Immigration concessions during COVID-19
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.
Somewhat mysteriously this appeared on 8 June 2020 only to disappear later that day without explanation. It was then re-posted on 9 June but with an assurance to applicants that “you will not be disadvantaged” if you cannot meet the income requirement for a partner application due to the Coronavirus this time omitted.
The new concessions are:
- Fiancé(e)s or proposed civil partners – can now apply for extensions 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 versions of this guidance 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.
However they have to meet all of the requirements. The only rule they don’t need to meet is the need to apply for the particular visa from outside the UK. They also need to pay the appropriate application fee.
This provision has meant we have been able to assist a number of clients in the UK visiting family members to apply in-country for longer-term satay as family members where they would usually have had to leave the UK to apply from their home country.
There are many questions still left unanswered, however. For example:
- 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?
- How will the Home Office assess the income of those employees furloughed beyond 31 July 2020 or those in self-employment whose profits are variable or seasonal or are in their first year of trading and so can’t show what their usual income would be per year?
- How flexible with the Home Office be about specified documents? The guidance says that “in some cases” they will be able to decide an application without these. It’s interesting that for applications made under the EU Settlement Scheme the Home Office are able to check the National Insurance and tax records of applicants and only if those don’t provide sufficient information will request additional documents yet applicants for a partner or other dependant visas must provide specified documents to prove earnings in the UK. Will the Home Office now also check these against National Insurance and tax records?
- What about the Life in the UK test that those applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain must pass? There is no mention of any exemption from taking this unlike the English test. Instead we understand that the Home Office will give applicants more time (240 days reportedly) to take this once they submit their applications, although this isn’t stated in any published guidance.
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. Those applying in-country for partner visas must pay the Immigration Health Surcharge which is currently £1000 on top of this. These additional overheads are unlikely to have been budgeted for by those who came to the UK to just visit or to get married here. Visitors to the UK, as well as fiancé(e)s and proposed civil partners, cannot work in the UK so won’t be able to raise any extra funds needed that way to meet the necessary fees. .
Required Income Level
And what about the disappearing assurance to applicants that “you will not be disadvantaged” if you cannot meet the income requirement for a partner application due to the Coronavirus? What message does that give about the Home Office’s willingness to be flexible and reasonable? Does it mean they are willing to separate families where the required income level has dropped because of the Coronavirus? The updated guidance still leaves a lot to be clarified and appears ill-thought out and incomplete. Here is how it was portrayed in a national newspaper: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/coronavirus-home-office-non-eu-spouse-immigration-guidance-a9556186.html
We understand that the continuing uncertainty is causing those with temporary immigration status in the UK great anxiety, on top of that which the Coronavirus pandemic is causing for us all. It is difficult to keep on top of the frequently changing Home Office guidance and changes to procedures with some visa applications and Life in the UK test centres now reopening while others remain closed.
We can help you find the best option for you and your family at this time. We provide accessible and clear advice to enable you to make an informed decision and can assist you with the whole application process.