Individuals who are applying for a UK visa, and those who already hold one, are naturally concerned about various issues arising from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Here, we consider the guidance issued by the government to date on visa applications, appointments and other aspects of the UK’s immigration and nationality system.
The information on our website provides an overview and is for general guidance only. Please refer to material produced by the government for further detail.
Latest guidance and information from the Home Office
The Home Office has a dedicated section of its website for immigration issues related to COVID-19. It is updated regularly and we recommend that anyone seeking general information reviews it first of all.
Later in this briefing we set out information on how, since February 2020, the Home Office has developed its response to immigration issues arising from COVID-19.
We have also had discussions with senior Home Office officials and some of the information provided is included in our guidance below.
Compliance with UK immigration law
The Home Office’s current position is that individuals should, where possible, try and comply with the UK’s immigration laws. We have been told by senior officials in the Home Office that anyone who cannot comply due to the pandemic, but is taking a reasonable and pragmatic approach, will not be penalised.
This position is supported by answers provided by Kevin Foster MP, Minster for Future Borders and Immigration, in parliament on Monday 23 March 2020:
“We are very clear that no one will have a negative outcome through the immigration system due to a circumstance that was beyond their control…We are looking at further measures…to ensure that no one is penalised because they followed the advice and did what they could to protect our NHS and save lives.”
We have provided information below regarding some of the main questions we are receiving.
Current guidance for applicants
1. Short-term stays in the UK
The Home Office’s previous position was that non-EEA nationals who are in the UK and who have overstayed, or will do so, will be able to obtain an extension of stay until 31 May 2020. On 22 May 2020 the cut-off date was extended until 31 July 2020.
Applicants can only benefit from this temporary concession if they have been unable to leave the UK before then due to ‘travel restrictions or self-isolation’ related to coronavirus.
Anyone making a request for an extension must complete a form. (The Home Office’s position is that anyone who applied before 6 April just needed to email them with personal information. However, we would recommend that they still complete the form.)
We are of the view that applying under this temporary concession is likely to be the most appropriate option for anyone who is in the UK and who:
- had leave to remain as a visitor, or under any other short-term category of the rules, which expired after 24 January 2020;
- has wanted to leave the UK but has been unable to do so due to the coronavirus outbreak; and
- will leave as soon as they can.
The Home Office has stressed that this scheme is not for anyone who wishes to stay in the UK on a long-term basis (see below).
The Home Office has also confirmed that: ‘If you have already had your visa extended to 31 May 2020 your visa will be extended automatically to 31 July 2020. You will be expected to return to your home country as soon as it is safe and possible to do so’.
The legislative basis underpinning this temporary concession generally is currently unclear. We would therefore advise anyone who has made, or is considering making, an application under the scheme to consider taking legal advice to assess if another option may be better for them.
We are members of ILPA which is seeking clarity from the Home Office on a number of points that are unclear.
2. Long-term stays
The Home Office has also published guidance for those intending to apply for a longer visa.
Those who are in the UK in a route which already allows for in-country switching should make their immigration application in the usual manner.
Those who would ordinarily have had to leave the UK to file an application overseas because they are in a route which does not allow for in-country switching can submit their application from inside the UK, subject to certain conditions as follows:
- this exception is currently in force until 31 July 2020;
- the Home Office’s published position is that it is only possible for applicants to benefit from this temporary concession if their leave is due to expire on or before 31 July 2020;
- it has also said that individuals must ‘meet the requirements of the route you are applying for and pay the UK application fee’.
Unfortunately it is highly unlikely that the Home Office will approve an application under this concession if the applicant’s current leave expires after 31 July 2020. The Home Office’s expectation is that such individuals will return to their home countries and file an application for entry clearance in the usual way once application centres are open (see below).
3. UKVCAS centres for applicants in the UK
The UKVCAS service run by Sopra Steria was suspended in full on 27 March 2020.
Anyone who was scheduled to attend an appointment should receive an email from UKVCAS rescheduling the appointment six weeks ahead of their current one (this may need to be revised in the future depending on the situation at that time). Due to the volume of appointments that will need to be rescheduled, it may take UKVCAS some time to contact people.
Anyone needing to make a new appointment will need to wait until these become available.
If the online immigration application was submitted when the individual had leave to remain in the UK, they will continue to be lawfully in the UK whilst waiting for a rescheduled or a new appointment. The same conditions of stay will remain in force.
If the application was made after leave to remain had expired, we would recommend that legal advice is obtained. In such cases, the individual will not have the right to work in the UK.
VFS Global has also set out a number of FAQs dealing with a range of practical issues.
5. If your 30 day visa has expired
Anyone who makes a successful immigration application from outside the UK has their passport endorsed with a visa. This permits them to enter the UK within a 30 day window. They can then collect their biometric residence permit (‘BRP’), which will contain the full grant of leave, once inside the UK.
The Home Office has stated that if the 30 day visa has expired, applicants have until the end of 2020 to request a free replacement.
To do this they must email the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre, stating ‘REPLACEMENT 30 DAY VISA’ in the subject line, and provide the:
- GWF reference number (this is the reference number from the application form); and
- name, nationality and date of birth.
The Home Office says they will then be contacted when the visa applications centres reopen to arrange a replacement visa in their passport.
