The Home Office has published guidance dealing with some of the issues arising. At the time of writing, that guidance had not been updated since 27 February 2020, which makes it rather out of date, particularly given that many of the concessions referred to only last until 31 March 2020. We understand that updated guidance outlining the Home Office's approach post 31 March 2020 (when the current guidance ends) is being worked on and while it is hoped that an update will be published before that date, it has warned that this may not be possible.
Nevertheless, there are some useful points for HEIs and other sponsors within that guidance.
Tier 4 students or Tier 2/5 employees may be prevented from attending their studies or employment due to illness, due to the need to serve a period of quarantine or travel restrictions.
Sponsors do not need to report student or employee absences related to the coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) which they have authorised.
Decisions on whether to withdraw a student from their studies or terminate employment are for sponsors to make. However, the Home Office has confirmed that sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship if they consider there are exceptional circumstances when:
The Home Office recognises that the current situation is exceptional. It will not take any action against students or employees unable to attend their studies/work due to the coronavirus outbreak, or against sponsors which authorise absences. Universities can continue to sponsor students or employees despite absences for this reason.
The Home Office has pledged to keep this under review, especially if the length of absences means a potential repeat of period of studies become necessary.
Universities may find that they have students or staff affected by the coronavirus outbreak, but whose situations are not quite covered by the above notes. The Home Office has set up a helpline to deal with immigration queries arising from the coronavirus outbreak. The helpline is staffed from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
The helpline number is 0800 678 1767 or it can be contacted by email: CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk.
The above reflects guidance as at 20 March 2020. We will continue to update this as the situation develops.