A message to our existing and future clients
We would like to inform you that we are currently open for business as usual during our normal working hours of 9:30 – 17:30.
Our official position regarding the impact of the Covid-19 virus is that the safety and well-being of our staff and clients is, and always has been our top priority and we have a robust offline strategy in place that can be used to continue our work remotely during this current state of affairs.
We would like to encourage existing and new clients who are seeking legal advice to contact our office in London on +44 (0) 207 269 9590 or email us at [email protected] to find out more about what remote services we offer and how meetings can take place over the next few weeks or months.
How will the Coronavirus affect my UK immigration status?
If you have a visa or immigration appeal problem because of the coronavirus or are worried about your stay in the UK please contact us for expert advice.
The war against this highly infectious Coronavirus disease, named Covid-19 by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has had consequences of unimaginable proportions on both UK immigration and migration.
Our legal team can discuss the consequences of Covid-19 on UK immigration and migration with you and how it could affect your immigration status and we have outlined some possible scenarios below that may be of relevance.
Students and foreign employees unable to pursue studies or work
The Home office will keep the situation under review but in the current circumstances will not take action against any foreign student in the UK on a Tier 4 visa or an employee here on a Tier 2 work permit who are unable to attend their studies/work due to the coronavirus outbreak, or against sponsors which authorise absences and continue to sponsor students or employees despite absences for these reasons.
On line studies permitted
The Home Office will not penalise education sponsors that allow students to study online, by distant learning both within or outside the UK ( in case they are unable to return due to for example travel restrictions), instead of receiving at least 15 hours per week full – time tuition.
English language tests and Entry Clearance applications
Many persons including students, foreign spouses and those coming to the UK for work, will need to pass an appropriate English language test and obtain a relevant visa. However many UKVI test centres both in the UK ( for in-country or extension applications) and abroad are now closed, abiding by the WHO’s and indeed the UK Government’s advise on the dangers of social interaction in these difficult times for fear of spreading the virus.
The Home Office together with its commercial partners is working on developing alternative online test formats.
Entry clearance applications are at present being placed on hold as many visa centres abroad affiliated to British diplomatic posts for biometrics and interviews are closed.
Where posts are still open either abroad or in the UK, the UK Visa and Citizenship Application Service which is run by Sopra Steria, has announced that those suffering from the Covid-19 virus must self-isolate and not attend for biometrics or interviews. They should email: [email protected]soprasteria.com and explain the situation and any fees paid will be refunded and the Home Office advised.
Leaving the course of studies early and returning to the UK
If the student needs to leave the UK as a matter of urgency before completing the course but intends to return to complete it, the education provider must be advised, as they must know what the student is doing. If the student cannot see anybody then an email should be sent or a telephone call made. In these circumstances, it will not be necessary for the Tier4 sponsor to report the student’s departure to the Home Office if the student lets them know that they intend to return to the UK to continue their studies.
If the Tier 4 sponsor, therefore, confirms with the student that it will not report the student’s early departure, then the student should not face any difficulties returning to the UK to resume his/ her studies, as long as they can travel back before their immigration permission expires.
Leaving the UK when an in-country application has been approved but a biometric residence permit ( BRP) has not yet been issued.
If the student has to leave immediately upon being granted immigration permission but not yet having been issued with a BRP, they may still leave the UK without it. In those circumstances, the student should try to arrange his/ her education provider or someone else to forward on the BRP to them. If it’s not collected or forwarded it can be cancelled. This means the student will need to apply for a replacement BRP visa to re-enter the UK.
Free NHS treatment
NHS treatment for Coronavirus (COVID-19) is free of charge for everyone. If a migrant has paid the mandatory immigration health charge either when applying for entry clearance or on an in-country application, and the individual’s immigration permission has not expired, then that person will continue to be entitled to free NHS treatment for other illnesses and conditions. If the individual has a European Health Insurance Card, this can be used to receive free NHS treatment at least until 31st December 2020 when the transitional period will end for the UK leaving the EU.
Immigration permission granted but unable to travel to the UK
If a student or other migrant has been granted entry clearance to enter the UK but is unable to enter because of COVID-19, to start studying or for the visa, they will probably have to make a fresh application nearer the time when they can come to the UK.
