First published on 28 March 2020. Last updated 22 May 2020.
Many of our clients have expressed deep concern about their immigration circumstances, in light of the coronavirus or Covid-19. Here we look at UK Immigration and Visas’ (UKVI’s) latest guidance on coronavirus and UK immigration.
Due to the Covid-19, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised British citizens not to travel internationally, unless their travel is deemed to be essential. We have one client, a British national, who is considering travelling to Canada to be with his Canadian wife, as she is now no longer able to progress her spouse visa application.
For those wishing to travel, it is important for those individuals to be aware of the latest travel information, as countries continue to review their containment measures and restrict travel. Such measures can be introduced by countries without notice and individuals can be arrested if laws around quarantine and self-isolation are not adhered to. Therefore, travellers are advised to check the latest position with your travel provider or consulate and only travel is absolutely necessary.
Current UK visa holders unable to leave the UK
There are a number of visa holders in the United Kingdom (UK), whose UK visas are due to expire. Failure to leave the UK on or prior to the expiry of the visa will normally cause significant issues to a person’s immigration history. Our strong advice has, and always will be, to adhere to the terms of the visa. Yet, many individuals are finding it extremely difficult to secure their travel to leave the UK and travel overseas.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to flights being cancelled, and some airlines have ground flights altogether. The Home Office has fortunately recognised the difficulties facing UK visa holders in the UK and and announced, subject to UKVI guidance, that such individuals will receive an automatic extension of their visa until 31 March 2020.
On 24 March 2020, UKVI updated their guidance. The current position (as of today’s date at least), is that visa holders, with visas that are due to expire between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020, will receive an extension of their stay until 31 May 2020. Initially this had been restricted to Chinese nationals because of the extreme difficulties they faced returning to China but has now been widened.
The extension of the visa length applies to UK visa holders who cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions in place or self-isolation related to coronavirus, so this will apply to a significant number of individuals. Nevertheless, in order to fall within the provisions, UKVI advise that visa holders with visas expiring between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020, contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) so that UKVI may update their records.
As of 22 May 2020, UKVI advise that visas may be extended until 31 July 2020, for those unable to leave the UK because of Covid-19 related matters.
UKVI state that any emails sent to CIT, seeking an extension of leave, should provide the following information:
Their full name (including any middle names);
- Their date of birth (in the following format – dd/mm/yyyy);
- Their nationality; and
- Their previous visa reference number.
The UK visa holder is also asked to provide an explanation as to why they cannot leave the UK and return to their home country. For example, this may be due to the closure of the border or inability to secure travel arrangements.
UKVI will acknowledge receipt of the email and go on to consider the contents. If satisfied, UKVI will inform the visa holder of the temporary extension of their visa.
This is a helpful solution for UK visa holders facing uncertainty over the coronavirus and UK immigration status. It may be that coronavirus and UK immigration measures remain in place beyond 31 May 2020. If so, UKVI will no doubt look to extend their measures. UK visa holders that receive an extension or have a visa due to expire soon after 31 May 2020 are advised to pay close attention to any updates from UKVI.
In the interim, it is advisable for UK visa holders impacted by the coronavirus to collate and retain records of any communications with UKVI relating to the extension of their visas, and of any communications relating to cancelled travel or travel difficulties. This includes screenshots of any attempts to book their overseas travel.
UK visa holders wishing to stay in the UK long-term
UKVI had initially advised that Chinese nationals in the UK under the Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) visa category could exceptionally switch to a Tier 2 General visa from within the UK. That is, if their UK visa was due to expire between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020.
The requirements for affected individuals to first leave the country and apply from overseas has been set aside for the present time.
On 24 March, UKVI provided coronavirus and UK immigration guidance to UK visa holders who would ordinarily return to their home countries in order to apply for leave to enter the UK under a new visa category. In light of the travel difficulties and coronavirus, UKVI advised that such visa holders may exceptionally apply to switch into a longer term immigration category from within the UK.
This option is available to UK visa holders until 31 May only and applies to individuals whose visas may have already been extended until 31 March 2020.
As of 22 May 2020, UKVI updated their guidance so that the deadline for making an application, from the UK, to switch to a visa that would normally require a person to apply from your home country has been extended to 31 July 2020
Individuals seeking to apply for a longer term visa from within the UK must ensure that they meet the visa requirements under the immigration rules, otherwise the application will fail. They must also pay the correct UK application fee and immigration health surcharge, is applicable.
Applications may be made online. However, UK applicants should note that they will not able to book a biometric appointment as per usual, as the UK Visa and Citizenship Application Centres (UKVCAS), Post Office enrolment services and Service and Support Centres (SSCs) are temporarily closed due to the coronavirus.
For anyone that has submitted an application and had managed to book an appointment, or have a biometric enrolment letter, applicants will be contacted directly and told what to do next.
