How the Coronavirus pandemic is affecting the UK’s immigration system
The Coronavirus pandemic is causing many to be concerned about how this could affect their UK immigration options. The constantly evolving situation is creating additional uncertainty. We will update this page as new guidelines emerge so please bookmark it and check back regularly.
10 June 2020
The Home Office have published an updated version of their Coronavirus guidance for UK visa applicants and those in the UK temporarily, this time providing some further concessions about applications made on the basis of family or private life.
The new concessions are:
- Fiancé(e)s or proposed civil partners – can now apply to stay up to 31 July 2020 under the guidance or for an extension of stay for a further 6 months if their wedding or civil ceremony has been delayed
- Minimum income or adequate maintenance requirements – enabling applicants to rely on income from employment from a period of earnings prior to March 2020 and counting income during a period of furlough at the usual full rate of pay. It also states that losses of income due to Coronavirus between 1 March and 31 July 2020 for applicants relying on self-employed “will generally be disregarded” for future applications
- Specified documents – possible relaxation of the requirement to provide specified documents if applicants cannot get them due to Coronavirus
- English tests – ability to apply for an exemption if could not take as the test centre was closed or unable to travel
Earlier guidance has confirmed that those in the UK whose leave expires between 24 January 2020 and now 31 July 2020 can apply from within the UK to switch to long-term visas until 31 July 2020 where they would usually have to apply from outside the UK, provided they meet all of the requirements.
There are many questions still left unanswered, however. For example, it is not clear which route to settlement those applying in the UK to switch to partner or parent visas will be put in: will this be in the 5 or 10 year route to settlement?
A big consideration for many will be the fees too. For example, to extend leave as a fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner for 6 months costs £1033, the same as applying for an extension of stay for 30 months in the partner route.
5 June 2020
The government has issued advice for Tier 2, 4 and 5 sponsors:
4 June 2020
We appreciate that these are uncertain and worrying times for everyone but that the added worry about your immigration status will be especially stressful.
The Home Office are regularly updating their existing and issuing new guidance on how they will deal with cases affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. It is important that you are aware of the current guidance and how this may affect your situation. We will be able to advise you of the options available to you and ensure that you are in a position to make informed decisions about your immigration status.
We offer appointments at short notice via Skype or Zoom or by telephone to provide advice on your options.
We can also provide assistance and support with all stages of the process if you decide to proceed with an application. We have advised the following clients remotely in the last few days:
‘We just wanted to express our heartfelt thanks for you, not just your expert advice but also your patience. We are this afternoon unburdened and hopeful for a positive outcome. We are most grateful for your professional assistance.’ Client testimonial about Pierette
‘We couldn’t be more grateful to you for your help and will definitely come back to you in the future for more assistance. This has been a difficult time but with your help it has been doable.’ Client testimonial about Bryony
22 May 2020
Overseas nationals who cannot return home due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will be able to extend their visa until the end of July to give them peace of mind that they can stay in the UK until they are able to return home safely. Find out more: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/further-visa-extensions-for-those-unable-to-return-home-due-to-coronavirus
20 May 2020
The UK has left the EU and the current transitional period will end on 31 December 2020. After this, EU/EEA nationals will be subject to the same immigration restrictions as other non-EU/EEA nationals are now.
The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2020 that is currently being considered by Parliament ends free movement and will pave the way for the introduction of a new immigration system from January 2021.
7 May 2020
The Home Office have issued guidance on particular areas of UK immigration affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. They have issued guidance for Tier 2, 4 & 5 Sponsors about how they will consider applications and also on specific issues that might ordinarily be potential breaches of the Sponsor Guidance during this time. Here is the link to that guidance: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-tier-2-4-and-5-sponsors
They have also issued additional guidance for Tier 4 Sponsors and students themselves. Here is the link to that guidance: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-tier-4-sponsors-migrants-and-short-term-students
8 April 2020
The Home Office are regularly updating their guidance and now have an immigration home page on their website which you can visit where all their Coronavirus guidance is collated.
Guidance for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents
Here is the link to the up to date advice (as at 6 April 2020): https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-uk-visa-applicants-and-temporary-uk-residents
Notable updates in this guidance are:
- Individuals in the UK with leave that expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020
They are now asked to complete a form to request that their visa be extended. The link to the form is: https://gov.smartwebportal.co.uk/homeoffice/public/webform.asp?id=199&id2=5C97E7
The Home Office, however, advise that those who already have leave and were planning to extend it should continue to apply in the usual way using the appropriate form and meeting the requirements of the Immigration Rules.
