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Coronavirus (Covid-19) Immigration Law Update

The Coronavirus has resulted in a period of difficulty and uncertainty for everyone across the world. We have seen various changes to our society and to the way we live our lives. The immigration system is no different, and has had to adapt to respond to these changes and the measures put in place in order to stop the spread of the virus.

This blog collates and explores the Home Office’s Coronavirus policy as well as updates and changes to immigration law. 

Visa extension for those in the UK

If you are currently in the UK, and your visa expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020, your visa will be extended if you cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to Coronavirus. 

This is a helpful policy, though it is not automatic. If you have not already extended your visa, you will need to do this by completing an online form

Previously those who had visas expiring between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020 were asked to contact the Home Office to extend their visas under the Coronavirus policy. This has now been extended to 31 July 2020. If you extended your visa to 31 May 2020 by contacting the Home Office, your visa will automatically be extended to 31 July 2020. 

It should be noted, however, that you are expected to take all reasonable steps to leave the UK before this date where it is possible to do so. The extension is intended only for those who have found themselves in a position where they may be in the UK without leave as a result of the virus. It is possible that the Home Office may not accept your reasons for not being able to leave the UK, and there is a risk that you could become an overstayer. 

It is advisable to seek legal advice if you have a choice between applying under the policy or applying for a long-term visa. 

Making an in-country application for a long-term visa

If your leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020, it is possible to apply for long term visas in the UK, even where ordinarily these types of applications would require an applicant to leave the UK.

The Guidance was recently updated to say that you can now also apply for a long-term visa if your leave expires after 31 July 2020 if you need to make this application urgently, for example to begin a new job, study, or you cannot leave the UK to make the application from overseas. This includes applications to switch into a different work route or to change jobs in the same route using a new Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS).

You will still need to meet the other requirements of the visa that you are applying for, however. You may wish to seek legal advice on the specific requirements of the application you are making and to consider alternative applications, if applicable. 

Working for the NHS 

Similar to the general extension policy, as detailed above, the Home Office announced that some NHS workers and their families are entitled to a free one year extension of their visa. Unlike the policy set out above, this extension is automatic. 

A list of eligible professions is set out on the Home Office website here

If you have already made an application to extend your visa, but you are an NHS worker, it is possible to withdraw the application to obtain a refund if you have not yet provided your biometrics at a visa centre. Details of this are provided in the link above. 

Financial requirements in Appendix FM applications 

The Immigration Rules require applicants for spouse visas to meet a financial requirement. More information on meeting the financial requirement can be found here

Many workers across the UK have suffered financial losses and difficulties as a result of the virus which may mean that many applicants who were previously able to meet this requirement, are falling short. 

The Home Office has now acknowledged this, and added a new section to the Coronavirus policy. It states that:

If you have experienced a loss of income due to coronavirus, we will consider employment income for the period immediately before the loss of income due to coronavirus, provided the requirement was met for at least 6 months up to March 2020.

If your salary has reduced because you’re furloughed, we will take account of your income as though you’re earning 100% of your salary.

If you’re self-employed, a loss of annual income due to coronavirus between 1 March 2020 and 31 July 2020 will generally be disregarded, along with the impact on employment income from the same period for future applications.

Of course, these changes are beneficial to those who have concerns about their loss of income and how this could impact their application. These changes, and the wider impact of Coronavirus on spouse applications, are considered in greater detail in this blog published earlier this month. 

UK Application and Service centres in the UK

Some UK Visa and Citizenship Application Centres have now reopened. However, it is still not possible for new applicants to book an appointment. The Home Office’s commercial partner, Sopra Steria, is working its way through the backlog and contacting customers to book an appointment as they work through. The centres are reviewing their planning phases regularly which could mean a change to this soon. 

The Home Office have confirmed that applicants’ immigration status will not change as a result of applicants not being able to attend appointments. 

The Home Office has also announced that for those who have previously enrolled their biometrics at an appointment in the UK, it may be possible for them to process their applications without them having to attend a visa centre to enrol their biometrics again. 

Overseas application centres

At present, some visa application centres overseas remain closed but some are beginning to open in a phased approach. It is prudent to check the websites of TLScontact and VFS Global regularly to check for any changes. 

Expiring entry clearance 

Entry clearance vignettes typically have 30 days in which the Applicant is expected to enter the UK. In the current climate, it may be that migrants are unable to arrive in the UK during the validity period. 

The Home Office has recognised this and, as a result, has added a section to the guidance explaining that: 

If your 30 day visa to travel to the UK for work, study or to join family has expired, or is about to expire, you can request a replacement visa with revised validity dates free of charge until the end of this year.

Those wishing to obtain a free replacement must contact the Coronavirus helpline to do so. This policy does not apply to visit visas. 

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