For better or for worse?
Bates Wells, London
The Covid-19 pandemic has turned people’s lives upside down: losing loved ones, the termination of employment worldwide, reduction of salaries, modifications of work conditions and locations (particularly remote working), company bankruptcies and many other negative consequences. On the other hand, in some cases business opportunities have arisen. In short, human beings are living through a challenging time.
As lawyers in the practice of immigration law in our respective jurisdictions, we are being affected by borders being closed and migration being brought to a complete standstill in many countries. It is understandable that the way we work as immigration lawyers has changed, and that is in some regard due to how our respective governments have handled the pandemic. Take the United Kingdom, for example.
Policy announcements and no legislation
The UK government has made various Covid-19 concessions by way of policy announcements on its website, not by passing legislation. That is partly due to the fast-paced nature of the beast that we have been dealing with: presumably, it is better than announcements being made on Twitter like in the United States. Many of the concessions have been welcome in substance, but the lack of clarity in the drafting in some instances has caused much consternation amongst immigration lawyers and created further unwelcome uncertainty for businesses. It has certainly been a busy time and the pace of change has been remarkable, even for a field in which frequent changes to the law, policy and process are par for the course.
Switching status inside the UK
We have had concessions permitting temporary UK residents such as tourists or those on short-term visas to switch status inside the UK to a long-term visa where their leave was due to expire on a certain date and they could not return home due to travel restrictions or self-isolation due to Covid-19.
It was not an automatic grant of leave and certain criteria needed to be met. This concession has provided comfort to many and for some will have provided the opportunity to avoid a costly and inconvenient trip home simply to switch immigration status. For businesses, it has meant avoiding the disruption caused by employees having to take time out to make such trips. There are suggestions that our new post-Brexit immigration system will provide greater flexibility on switching status within the UK, and we can hope that the temporary Covid-19 concession will have demonstrated the benefit of such provisions.
'Right to work' checks
Employers have been able to conduct ‘right to work’ checks virtually which has been helpful as many people have been working remotely. This has definitely accelerated the onboarding process for many of my clients; while the government has coined this as a temporary adjustment, it would be beneficial if this is taken forward as a permanent way of conducting ‘right to work’ checks in a post Covid-19 world.
Technology has played a major role with the phased re-opening of centres to process applications in the UK and overseas. For many, there have been significant delays in obtaining decisions on applications as some applications were effectively held in the system until biometrics could be taken.
In response to Covid-19, another positive change we have seen is a new biometric re-use policy. Some lucky people (eg adults who enrolled biometrics in the five years since July 2015 and children in the last two years) do not have to repeat the biometrics submission process. They can merely take a ‘selfie’ of themselves and photos of their travel documents, upload documents onto an online portal and obtain a decision on their application.
While our respective governments may have dealt with things differently, would it not be wonderful if we could cherry pick the ‘better’ initiatives and take those forward as a global immigration community?