before 31 March 2020.
- Any Chinese nationals with a long-term Visitor visa (lasting for two, five or 10 years) that will reach the 180-day cap on this type of visa between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020 can stay in the UK up to 31 March 2020. Again, they won’t receive a new visa or Biometric Residence Permit showing this and (unless the position changes) will have to leave the UK on or before 31 March 2020.
- If someone who usually lives in China (but isn’t a Chinese or EEA national) is in the UK with a visa that expires between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020, their leave will be extended to 31 March 2020 if they can prove that their normal place of residence is China.
- Chinese nationals with a UK visa that was granted through the British Irish Visa Scheme and expires between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020 may be able to extend their leave. They should contact the Home Office’s coronavirus helpline (CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk or Tel: 0800 678 1767) for more information.
- Chinese nationals with a UK visa that was granted by a Crown Dependency (Bailiwick of Guernsey, the Bailiwick of Jersey and the Isle of Man) which expires between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020 may be able to extend their leave. Again, they should contact the Home Office’s coronavirus helpline for more information.
- Chinese nationals who are currently in the UK with Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) leave to remain that expires between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020 can exceptionally submit a Tier 2 (General) switching visa application from within the UK instead of having to apply from China in the usual way.
What does this mean for employers?
If you are a licensed sponsor, then you should note that:
- Visa Application Centres in China are currently closed and access to English language testing facilities is restricted (with all tests booked for March cancelled). This means that if your business plans to sponsor a Chinese national worker, there are likely to be significant delays in processing their applications. This could cause issues if you have already assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship (aka work permit) to them as this must be used within three months of being assigned.
- The Home Office has confirmed that if a sponsored worker is unable to come into work because of coronavirus-related travel restrictions or quarantine/self-isolation (either in the UK or abroad), sponsors can continue to sponsor them and don’t need to report this as an unauthorised absence (if they have agreed to it). Usually, sponsors need to stop sponsoring an employee if they are absent from work for four weeks or more without pay (except in limited circumstances). Sponsors should keep evidence of the reason for the worker’s absence on their HR file in case the Home Office asks for this at a Compliance Audit. This will also be helpful if the worker applies for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) and needs to explain any excess absences from the UK during this period.
- Similarly, education institution sponsors don’t need to stop sponsoring or report students who have been unable to attend their course for more than 60 days because of coronavirus-related travel restrictions or quarantine/self-isolation as long as the absence is authorised. However, the Home Office has said they will keep this under review, particularly if absences are so long that courses have to be re-taken. Again, you should keep evidence of the absence on file in case of a Home Office Compliance Audit.
All employers with Chinese national workers with limited leave to remain should note that:
- You still have an obligation to carry out Right to Work Checks, so if you employ any Chinese nationals whose leave is due to expire between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020 you should keep a note on file about the automatic extension of their leave to 31 March 2020.
- If you currently employ a Chinese national whose leave is due to expire on or after 31 March 2020, their leave will not be automatically extended (although this could change). You should make sure that they understand this and submit their extension application before their current leave expires