The terms of the individual’s current visa will continue until a decision has been made on the new application. Their immigration status will not be negatively affected as a result of their inability to attend an appointment or enrol their biometric data at a participating Post Office. It is therefore crucial that any new immigration application is properly prepared so as to avoid an adverse decision.
UK visa holders with an expired 30 day visa
When an applicant’s visa application to work, study or join a family member in the UK is approved, UKVI will issue the applicant with a visa vignette in their passport to facilitate their entry within a 30 day period. Once in the UK, the visa holder must replace the visa vignette with a Biometric Residence Permit valid for the period of leave.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, some visa holders in the UK have been unable to replace their 30 day visas with Biometric Residence Permits. If so, UKVI advise that the visa holder contact them via email to request a replacement visa. The visa holder must include the following within the email:
- Date of birth
- GWF reference number
The email subject line should state: ‘REPLACEMENT 30 DAY VISA’.
If the visa holder has already contacted UKVI, the email should highlight this. UKVI will respond to the email in due course with a view to issuing a replacement visa vignette in the passport.
UKVI has stated that visa holders in this situation will not be penalised because they are unable to collect the Biometric Residence Permit while social distancing measures remain in place.
The process involving the replacement of the 30 day visas will be in place until the end of 2020.
Tier 1 Entrepreneurs in the UK
On 3 April, UKVI updated their guidance to take into account the impact of Covid-19 on businesses continuity.
UKVI states that Tier 1 Entrepreneurs, whose business has been disrupted by the pandemic, will no longer need to employ at least 2 people for 12 consecutive months each.
Instead, the 12 month period that resident workers must be employed for, may be made up of multiple employees across different months.
Time during which the employees were furloughed will not count towards the 12 month period.
If the Tier 1 Entrepreneur has not been able to employ staff for 12 months in total by the time their visa expires, they may be allowed to temporarily extend their stay to enable them to meet the requirement.
It is helpful that UKVI has taken this flexible approach to Tier 1 Entrepreneurs. Normally, UKVI can be extremely rigid when applying the rules under the points based system, something we intend to cover in a later blog post.
Thinking ahead, we suggest that Tier 1 Entrepreneurs collate any data to evidence how the disruption to their business has manifested as a result of Covid-19. This may include collating published government announcements about the closure of certain sectors to better implement physical distancing, and accounts data.
Doing so now, can make the preparation of the extension or settlement application much easier, particularly if memories fade about such things with the passage of time.
Doctors, Nurses and Paramedics in the UK
For doctors, nurses and paramedics in the UK, who work for a National Health Service (NHS) employer, with visas due to expire before 1 October 2020, their visas will be automatically extended by one year. On 1 May 2020, UKVI extended this list to include some frontline health workers and their family members – see below.
UKVI will contact NHS employers directly to identity staff that are eligible for the automatic extension. UKVI will then advise the employers and eligible individuals about the new visa status.
The automatic visa extension announcements will also apply to the family members of doctors, nurses and paramedics, where the visas are due to expire before 1 October 2020.
The extension is free and UKVI state that such visa holders will not be required to pay the immigration health surcharge. Such a shame that UKVI cannot indefinitely waive the immigration health surcharge for doctors, nurses and paramedics visa holders.
In addition, doctors, nurses and paramedics, working in the NHS, will no longer have restrictions placed on this as to the number of hours that they may work or volunteer each week. This will apply if they are:
- A Tier 4 student
- Tier 2 worker and the NHS job is a second job
- A visiting academic researcher
- A holder of a short-term visa and are permitted to volunteer
UKVI have extended the deadline by which pre-registration nurses may sit the Occupational Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE). This has been extended to 31 December 2020.
On 1 May 2020, UKVI added further guidance for frontline health workers working in different locations and/or those carrying out supplementary work. The list of frontline workers affected by the guidance was also expanded to include more occupations. The list of frontline health workers is as follows:
- Biological scientist
- Dental practitioner
- Health professional
- Medical practitioner
- Medical radiographer
- Occupational therapist
- Social worker
- Speech and Language Therapist
- Therapy professional
If an NHS/ frontline worker is unsure whether their profession is eligible, they may wish to check with their employer who will be in a better position to advise.
UK visa applicants outside of the UK
There has been little comfort for UK visa applicants awaiting a decision on their application submitted from outside the UK. Even less for UK visa applicants that are in the process of submitting their application or were due to attend a biometric appointment.
UKVI have been slow to issue coronavirus and UK immigration guidance, in the main because they are also reliant upon the third party visa application centres to process the applications in various global locations. In turn, the third party visa application centres have found themselves in a difficult position as they try to ensure the safety of their staff and members of the public.
Due to the pandemic, and mobility restrictions placed in order to control and minimise the spread, many UK visa application centres (VACs) have closed their offices. The few VACs that remain open are providing limited services. For instance, the VAC in Moscow had stayed open, though they had closed on 29 March until further notice.