- Tier 1 Entrepreneurs
The guidance confirms that Entrepreneurs no longer need to employ at least 2 people for 12 consecutive months each and instead that the 12 month period can be made up of multiple employees across different months.
It also confirms that time when an Entrepreneur’s employees are furloughed it will not count towards the 12 month period.
Where an Entrepreneur has not been able to employ staff for 12 months in total by the time their leave expires, then they will be allowed to temporarily extend their leave to give them more time to meet the requirement.
Please note that this guidance does not amend the Immigration Rules and the legal status of it is not yet been made clear by the Home Office.
Guidance for Tier 2, 4 and 5 sponsors
Here is the link to the up to date advice (as at 3 April 2020): https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-tier-2-4-and-5-sponsors
Notable updates in this guidance are:
- Reduction in the pay of sponsored workers
Employers can temporarily reduce the pay of sponsored employees to 80% of their salary or £2,500 per month, whichever is lower.
The reduction must be part of a company-wide policy where all workers are treated the same and the sponsored workers’ pay must return to the previous level afterwards.
- Expiry dates on issued Certificate of Sponsorship (COS) or Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS)
A sponsored worker or student must usually apply for a visa and travel to the UK to commence their job or studies by the date stated on the COS or CAS.
The guidance confirms that where the start has changed for example where a sponsored worker has not been able to travel the UK, then they will not automatically refuse applications but will consider them on a case by case basis.
Right to Work Checks
Here is the link to the up to date advice (as at 30 March 2020): https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-right-to-work-checks
The guidance allows these to be carried out via video calls and that scanned documents to prove status rather than originals will be accepted.
However, the guidance confirms that employers must continue to carry out right to work checks and contact the Home Office Employer Checking Service where a worker cannot provide their documents.
It also confirms that once the COVID-19 measures end that employers must carry out retrospective checks on anyone who has started work or needed a follow-up check during this period.
English Language / Life in the UK tests
Although there is no published Home Office guidance yet on this, we understand that where an applicant is required to pass an approved English language qualification of the Life in the UK test to obtain an extension of or Indefinite Leave to Remain but hasn’t been able to as the test centres are currently closed their application will not be rejected as invalid.
Instead, a decision will be put on hold so that the applicant will be given more time to pass the required test once the test centres reopen.
1 April 2020
How is this affecting individuals and businesses?
Restrictions on travel to and from many countries mean that some people are now stuck in the UK unable to travel home, possibly with their visa imminently expiring, while others are stuck outside the UK, unable to return here, worried how this may affect their current or future immigration status.
Given the complexity of UK immigration law it is pretty much impossible to draw up an exhaustive list of all of the ways that the Coronavirus pandemic may affect people and organisations. The examples here are some of the queries we have come across in the past few days:
- Visitors to the UK whose visas are running out asking if they will be able to apply in the UK for a spouse or work visa as they can’t travel home to apply for it as usually required.
- Individuals worried about their ability to meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules if they lose their livelihood or have a significant drop in income or if they have excessive absences from the UK as they are now stuck overseas
- Sponsors facing tough business decisions about continuing to employ or reducing the pay of sponsored workers which could affect their sponsor licence obligations.
- Businesses postponing the recruitment of skilled staff they require because of travel restrictions and the closing of visa centres overseas.
- Entrepreneurs worried that furloughing their business’ employees may mean that they won’t be considered as creating sufficient jobs to apply to extend their leave in the UK.
Key special provisions that have been made so far
17 February 2020
This Home Office guidance confirmed that Chinese nationals’ leave would be automatically extended to 31 March 2020, subject to the same conditions. It also exceptionally enabled switching from Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer to Tier 2 General in the UK.
For Tier 2, 4 and 5 sponsors, the guidance confirmed that there is no need to report authorised absences or withdraw sponsorship due to Coronavirus-related illness, quarantine or inability to travel. The Home Office have also since confirmed that Sponsors do not need to report a change of location where sponsored staff are working from home.
24 March 2020
This guidance extends the previous provisions, confirming that anyone in the UK whose leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020 who cannot travel will have their visa extended to 31 May 2020.
Those affected need to email the Coronavirus Immigration Team with reasons why they need to stay to update their record with the Home Office.
