Employers warned of looming deadline for EU workers to sort visas

Employers have been warned that the deadline for EU workers to have made their UK visa applications is fast approaching.

The latest government advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents states that anybody who had a visa that expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 was able to request an extension if they were not able to return home because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, this can not be extended beyond the government's most recent grace period of 31 August 2020 as travel restrictions are lifting globally. Those affected are therefore expected to take all reasonable steps to leave the UK where it is possible to do so or apply to regularise their stay in the UK.

The government said those intending to stay in the UK, including those whose leave expires before 31 August 2020, should apply for the necessary leave to remain.

For anybody whose visa or leave expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 August 2020, the government said there will be no future adverse immigration consequences if they did not make an application to regularise their stay during this period, however they must now do so by 31 August 2020 or make arrangements to leave the UK.

“There are some quite limited circumstances where people who are still intending to leave the UK but won't have been able to get their affairs in order [by 31 August] can apply for exceptional assurances from the Home Office, but it's currently unclear what that really means for them,” Charlie Fowler, senior associate at law firm Collyer Bristow, told HR Magazine.

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Yet with the deadline only days away, there have been reports of delays to visa processing of several months due to the pandemic-related closure of UK visa application centres.

Earlier this month, The Independent reported that although visa centres have now reopened, many foreign nationals in the UK, particularly first-time visa applicants, have still not been able to submit their biometric information, such as fingerprints, in order to obtain a visa.

While a phased reopening of the centres started on 1 June, many applicants have been unable to book an appointment to submit the required information due to a backlog.

Without having the current and valid immigration documentation, they now cannot prove their right to be here.

“What that means in certain circumstances is that people whose visas have expired this year either haven't been able to extend them or replace them, or haven't been able to leave the country because of the travel restrictions in place,” said Fowler.

“On the other side of the coin, people who are overseas are in the same position in the sense that they haven't been able to finalise their applications, again because the application centres remain closed or the centres for the language tests remain closed.”

The requirement for EU citizens to have a UK visa to live, work and study in the UK will come into force on 1 January 2021, after the Brexit transition period comes to an end. From this date, employers will also require a sponsor licence to be able to recruit skilled EU and non-EU workers in the UK.