How will periods of overstay be regarded?
In usual circumstances, if a migrant overstays their visa in the UK they will encounter many problems. These include not being allowed to work or study, rent a private property, open and hold a bank account, drive, have access to free NHS treatment, and having future immigration applications refused automatically.
The Covid-19 virus situation, however, is one that has never been previously encountered, so it is in our view having regard to all the circumstances and the Home Office has published updated guidance relating to all migrants in the UK in light of the current coronavirus pandemic.
Those migrants whose visa has already expired or is due to expire between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020, will be granted an extension of their leave to remain in the UK until the 31 May 2020.
However, this will only happen if those in this situation contact the COVID-19 immigration team at the Home Office at the following email address: [email protected]. You will not recieve an extension to your visa unless you email this Home Office immigration team.
How will absences be treated in future settlement applications?
There are many instances where periods of absences from the UK could affect an application under the immigration rules for settlement.
For example, under the 10-year rule under paragraph 276(b) of the immigration rules, a migrant should have been lawfully continuously resident in the UK for at least 10 years, but in the 10 years should not have spent more than 18 months (540 days) out of the UK.
For a nationality application the migrant should have been lawfully in the UK for at least 5 years, must have had ILR at the end of the period of temporary leave, and should not have been out if the UK for more than 450 days in the last 5 years and in the year of the application no more than 90 days.
However we are in the midst of a world crisis, and it is reasonable to conclude that in the same way that the Home Office has previously made exceptions for people caught in humanitarian crises, that it may exercise discretion for people affected by the current situation. If not, there will always be the possibility of the migrant applying for permission to move for judicial review to the Upper Tribunal, on the basis that no reasonable Secretary of State would have refused to exercise discretion in these unusual and never encountered circumstances.
The Home Office has said that if a migrant holds pre-settled status under the EU settlement scheme, what the situation would be if due to the current circumstances they cannot show at least 5 years residence in the UK. The response has been that absences of up to 12 months will be regarded as acceptable for an ‘ important reason’. A decision has not yet been made whether longer absences will or will not break the continuous period of qualifying residence to apply for settled status for which 5 years continuous residence is required.
Applying in the UK when this is usually not possible
There are only certain applications that can be made in-country. Others have to be made from abroad. This includes switching under certain categories. For example, a Tier 2 inter-company transferee transferring to a Tier 2 visa, or an overstayer wishing to switch to remain based on marriage.
The Home Office is considering relaxing some restrictions and under certain cases to allow in-country applications to be made. Already however where Chinese nationals are concerned, the home Office has allowed them to switch to a Tier 2 (general) visa from within the UK from a Tier2 inter-company transfer visa.
Appeals in the Tribunals and Higher Courts – Home Office processing of applications
The First and Upper-Tier Tribunals are now closed to the public. There are very few courts sitting and if they are, they are manned by salaried judges and not at present, fee-paid judges.
The courts that are sitting deal with only the very urgent cases but are considering to continue to deal with cases remotely if possible. Full-time Staff do not wish to attend as they are concerned about being infected by the virus.
Many protection and other appeals are being adjourned for lack of judges and the health reasons of staff, appellants, their lawyers, interpreters. and Home Office presenting officers, and cases that are heard, where the appellant alleges he/she is unwell to continue with the hearing (because of a cough or a sneeze), are being adjourned without the need to produce a medical certificate.
The Home Office is also working with reduced staff and so decisions are either placed on hold or will take many months to process.
The current situation has resulted in the higher courts trying to find ways to work remotely, and they too are sitting haphazardly, because there is insufficient work being filtered through to them by the lower courts and tribunals.
Future work in the Tribunals and Courts
It can be gathered from the above that when normality resumes, there will be a huge surge of work to keep the tribunals and the higher courts busy for the foreseeable future by both salaried and fee-paid judges.
The release of detainees
About 300 immigration detainees have been released from various immigration detention centres for fear they will be contaminated by the virus and will contaminate others. As a result, there are now few bail applications made to the tribunals as most detainees would have received chief immigration officers bail.