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New Policy Announced for Individuals who are Unable to Leave the UK due to Coronavirus

On 24 March 2020, the Home Office finally announced a new policy for individuals who, due to Coronavirus, are unable to leave the UK at the expiry of their visa. The news story is available here and the guidance for individuals here

This is a welcome amendment from the old policy which had, over the last month, become vastly out of date. The new policy will be welcome news to many as it allows for the following:

  • anyone whose leave expired after the 24 January and who cannot leave the country because of travel restrictions or self-isolation, will be able to extend their stay until 31 May 2020
  • In-country switching rules will be expanded for individuals who wish to remain in the UK on a long term basis
  • Requirements to work and study in a particular place will be lifted for Sponsored migrants, to all them to work or study from Home (note this appears in the ‘News’ but not in the guidance itself).

The details of this policy are, however, limited and it has been published so late that there may already have been individuals who have unnecessarily spent significant sums of money on making extension applications.  However, for some individuals, making an extension application will continue to be the more appropriate route, and in all cases at the moment is the route with most certainty. Any individual in these circumstances should seek prompt legal advice to discuss the pros and cons of the options available to them. 

Individuals Unable to Leave the UK

The guidance for individuals indicates that they will need to contact the coronavirus team with the following information:

  • your full name (include any middle names)
  • date of birth (dd/mm/yyyy)
  • nationality
  • your previous visa reference number
  • why you can’t go back to your home country, for example if the border has closed

It states that the team will then tell you ‘when your visa has been extended’ and the news story indicates that all requests will be granted in stating ‘they will be issued with an extension’. This implies that they won’t be making any judgment about the reasons given for why an individual cannot go back to their home country, and therefore won’t be refusing individuals on the basis that they consider someone could or should travel. However, the Home Office do ask for an explanation of the reasons why a person cannot return and it is not clear for what purpose they would need this information if it is a case of ‘when’ leave is granted, rather than ‘if’. 

The guidance is not clear on what an individual will get in order to prove that their leave has been extended. The guidance does state that no enforcement action will be taken against individuals, but in reality, due to the hostile environment, individuals need to be able to prove that they are lawfully in the UK to lots of different groups of people from banks to landlords and for some people this could include employers too. It will be important that the Home Office give individuals proof of their continued lawful status in the UK. 

In terms of timescales, the guidance states that an individual should make their request if their visa is expiring. The wording is not clear, but this implies that it can or should be done advance of the date that a person’s leave would have otherwise expired. The news release indicates that it can also be done after a person’s leave has already expired. While this offers some protection to those who have already found themselves in the position where their leave has expired while they have been waiting for a policy to be produced, any individual who currently has leave and who wants to use this scheme should apply in advance of their expiry date. 

It is also important to note that individuals who benefitted from the previous policy which purported to extend leave automatically without any action at all from an individual will also need to contact the Home Office now in order for their leave to be extended. 

Staying in the UK longer term

The guidance also states that rules on switching will be relaxed, to allow individuals to move into long term categories in the UK where they would ordinarily have to leave the UK to make these applications. Again, it is not explicit in the guidance, but the implication is that this will apply to all categories of the rules. It is also not clear whether a person will need to prove that they would not be able to go back to their home country to make an application or whether it is a blanket policy for all cases and would include those who would prefer not to travel at this time.

Situations not yet addressed by the Home Office

There are many things not covered by this guidance, for example individuals who have found themselves outside of the UK and are unable or unwilling to travel back at this time. This might affect their route to settlement or naturalisation in due course if they are unable to meet residence requirements. 

Other groups of people potentially affected, for which solutions will need to be found, include:

  • Individuals unable to work who now face a prolonged delays to their status being resolved;
  • Individuals in detention;
  • Individuals who have to pay additional fees for new vignettes who are unable to enter the UK during the 30 days they have been granted;
  • People who are unable to take the required English and Life in the UK tests prior to the expiry of their visas due to closure of centres or social distancing; 
  • Students unable to complete their course within the time limits normally permitted for their level of study;
  • Spouses unable to meet the financial requirements when they previously would have been able to do so;
  • Entrepreneurs now unable to meet the job creation requirements;
  • Investors now unable to maintain their investments (particularly under the pre-2014 rules);

The Home Office should act quickly to produce policies to address the issues being faced by migrants, their families and their employers, in order to give individuals some certainty at a very difficult time and to ensure that individuals are not forced into actions which are detrimental to the policy of reducing infections in the UK.

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