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Travel Policy Changes

Travel Policy Changes

There can be no doubt that COVID-19 has caused a lot of us to assess our priorities and way of working.  The same is true of the Home Office which has amended a number of policies and procedures due to the impact of the pandemic and the apparent shift in public opinion towards key workers.

The main changes have revolved around NHS workers who are, rightly, being recognised for the valuable work they do.  The Home Office have announced that all migrants and their dependents who work for the NHS (not limited to those on Tier 2 visas) whose visas end before 1 October 2020 will be granted an automatic extension of their visa for 1 year, free of charge.  Although the Home Office describe this extension as being “automatic” this is slightly misleading and it is advisable for anyone in this position to contact their HR department as the NHS trust will need to notify the Home Office of those who are eligible.

In addition, the government have announced that the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) would be waived for NHS and social care workers.  The IHS is a charge of £400 per year of a migrant’s visa with this going towards the NHS.  This charge is payable whether or not a migrant is employed and paying National Insurance in the UK and has been accused of effectively being double taxation by many experts in the field.  The removal of this charge for NHS and social care workers is a welcome change.  However, this has not been fully implemented yet with such workers still expected to pay the charge and be refunded at some point in the future.

A further change has been in relation to those who are making further submissions after a failed asylum claim.  Previously further submissions could only be made in person by appointment in Liverpool.  This meant that those who lived in other areas of the country would need to travel to Liverpool to make their submissions.  Many could not afford the cost of this trip, especially those on asylum support which provides those who have been refused asylum with just £35.39 per week per person to live on.  Due to social distancing measures, the Liverpool Further Submissions Team have been conducting these submissions by telephone.  It is noted that, despite calls for change for many years, this policy was only enacted when Home Office employees were at risk.  It is hoped that this scheme can be retained after the crisis is over.

Although there have been some positive steps, the government have remained steadfast in other areas where practitioners have called for change.  With key workers being recognised by the UK public as valuable members of society, there have been questions raised regarding the Home Office’s treatment of such workers who have frequently been referred to as “low skilled”.  It is now ever more apparent that such workers, for instance carers, may be low paid but are certainly not low skilled and the government has been called on to consider this when deciding how the new immigration system will work from 2021.  Currently, many such workers would not be able to meet the requirements for a work-based visa under the new scheme as their salary is too low.  Many practitioners have stated that a revision of the minimum salary rate or a new visa category would be beneficial for ensuring that the UK retains a sufficient workforce in the area post Brexit but no steps have been taken as yet.

Furthermore, there has been growing concern towards the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) policy.  At the moment, the majority of those who are granted a temporary visa for the UK or have no visa are subject to NRPF even when they have been working and paying taxes.  During the COVID-19 crisis, many migrants have lost their jobs or suffered losses due to the pandemic.  However, as they are unable to access any public funds, they are left with no safety net and nowhere to turn when this happens.  As a result many families have been forced into destitution and some have lost their homes.

During a Commons liaison committee, PM Boris Johnson was asked about those who had lost their income due to COVID-19 but could not access public funds.  Despite the policy being expanded by the PM’s party member, Theresa May, in 2012 and it being debated more than 200 times in Parliament, the Prime Minister did not seem to know about the NRPF policy or it’s impact on migrants.  At the time, after being informed of what the policy entailed, the PM said that the government would need to look at this again and that it was not right that those who had been paying into the system should not get the benefit of it.  Since then the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has confirmed that the NRPF policy would not be suspended in any way.  This is obviously a blow for many migrants who have suffered undeniable hardship during the pandemic.

Finally, now that the UK based Sopra Steria appointment centres are reopening, migrants are able to attend appointments to provide their biometric information and complete their applications.  Sopra Steria is a third party which is contracted by the government to provide these appointments.  Free appointments were available prior to the pandemic, these could be difficult to obtain although not impossible.  It now seems completely impossible to obtain free appointments with most appointments charging £110 per person for biometric enrolment.  This is in addition to the already high Home Office fees and IHS, and the £19.20 biometric fee.  This £110 appointment fee seems to be nothing but an attempt to gain further profits for Sopra Steria and yet another financial bar for low paid migrants to obtain a visa.

Although steps have been made to improve policies for some migrants, it is clear that the government is only interested in assisting those deemed “worthy” whether this be due to public perception or the government’s wish to only allow wealthy migrants to remain in the UK.  There is still far more that can be done to assist migrants in the UK and in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is hoped that more will be done in the future.

If you have been impacted by any of the above policies and would like to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to contact our immigration team here.

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