26 March 2020
Coronavirus and Immigration
This article is correct as of 26 March 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disruptive impact on most aspects of our lives. The UK immigration system is no different. There is a lot of uncertainty regarding the Home Office’s approach at this stage. So far, we have had several announcements and policy statements that we have summarised below.
No matter what your immigration status is, it is worth noting that there will be no charge made by the NHS for a coronavirus test or treatment for the disease. For further information, please see the government guidance found here.
General advice for upcoming leave expiry
Please note: if your leave is due to expire and you can make an application in the UK you should do so in the normal way. The UKVCAS biometric centres are still partially open, but there will be delays, and this could change. However, submitting the online application form will be a protective measure, and if you are unable to complete biometrics you will need to notify the Home Office. The Home Office guidance states:
Individuals will not be regarded as an overstayer or be subject to enforcement action if they are unable to attend a biometric appointment due to Covid-19 or if there are delays in processing your application.
The Home Office has also advised in its guidance notes that if you are in the UK and are unable to leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation, you can make an in-country application where you would otherwise have had to leave the UK to apply for a visa. For example if you are in the UK as a visitor for interviews, secure the employment and would usually have to leave the UK to apply for your Tier 2 visa. It is unclear at this stage what level of evidence is required to prove you were unable to leave and apply abroad.
There are an infinite number of complications caused by the coronavirus upon UK immigration applications. We are fielding enquiries including:
- Tier 1 Entrepreneurs who have had to terminate the employment of employees and can no longer qualify for an extension or Indefinite Leave to Remain (which requires at least 2 employees employed for a particular period of time);
- Applicants for Indefinite Leave to Remain who are unable to sit their English language or Life in the UK tests because the test centres are closed until at least 19 April 2020;
- Indefinite Leave to Remain (“ILR”)and Absences: At present, the guidance for absences over the 180 days permitted per year allows excess absences for very limited compelling reasons such as natural disaster. This guidance may be updated to include coronavirus related issues with travel and returning to the UK. Our best advice at present is to ensure clear evidence of why you were unable to return. This evidence can be anything from government websites restricting travel or emails from your travel company.
As yet there is no guidance from the Home Office specific to coronavirus although it may be possible to rely on a general discretion when making an application, or seek a discretionary extension of stay temporarily (see below). We strongly recommend seeking legal advice.
If you would have intended to leave the UK but now cannot or if you cannot qualify to extend your stay
For any individuals who are in the UK legally and whose UK visa is due to expire or has expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020, and are unable to leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation, they will be granted an automatic extension of stay to the 31 May 2020. The reason for this measure is to ensure that they do not become overstayers or suffer any future detriment as a result of coronavirus travel restrictions.
However, it is vital that any affected individuals contact the Coronavirus Immigration Helpline (CIH) by email (in English) or telephone to:
- 0800 678 1767 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm) (free of charge)
The following information must be provided when reaching out to the CIH by email or telephone:
- full name (include any middle names)
- date of birth (dd/mm/yyyy)
- previous visa reference number and/or current visa details
- reason why an extension of stay in the UK is required, for example if a border has closed, all flights are suspended to home country, or the visa holder is in self-isolation
The CIH should acknowledge receipt of requests to extend visas to 31 May 2020 and confirm when the visa has been extended. However, the extension will be noted on the UKVI immigration databases, which means that no new Biometrics Residence Permits (“BRPs”) will be issued. This means you will not have any physical document to prove this extension.
The Home Office has relaxed sponsor reporting duties during this period. If sponsored workers are required to work from home rather than their normal workplace due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Home Office is waiving the usual requirement to report a change of work location. Normally, once a worker has started work, the sponsor must then report if the worker is absent from work for more than 10 consecutive working days without permission. However, the Home Office has advised that any sponsor keeps evidence, e.g. email communications, to demonstrate the period of absence was due to coronavirus.
Where a sponsor is ends a sponsored worker’s employment a report would need to be made to the Home Office and the individual would then have a period of curtailed leave in order to try to regularise their UK immigration position.
Until 31 May 2020, Tier 4 Sponsors will be able to offer distance learning courses to existing Tier 4 Students as well as those who have chosen to return home but who wish to continue their studies. Sponsorship does not have to be withdrawn in these circumstances, unless the student has permanently withdrawn from or deferred their studies.
It appears that local authorities are stopping citizenship ceremonies and should contact all those with booked ceremonies to notify them of these cancellations. It also appears that the Home Office has stopped issuing naturalisation and registration certificates, as stated here. It therefore appears that the citizenship process has been paused.
UK Visa Application Centres
Many of the UKVCAS Centres in the UK are currently closed and we anticipate more closing imminently. Those that remain open are offering limited services. For a full list of closures please refer to the UKVCAS website here. If you had an appointment booked, you should be contacted by UKVCAS with a notification of the cancellation.
Overseas, VFS Global, which runs many UK visa application centres abroad, also has a dedicated coronavirus page listing the centres which have closed. These can be found here. English Language test providers have also unsurprisingly been affected. Visit the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) website or contact your test centre directly for further information.
The Senior President of Tribunals issued an emergency practice direction on 19th March. It stated that where hearings can be heard remotely, they should be. Decisions are being made on papers without a hearing where possible. On 22 March 2020, this was supplemented by guidance from the President of the First-tier Tribunal dictating that all face to face hearings will cease in the First-tier Tribunal as of 25 March 2020, to be replaced by remote hearings, save for in ‘exceptional circumstances’. Cases are also currently being triaged.
Judges will make allowances for the pandemic when considering applications for extensions of time and postponement of hearings.
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This publication is not intended to provide a comprehensive statement of the law and does not constitute legal advice and should not be considered as such. It is intended to highlight some issues current at the date of its preparation. Specific advice should always be taken in order to take account of individual circumstances and no person reading this article is regarded as a client of this firm in respect of any of its contents.
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