New Coronavirus Policy for UK Spouse & Partner Visas
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to have a major impact on the UK and worldwide, the Home Office has updated its Covid-19 policy, coinciding with the start of a 4-week ‘lockdown’ in England on 05 November 2020. In this post I look at the implications of the updated Coronavirus policy for UK Spouse and Partner Visas. The earlier coronavirus policy measures were discussed in detail by my colleague in this blog post, dated 10 June 2020.
Applying for a Spouse or Partner Visa from the UK
The previous Home Office coronavirus policy permitted those with visas expiring between 24 January 2020 and 31 August 2020 to apply for long term visas from the UK, even where ordinarily these types of applications would require an applicant to apply from outside the UK.
The Home Office Family Policy stated that a caseworker could exercise discretion to allow a person to:
‘start, stay on, or complete a route to settlement despite them being in the UK as a visitor or with leave of six-months or less, in-country or overseas for a short period without leave, where it is shown that they were not able to travel or apply due to COVID-19 between March and 31 August 2020’
The current policy permits people in the UK with valid leave due to expire after 31 October 2020 who wish to remain in the UK, to make an application for leave to remain from within the UK even where ‘[they] would usually need to apply for a visa from your home country’. However it requires applicants to show that the application is ‘urgent’.
Examples are given: to start a new job or course of study. These are non-exhaustive examples and other reasons for urgency may be relied on. The applicant should provide full details of the reasons they should be permitted to apply from the UK rather than from elsewhere, in a covering letter with the application.
The Home Office Family Policy states:
‘Any visitor whose period of leave expires beyond 31 August 2020, is still allowed to make their application from within the UK where they would usually need to apply for a visa from their home country on a limited, case by case basis. We will expect applicants to prove that their application is urgent and for them to provide a valid reason why they cannot apply from outside the UK as a result of COVID-19.’
The policy has therefore become stricter: it is no longer sufficient to merely show that Covid-19 has affected an applicant’s ability to travel or apply outside the UK, but applicants must also show that their application is ‘urgent’.
The Home Office expectation appears to be that those whose applications are not urgent, should apply for exceptional assurance ‘as a short-term protection against any adverse action or consequences after your leave has expired.’ This is aimed at those who have been unable to leave the UK, with visas expiring between 1 November and 30 November 2020. If their application is not urgent, they should then leave the UK when they are able to, and apply for entry clearance from outside the UK in the normal way.
There is little clarity over what other situations may be deemed sufficiently ‘urgent’ to warrant an in-country switch, as this is considered on a case-by-case basis. It is telling that the examples given by the Home Office for urgency are work and study-related (despite the fact that many people are effectively using ‘modern means of communication’ to work and study remotely) with no recognition of the difficulties many couples and families may face in being separated for the duration of an Entry Clearance application, particularly during a global pandemic.
Financial requirement for a UK Spouse or Partner Visa
Those who have experienced a loss of income due to coronavirus may rely on income immediately prior to the loss of income, up until 01 January 2020.
Employment income will be considered for the period immediately before the loss of income as long as the requirement was met for at least six months up to March 2020. Any temporary loss of annual income for the self-employed due to Covid-19 between 01 March 2020 01 March 2020 and 01 January 2021 will generally be disregarded.
Those who are furloughed under the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be deemed to be earning 100% of their salary.
The previous cut-off date was 31 August 2020. This amendment is welcome in view of the impact of the further lockdown on the economy. However, given that the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended to 31 March 2021, it is unclear why loss of income as a result of coronavirus will only be taken into account up until 01 January 2021.
The coronavirus policy has been updated numerous times so if any of the issues detailed above impact your partner application, please check for any updates or seek advice from our immigration barristers.
Contact our Immigration Barristers
For expert advice and assistance with your Spouse or Partner Visa, contact our immigration barristers in London on 0203 617 9173 or via the enquiry form below.