COVID-19 Immigration Law Update

COVID19 – Immigration Law Update 25/03/20 

 

The recent epidemic of COVID-19 has dominated the news, as countries respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This response includes travel and border restrictions with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advising British nationals against all but essential international travel. As of the 24th March, the UK has implemented lockdown measures to combat the pandemic. In light of these restrictions the government has introduced new immigration policy measures to ensure that “nobody will be punished for circumstances outside of their control”.

 

Unable to return home

If your UK visa expires between 24th January 2020 and 31st May 2020 this will be extended to 31 May 2020, if you cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or have had to self-isolate. In order for your visa to be extended you will need to contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team at the UKVI (please find the contact details at the end of the article) to update your records.

The details you will need to provide are as follows:

  1. Full name (include any middle names)
  2. Date of birth (dd/mm/yyyy)
  3. Nationality
  4. Previous visa reference number
  5. The reason you cannot return to your home country e.g. the borders have closed     

Once you have informed the Coronavirus Immigration Team you will receive an acknowledgement of receiving the request and will be further informed when your visa has been extended. However, having made this contact with the UKVI, your immigration status will be safeguarded.

The extension has been put in place to give individuals peace of mind that they will not be penalised for overstaying their visa for a situation which is outside their control due to COVID-19.  The UKVI has been confirmed that the situation will be kept under regular review in case further extensions are needed.

It is expected that those who are granted an extension on their visa will return to their home country as soon as possible, once flight and border restrictions are lifted.

Applying for long-term Visa from within the UK

For those who want to apply for a visa in the UK long term the UK has temporarily expanded the in country switching provisions, including applications where you would usually need to apply for a visa from your home country.

If you are applying for a long-term visa you will still need to meet the visa requirements and pay the associated fees for the application and book a biometric appointment. Once your application has been submitted your current immigration status will be automatically extended until the UKVI make a decision on the new application.

The Home Office have also confirmed that in light of the current advice on self-isolation and social distancing they have waived some of the requirements for student and worker visas.

Students in the UK

  • Tier 4 students are now permitted to distance learn and it will not be considered a breach of sponsorship duties to offer distance learning to those students in the UK or overseas. Sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship where distance learning has been undertaken. In the circumstance where a student withdraws or defers their studies, usual reporting requirements apply; and
  • New international students who have been issued a Tier 4 visa but have been unable to travel to the UK are permitted to undertake distance learning. In this circumstance sponsorship does not need to be withdrawn; and
  • New international students who have not yet applied for a visa but wish to start a course by distance learning do not need to travel to the UK and therefore do not require sponsorship under Tier 4.

Workers in the UK

  • Sponsors of Tier 2 and tier 5 colleagues who are now working from home, rather than their normal workplace do not need to notify the home office of the change in circumstances as long as the reason the employee is working from home is directly related to the pandemic; and
  • All other changes of circumstances must still be reported

However, we are seeking further clarification from the UKVI on the following points:

  • Whether in the current circumstances an exception will be made that a sponsored worker can only be unpaid for a maximum of 28 days in a colander year; and
  • If an employer wanted to benefit from the Government Job Retention Scheme and thus reduce the salary to 80% or £2500 (whichever is higher) would this be an exception to the minimum salary requirements; and
  • Is there now an exception to the requirement that a migrant must be able to continue to carry out their duties as listed on their CoS if now required to work from home.

As soon as we have clarification on this we will update you.   

If you have made an application and are outside the UK  

At present many Visa Application Centres are closed or offering a limited service. In order to check what service your Visa Application Centre is currently offering you will need to look on the below websites

Where you have an appointment and your Visa Application Centre is closed you will be contacted to be told when your appointment will not take place.

For those who are due to take an IELTS test you should check whether your testing centre has been affected as many centres have suspended tests. For full information on your test centres current service please visit https://www.ielts.org/news/2020/covid19-information-for-our-global-test-taker-community .

Getting your documents

If you have already paid for a courier to return of your passport from a Visa Application Centre it will be returned, subject to courier routes remaining open. 

If your passport is currently held in a Visa Application Centre and you would like it to be returned by courier, you should contact the TLS or VFS if you have not already paid for courier return.

British nationals abroad who need to apply for a passport

If you are British national abroad who needs to apply for a passport because you need to travel urgently and your Visa Application Centre is currently closed, you can apply for an emergency travel document if all of the following apply:

  • you’re a British national
  • you’re outside the UK
  • your passport has been lost, stolen, damaged, is full, has recently expired or is with HM Passport Office or a foreign embassy
  • you do not have time to renew or replace your passport before you travel
  • you can provide proof of your travel plans, for example booking confirmations (or detailed written travel plans if you cannot book ahead)

Once you are issued with an emergency travel document you can use to travel to a destination through a maximum of 5 countries.

Court system procedures

As of the 25th March 2020 there is to be no face to face hearing in the Immigration and Asylum Chambers for both the First Tier and Upper Tribunal. The Courts will now determine whether a hearing needs to proceed, and if so whether it would be appropriate to use audio or video technology. The courts will also consider whether alternatives are appropriate such as adjournments or whether a decision can be made on the papers without a hearing.

The decision on the determination will be made on a case by case basis. The Courts will update those of any changes to individual hearings, this will be communicated directly to those affected in the usual way, by email and/or phone.

Closing Thoughts

As a law firm we are defined as key workers required to run the justice system. We are therefore an exception and categorised as essential workers at the current time. The courts and Home Office are still operating and dealing with cases and decisions so we would like to assure all clients that we too are operating, and are contactable by phone and email.

We also want to assure clients that meetings will go ahead as scheduled but we will now be having these by phone or video conference.

It is important that you continue to comply with the requirements of your reporting duties or your immigration status. If your visa is due to expire, whilst you will benefit from your visa being temporarily extended it is nonetheless important that you continue to work with your legal team to ensure that once your application is ready to be filed it will meet the immigration law requirements.

We are at hand to continue to assist.

 

If you are a client or you need legal assistance following this briefing please get in touch with your usual Paragon Law contact or contact us at enquires@paragonlaw.co.uk or call us on 0115 9644 123. 

Coronavirus Immigration Team contact details

Email: CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk. Your email must be in English or telephone: 0800 678 1767 open Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm (calls are free of charge)

 

 

See also our COVID-19 Statment