Managing Right To Work Checks & Visa Status During The COVID-19 Pandemic


In the current context of coronavirus (COVID-19), businesses have had to become agile in their approach to almost every operational process. Right to work checks are no exception to this, and the obligation for employers to undertake thorough and rigorous checks has not gone away; it has simply been temporarily adapted. For further information on these temporary changes and how to conduct right to work checks during the pandemic, read on.

Current lockdown and social distancing measures have had a dramatic impact on businesses large and small, but for some employers the need to continue hiring new talent has not gone away. Nor, for that matter, has the need to comply with laws relating to immigration, visa and work permit regulations. The usual rules and procedures relating to employers’ responsibilities regarding right to work checks are outlined in our regularly featured blog. However, current COVID-19 restrictions on working practices and general movement have led to some temporary amendments to these procedures, as outlined below.

Right to work checks – temporary changes during COVID-19

Due diligence must still be observed in relation to right to work checks (and records) both for existing (non-EU) employees, and newcomers to your organisation. It remains an offence to knowingly employ anyone who does not have the right to work in the UK. 

As of 30 March 2020, the following temporary changes have been made, in order to make it possible for employers to meet their obligations in ensuring right to work checks are carried out:

  • Job applicants and existing workers can send scanned documents or a photo of documents for checks using email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals
  • Upon receipt of the above, you should arrange a video call with the worker – ask them to hold up the original documents to the camera and check them against the digital copy of the documents
  • Record the date you made the check and mark it as “adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19” 
  • If the worker has a current Biometric Residence Permit or Biometric Residence Card or status under the EU Settlement Scheme you can use the online right to work checking service while doing a video call – the applicant must give you permission to view their details
  • In the event that a prospective or existing employee cannot provide any of the accepted documents, employers must contact the Home Office Employer Checking Service. If the person has a right to work, the Employer Checking Service will send you a ‘Positive Verification Notice’. This provides you with a statutory excuse for 6 months from the date in the notice.
  • Within 8 weeks after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted you will be asked to carry out retrospective checks on existing employees who started working for you during these measures or required a follow-up right to work check during these measures. You should mark this check: “the individual’s contract commenced on [insert date]. The prescribed right to work check was undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19.” Should these retrospective checks point to the fact that your employee does not have permission to be in the UK you must end their employment. Provided that you have followed the above outlined process, there will be no enforcement placed upon you by the Home Office.

Visa expiries & renewals – temporary changes during COVID-19

In response to the current COVID-19 measures, the government has announced special dispensation for anyone currently in the UK whose leave to remain expires between 24th January 2020 and 31st May 2020, and who is unable to leave the UK due to travel restrictions of self-isolation as a result of COVID-19. In such cases, individuals will be eligible to remain in the UK until 31st May 2020 and will not be regarded as an overstayer or suffer any penalty as a result.

Where the above applies and the individual had not planned to remain in the UK beyond their current visa limitation, they are required to update their records with the Coronavirus Immigration Team.

However, for those affected individuals who had intended to apply for a long-term UK visa, applications may be made online from within the UK (rather than from the home country) until 31st May 2020, albeit that the same requirements for eligibility will need to be met, the usual charges and fees will apply, and the existing terms of the current visa will apply until a decision has been made regarding the long term application. This includes those whose leave has already been automatically extended to 31 May 2020.

Further support

Our HR specialists are on hand to help if you have any doubts or queries regarding right to work checks.

We can also offer a self-service solution via our hosted HR platform, which processes checks via secure government gateways, is ISO27001 compliant and stores all the relevant paperwork and supporting documentation which you need to retain in order to demonstrate compliance.

Our fees are accessible for SMEs and you’ll have peace of mind knowing your compliance is managed quickly and effectively. If you would like to hear more, please get in touch and speak to one of our HR specialists.

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