Impact of COVID-19 on the Immigration System
As the COVID-19 pandemic develops it is having a wide impact on all aspects of our society, economy and how we live our lives. It has significant knock-on effects for the immigration system and policy makers will need to show humanity when deciding what immigration control measures should be put in place, in the midst of a public health emergency.
There is not yet any overarching Home Office guidance or policy in relation to how visa-holders may be affected by the virus. This leaves lots of people in a position of uncertainty and anxiety about their position.
The FCO now advise all British people against non-essential travel. Many countries now have restrictions on travel as well as there being a reduction in transport, and border closures. Some countries are currently at a worse stage of the crisis than in the UK. Migrants in the UK may actually be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms – and are therefore advised to self-isolate for 7 days, or if residing with other people, for 14 days.
For these reasons people may understandably be unable or unwilling to leave the UK, but may have imminent expiry dates on their visas.
Are the Home Office aware of these issues?
The Home Office appear to be dealing with immigration related matters arising from the pandemic on an ad-hoc basis. For example, further submissions no longer need to be made in person. The Home Office, therefore, cannot be unaware of the fact that many visa-holders will be affected in a multitude of ways.
There is a policy relating to Chinese passport holders or non-Chinese citizens ordinarily resident in China, which was originally published on 17 February 2020 (see more here). There is not yet any clarity on what will happen for those that benefit from this policy after 30 March 2020.
The issues leading to this policy are now not only relevant to Chinese nationals. It is likely that a new policy will be announced in the coming days.
This may be too late for some people unless it is backdated. Given the impact of becoming an overstayer, this should be avoided. It is a risky strategy for a person to do nothing, in the hope that the Home Office will adopt a sensible approach, particularly if their visa expiry date is imminent.
The best way for someone to protect their position and avoid becoming an overstayer is to make the Home Office aware of their circumstances and make an application to extend their leave to remain in the UK. One way to do so is to apply for leave to remain outside the immigration rules.
Apply for leave to remain outside the Immigration Rules
A person who had planned to return to their home country but is now unable to do so due to the impact of the virus, can rely on compelling, compassionate factors in support of an application for leave to remain outside the immigration rules.
Home Office guidance on ‘Leave outside the Rules’ gives examples of factors which may be raised:
‘Emergency, or unexpected events’
‘A crisis, disaster or accident that could not have been anticipated’
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to fall within this guidance.
Documentary evidence of this should be provided showing why the pandemic means it would not be reasonable to leave the UK. This could be evidence of border closures, flight restrictions, government advice on self-isolation or medical evidence.
A valid application must be made so that existing leave is automatically extended. This means that it must be accompanied with the correct fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge.
The Home Office could either grant a period of leave, or defer removal, with no expectation on the person to leave the UK until the circumstances have changed.
Contact our Immigration Barristers
For expert advice and assistance regarding a UK visa application, contact our immigration barristers on 0203 617 9173 or complete our enquiry form below.