The Home Office announced that a new policy will put into place for individuals who are unable to leave the UK due to the Coronavirus. Although the details of the policy are limited, this is positive news for some as it now allows:
If you’re in the UK and your leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020 you will be able to extend your stay until 31 May
· In-country switching rules have been relaxed for individuals who wish to remain in the UK on a long-term basis
· Relaxation of absence reporting for sponsors
If you’re in the UK and your leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020
Your visa will be extended to 31 May 2020 if you cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus (COVID-19).
You must contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) to update your records if your visa is expiring. You will be asked to provide:
· your full name (include any middle names)
· date of birth (dd/mm/yyyy)
· your previous visa reference number
· why you can’t go back to your home country, for example if the border has closed
You can contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) on 0800 678 1767 or alternatively email CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk.
The policy advises that once the above information has been provided, the team will inform you ‘when your visa has been extended’, however, the guidance is not clear on what an individual will receive in order to prove that their leave has actually been extended. The guidance does state that no enforcement action will be taken against individuals currently facing this situation, however, due to the hostile environment, individuals need to be able to prove they are lawfully allowed to remain in the UK to various groups of people from landlords to employers and banks.
The advice from the Home Office suggests that an individual should make the request for an extension if their visa is expiring, yet no timescale or deadlines have been given on timescales to apply, or how early one should apply. This does nonetheless indicate that the request should be done in advance of their visa expiring but can be made if a person’s leave has already expired since 24 January 2020. It is also worth noting that those that were granted an automatic extension on their leave due to previous policy should contact the Home Office in order to have their leave extended.
Staying in the UK longer term
The new policy states that rules on switching will be relaxed, in order to allow individuals to switch into long-term visas in the UK, where they would usually need to leave the UK to apply for a visa from outside of the UK. Although the full requirements are unclear in terms of whether an individual would need to demonstrate that they are unable to return to their home country or whether this applies to all categories of the rules; what is clear is that you will need to meet the same visa eligibility requirements and pay the UK application fee, The example given by the Home Office is those switching from a Tier 4 to Tier 2 which does not really give much clarity. This policy again includes those that were automatically given an extension on their leave until 31 March 2020.
Situations that still require an update by the Home Office
Although there is an opportunity for individuals to extend their visa until 31 May 2020, there are many issues that are yet to be addressed, for example, the biggest issue is of individuals who will need to submit applications for settlement or naturalisation but are outside of the UK and unable to travel back due to the current circumstances. There is still yet to be any guidance published on the inability of individuals to meet the residence requirements.
Aside from those individuals, other situations that need addressing are:
· Individuals that are unable to take the Life in the UK test or required English test prior to the expiration of their visa;
· Entrepreneurs who may now be unable to meet the job creation requirements;
· Investors who may now struggle to maintain their investments;
· Individuals who have been issued with a 30 day vignette and unable to travel or enter the UK;
· Individuals unable to work due to a change of employment and delays in start dates and their status;
· Suspension of UKVCAS appointments causing delays and uncertainty about decision making deadlines;
· Students unable to complete their course of study within the normal time limit allowed for their level of study;
· Spouses unable to meet the financial requirements where they previously were able to do so.
Due to the current coronavirus pandemic, sponsors are not currently required to report absences of students or employees caused by the coronavirus, being sponsored under the Tier 2, Tier 4 and Tier 5 categories. The Home Office have made clear that no enforcement action will be taken against such sponsors who continue to sponsor such individuals.
Sponsors are not required to withdraw their sponsorship for students who have been unable to attend for more than 60 days or employees who have exceeded four weeks of absence without pay. Tier 4 students are also able to carry out distance learning and Tier 2 or Tier 5 employees are able to work from home provided that this is due to the pandemic.
Get in touch with our immigration lawyers
For advice on the above immigration policies or if you are being affected by the Coronavirus, contact our immigration lawyers on 0207 887 1916 or complete the enquiry form.