However, the statutory provisions regarding the expiry of leave still apply as these need primary legislation to change. It is important to be aware that sending an email does not extend leave under S. 3C of the Immigration Act 1971. If the reasons an applicant gives to ask for an extension of their visa are not acceptted they may become an overstayer.
Until 31 May 2020, those whose visas are expiring on or before 31 May 2020 who want to apply for long-term visas for the UK but would usually need to apply from outside the UK can now apply in-country. They still need to meet the same requirements and pay the same fees. Applications are made online but as UKVCAS centres are currently all closed there will be a delay in the applications being processed. The Home Office have confirmed that applicants will not be treated as overstayers if they are unable to attend a biometric enrolment appointment in the usual required time owing to illness or the closure of UKVCAS centres.
This provision appears to be good news for those who are in the UK now but would ordinarily have to leave the UK to apply for entry clearance, for example as a spouse or Tier 2 (General) skilled worker. However, the guidance leaves many questions unanswered as it lacks detail such as what is meant by a long-term visa, although the understanding is that this does not mean indefinite leave to remain.
The Home Office’s press release gives an example of a long-term visa that could now be applied for in the UK, although this particular one can in fact already be applied for in-country under the Immigration Rules!
Our advice would be that where possible to make an application under the Immigration Rules relying on this guidance rather than apply to extend existing status by sending an email the Coronavirus Immigration Team with reasons why they need to stay.
We can give advice on the options available and relevant requirements.
31 March 2020
This press release confirms that doctors, nurses and paramedics with visas due to expire before 1 October 2020 will have them automatically extended, free of charge and with an exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge, for one year. This will also include their family members in the UK. There is no further detail at time of writing (1 April) on how an application is to be made.
Appeals and Judicial Reviews
The First-tier Tribunal has vacated all scheduled hearings and directed that they will proceed by way of a Case Management Hearing by telephone or Skype. The Upper Tribunal has cancelled all listed hearings and made special provisions for urgent Judicial Reviews.
However appeal deadlines still apply as these are statutory and so would need primary legislation to change so if a decision is made which attracts a right of appeal, this must still be exercised within the usual time limits.
EU Settlement Resolution Centre
Telephone lines are currently closed and the Home Office is not accepting documents by post. The Home Office are also saying that there will be delays in processing applications: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/eu-settlement-scheme-application-processing-times
Immigration Reporting, Interviews & further submissions
Reporting and face to face interviews have been suspended until further notice. Further submissions may be posted and not made in person.
Access to NHS treatment
Regulations have been passed to include coronavirus in the list of diseases that should be treated by the NHS without charge, irrespective of a person’s immigration status.
Closure of all Sopra Steria UKVCAS centres in UK and many VFS / TLS centres overseas
All UKVCAS centres are closed. Sopra Steria is automatically rebooking appointments at the same locations in 6 weeks’ time. New appointments cannot be booked.
Some visa application centres outside the UK are closed e.g. all in China, the USA and Canada and Pakistan.
Closure of English language and Life in UK test centres
All centres in the UK and many overseas are currently closed.
The Home Office have not yet confirmed how they will treat applications where an applicant needs to have passed an approved English language test or the Life in the UK test before applying but hasn’t been able to do so because the test centres are closed.
Will further provisions be made?
We understand that the Home Office are planning to issue further guidance; it is not yet known when this might be or the provisions that will be made.
As always the devil is in the detail. So far the provisions have been very general and there are lots of unanswered questions about how particular situations might be affected, as above with English language tests.
What do individuals and businesses affected need to do?
If your visa or leave is expiring or you need to take urgent steps to protect your business, including reviewing the employment of staff, then we can provide advice on the best options available, whether an application is made relying on the guidance or made outside the Immigration Rules on a discretionary basis, or making contact with the relevant Home Office business team.
Where a visa or leave is running out, submitting an application online on or before that date extends the existing status until a new decision is made, protecting lawful status, the right to work and rent.
We understand that the ongoing lack of clarity is causing understandable additional anxiety to the individuals and businesses affected at a time when they already face huge uncertainty in the face of the developing pandemic.
We will keep our clients updated with all developments that may affect them as they arise.
We can offer advice by Skype, Zoom, telephone or email only while face to face meetings are not advised.
We are maintaining business as usual but adapting the way we deliver our services so that we can continue to support our clients and represent their best interests during this difficult time.