The Home Office has also confirmed that they will not be ‘penalised’ for being unable to collect their BRP whilst coronavirus measures are in place.
6. Can migrants be placed on ‘furlough’ and does that mean they receive public funds?
The government has confirmed that migrants can be supported by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (if eligible under the scheme).
Specific information regarding Tier 2/5 sponsorship can be found here.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is not defined as ‘public funds’ in the Immigration Rules (Part 6 ‘Interpretation’). Therefore, migrants who are placed on furlough will not be in breach of their conditions of stay. However, it is important that they do not also claim any benefits which are defined as public funds.
We are waiting for the Home Office to provide clarity on how it will treat migrants who would have qualified for extensions of stay or ILR but will not because pay/work has been affected because of the crisis.
7. ILR applications – excessive absences due to the coronavirus outbreak
The Home Office has not provided any specific guidance at this stage on how it will treat absences that are due to the coronavirus outbreak and that exceed the requirements for ILR and naturalisation applications. It does however already exercise discretion in relation to excessive absences that are due to exceptional, serious or compelling circumstances.
We expect that it will adopt a reasonable approach in cases where an applicant can demonstrate that excessive absences were due to the coronavirus outbreak. However, there is a possibility in our view that the Home Office may look closely at the reasons for the excessive absences. It could, for example, accept scenarios where a person was physically unable to reduce their absences – due to travel restrictions, illness etc. – but not where a person was able to return to the UK but decided not to do so due to concerns about coronavirus.
As such, we would advise that a cautious approach is taken and evidence is retained.
8. Financial requirements for spouse and partner applications under Appendix FM
As of now, the Home Office has not provided any information on how it will treat applications under Appendix FM where the income of the partner has dropped to a level below the required threshold.
9. Global Talent, Innovator and Start-up
The Home Office has stated:
‘If your endorsement from an endorsing body has expired because you have not been able to travel to the UK you may still be eligible for a visa. You should make your application as planned and we will consider all applications on a case by case basis.’
10. Tier 1 Entrepreneurs
The Home Office’s guidance includes information for those holding leave to remain in the UK under the Tier 1 Entrepreneur scheme. It states that:
‘You no longer need to employ at least 2 people for 12 consecutive months each. The 12 month period you are required to employ someone for can be made up of multiple employees across different months. Time when your employees were furloughed will not count towards the 12 month period.
If you have not been able to employ staff for 12 months in total by the time your visa expires, you will be allowed to temporarily extend your stay to give you time to meet the requirement.’
11. Doctors, nurses and paramedics and others working for the NHS and independent health and care providers
On the 29 April 2020, the Home Secretary sent a letter to the Home Affairs Committee in which she provided information on visa exemptions etc. for NHS workers (and others). You can find this here.
The Home Office has also updated its visa information generally for NHS and independent health and care providers which is here.
12. Those who need financial, medical and housing support
The Home Office has produced information for those who need support which can be found here.
13. Other changes
The following are also currently suspended:
- Citizenship ceremonies
- Life in the UK test centres
- Police registrations
Applicants with appointments can expect them to be rescheduled.
Free Movement are keeping this page up to date on a range of topics including asylum interviews, immigration tribunal hearings, detention, removals etc.
Are things likely to change?
This is an evolving situation and there may be further changes.
Where there is no clear guidance and you are unable to obtain a clear answer from the Home Office in time, you should take reasonable and pragmatic decisions concerning issues that are directly related to the pandemic and we would recommend that the reason for decisions are noted. Evidence supporting decisions should be obtained and kept.
We will be updating our website as and when any further relevant guidance is issued by the government.
How the Home Office guidance and information has developed
In addition to regularly updating the dedicated section of its website for immigration issues related to COVID-19, the Home Office has provided a number of other updates since February 2020 (most of the information is now consolidated and can be found on the website).
These are as follows:
- 17 February 2020, updated on 27 February 2020 – ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): immigration guidance‘
- 24 March 2020 – ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents’
- 25 March 2020 – two factsheets were published (these are dated 24 March):
- 26 March 2020 – this email was sent to partners containing further information
- 27 March 2020, updated on 03 April 2020 – ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for Tier 2, 4 and 5 sponsors’
- 30 March 2020 – advice for employers carrying out right to work checks and landlords carrying out right to rent checks during the pandemic was released
- 06 April 2020 – updated ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents’ which included a new form
- 09 April 2020 (sent by email on 10 April 2020):
- 20 April 2020:
- 23 April 2020: ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): get support if you’re a migrant living in the UK’ guidance
- 24 April 2020 (sent by email on 30 April 2020):
- 29 April 2020: letter from the Home Secretary to the Home Affairs Committee regarding visas for NHS workers
- 29 April 2020: oral evidence from the Home Secretary and others to the Home Affairs Committee
- 01 May 2020 (sent by email on 06 May 2020):
How we can assist
If you are looking for general information, please review the guidance provided by the government which we refer to above. The government has also set up a Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre and you can find the details here.
If you are seeking legal advice and assistance regarding a specific immigration matter during this time, please complete our enquiry form below and one of our team will be in contact with you.
First published: 17 March 2020
Last updated: 22 May 2020