The latest guidance can be found here. While the guidance is spread across several documents and addresses a wide range of issues the key points to note are summarised below.
Individuals who are in the UK on a temporary basis whose leave expires or has expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 and are unable to leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus can contact the Home Office's Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) to have their visa extended to 31 July 2020. Individuals who have previously had their leave extended to 31 May under previous versions of this concession do not need to apply again and the Home Office will contact them to confirm that their leave has been extended again.
Temporary visitors to universities, such as visiting academics or Tier 5 Sponsored Researchers, may wish to rely on these provisions.
The Immigration Rules are usually very restrictive on the circumstances in which individuals who are in the UK on a temporary visa can apply from within the UK to switch into a different immigration category. Individuals who are currently in the UK with leave that expires between 24 January and 31 July 2020, are now able to apply from within the UK to switch into another immigration category.
They must meet the usual visa requirements for the category they are applying to switch into and pay the relevant application fee. Applicants have until 31 July to submit their switching applications.
This might be relevant to visiting academics who have been offered a position at a university, or short-term students who wish to apply under Tier 4.
As with Tier 4 students, absences from work by Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsored workers due to illness or self-isolation do not need to be reported in the current circumstances. As previously, decisions on whether to withdraw sponsorship are for sponsors to make. However, the Home Office will not take any compliance action against employees who are unable to attend work, or against sponsors who authorise absences and continue to sponsor employees despite absences for this reason.
Sponsors also do not need to withdraw sponsorship, if they consider there are exceptional circumstances when an employee is absent from work without pay for four weeks or more.
Sponsors are normally required to notify the Home Office of such changes of circumstances. However, due to the current exceptional situation sponsors are not required to submit such reports if the working from home is directly related to the pandemic.
The Home Office have confirmed that sponsored employees can be furloughed. Specifically, they confirm that pay can be temporarily reduced to 80% of their salary or £2,500 per month (whichever is lower) provided the reductions are part of a company-wide policy to avoid redundancies and in which all workers are treated the same. The reduction in pay must be temporary, and the sponsored employee's pay must return to at least previous levels once these arrangements have ended.
Where a Tier 4 student is absent for an extended period due to coronavirus, this does not need to be reported. Similarly, sponsors do not need to report where a Tier 4 student is now distance learning (either from within the UK or having returned overseas).
It is important to note, however, that the guidance requires sponsors to retain a note on each Tier 4 student's file where they are relying on a Covid-19 related concession.
Sponsors are reminded of the need to maintain records of students who are absent (eg sponsors must ensure that contact details are kept up-to-date). Additionally, in relation to attendance monitoring, if possible expected online contact points, such as when students log into online learning portals, attend virtual classes and submit work online, should be used to monitor attendance. However, UK Visas and Immigration ('UKVI') has confirmed that it will not take action against sponsors who are unable to monitor online contact points due to practical or technical limitations.
Universities may be concerned that the pandemic will result in a greater number of students withdrawing from their studies leading to the possibility that they might not meet the Basic Compliance Assessment requirement that 85% of Tier 4 students have completed their course. The new guidance confirms that where students have withdrawn as a result of coronavirus, they will be discounted from future Basic Compliance Assessment calculations. Universities must ensure that the withdrawal report on the Sponsor Management System makes mention of the reason for withdrawal and also keep appropriate records of such cases.
Tier 4 visa applications overseas can still be submitted, Visa Application Centres (VACs) will start to reopen on a phased basis from 1 June, and until an applicant has enrolled their biometrics at a VAC their application will not be processed. For details of what is happening in each particular country, visit the websites of the VAC in the country of application:
If a CAS has become invalid because it has expired (ie it is now more than six months since it was assigned), or was marked as ‘used’ in an application and the student was unable to travel due to coronavirus, UKVI will consider exceptionally accepting that CAS with a new visa application on a case by case basis. The CAS will be accepted if the caseworker is satisfied that the reason the student could not previously use it in an application or travel to the UK was due to coronavirus.
The guidance also addresses situations where the course dates have changed and the CAS has not yet been ‘used’ and has not ‘expired’. Sponsors are advised that in this situation they must add a sponsor note so that UKVI can consider the application in the light of the amended course dates.
UKVI have confirmed that where students have already been issued their 30-day visa to travel to the UK and that visa has expired, or is about to expire they can request a replacement visa with revised validity dates free of charge until the end of the year.
Although most university premises are currently closed, there may still be some Tier 4 students who are already in the UK and wish to transfer to another university. UKVI has confirmed that those students are permitted to commence their new studies in advance of their Tier 4 leave to remain application being decided if:
The new guidance advises that the student will be subject to the following conditions:
Tier 4 sponsors are required to see certain documents from students and keep records as set out in Appendix D of the Sponsor Guidance. Where it is no longer practical or safe for students to present these documents in person, or where university premises are closed due to coronavirus social distancing measures, it is acceptable for a digital copy such as a photograph to be provided and kept on file.
The guidance also includes useful advice on satisfying the English language requirement where the student is overseas but test centres are closed, police registration requirements, working hours (including a relaxation of working hours restrictions for Tier 4 students working for an NHS trust) and volunteering.
We will continue to update you as the situation develops.