Applicants waiting for a decision on their applications have been advised by UKVI to contact the relevant VAC in their location. That is:
- TLS contact for UK visa applicants in Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East; or
- VFS global for all other locations.
Where the UK visa applicant had submitted their application and was due to attend a biometric appointment at a centre that is no longer open, the applicant will be contacted directly by TLS Contact or VFS Global and told that their appointment is no longer taking place. We have already seen this with clients that had biometric appointments scheduled in the US, Delhi, Beirut and parts of Europe. This is particularly distressing for individuals facing continued separation from their family members and we continue to assess the situation on their behalf.
In some locations, the VAC have already return the documents to the applicants as the applicant wait for information about the decision making process. Applicants concerned about their original documents or passports will have their documents returned to them by courier, if the courier service was procured and the courier routes remain open.
If the passports are currently with the VACs and the applicants would like to secure their return, the applicants are advised to contact either TLS contact or VFS global directly. The VAC will assist the applicants in arranging a courier service for the return of the passports.
The VACs will prioritise the return of all documents once centres are reopened. Anyone that remains concerned about the passport should contact the Coronavirus Immigration Helpline.
Those entering the UK from overseas
From 8 June, those seeking to enter the UK will experience new rules due to Covid-19. The new rules apply to UK residents and visitors.
Travelers and returnees to the UK will need to provide their journey and contact details, by way of an online form prior to arriving to the UK. Proof of completion of the online form will need to be shown at the border.
Upon their arrival, the person will be expected to stay at the address provided in the online form, for an initial period of 14 days. In other words, they must self-isolate.
Providing no Covid-19 symptoms are experienced within the first 14 days, the person may stop self-isolate but must follow government guidelines relating to social and physical distancing in the UK.
They are also advised by the government to download the NHS contact tracing app, though details will be provided by the Department of Health shortly.
The new rules will be regularly reviewed by the UK government and may be subject to change. Therefore residents returning to the UK and travelers are advised to check the latest public health advice on coronavirus before traveling.
From 8 June, a person may be fined £100 if they refuse to provide their contact details, and £1,000 if they refuse to self-isolate in England and Wales. Further action may also be taken.
Enforcement measures in Scotland and Northern Ireland will be announced soon.
A person seeking entry to the UK, who refuses to complete the form and provide the address where their will self-isolate, may be refused entry into the UK. This does not apply to UK and settled nationals, though they may receive a fine for non-compliance.
Prospective UK visa applicants outside of the UK
Individuals that are preparing their applications for submission to the VAC are also experiencing uncertainty. It is presently providing very difficult to secure their English language test or Tuberculosis screening certificates. Applicants are advised to visit the International English Language Testing System (IELTS)’s website, the LanguageCert website or contact their test centre for more information.
As for UK visa holders whose visa were not activated by their travel to the UK, and whose visas have expired, UKVI suggest that the person should re-start the visa application process. So for instance, one person who had been issued with a EU Settlement Scheme family permit 6 months ago, and had not yet traveled to the UK, and can now no longer do so, will have to apply for a new family permit. It will not be possible to extend the terms of the family permit to allow her to enter the UK at a later date.
Tier 4 Students
On 20 April, UKVI provided detailed guidance relating to Tier 4 sponsors, Tier 4 students and short term students.
Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre
If you have a coronavirus and UK immigration query UKVI advise that you contact the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre at: CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk. Emails must be in English.
The Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre will typically respond to emails within 5 working days.
The Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre can also be contacted by phone on: 0800 678 1767 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)
Calls are free of charge from within the UK. Please do not call the team if you have already sent the team an email. This will only waste time and slow down response times.
For anyone wishing to seek clarity about their immigration status, we recommend that you seek expert immigration advice.
All the best and please stay safe!
The Coronavirus pandemic continues to have an ever increasing pervasive impact on people’s lives, be it health, the ability to work and conduct your day-to-day affairs, or UK immigration status. It is imperative in these times that individuals follow the medical advice of self-isolating and social-distancing so as to minimise the spread of the coronavirus to ourselves, our family members and wider community.
Coronavirus and UK immigration advice will differ whether you are a UK visa holder in the UK seeking to return to your home country and cannot do so because of the pandemic; are in the UK and hope to stay longer term, or have applied for a UK visa from overseas. We have highlighted some of the steps that can be taken depending on your circumstances. We hope that the above guidance is of help and we will aim to be keep you updated during these tumultuous times.
Written by Carla Thomas – Managing Director at Thomas Chase immigration.
Thomas Chase Immigration offer immigration assistance to individuals and families.
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If you have questions or concerns or you would like straightforward immigration advice, or assistance with your application to enter or remain in the UK, feel free to contact us.
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