The Impact of COVID-19 on UK Immigration
At present, the Home Office immigration department in conformity with the Government’s lockdown rules is closed for face to face interviews or for booking an appointment to take biometrics (photo and fingerprints) and scan the applicant’s passport on to their electronic system.
If an applicant under UK immigration control is about to complete the period of permitted stay in the UK and needs to stay further, or in any event needs to make an application, that must be done before the expiry of leave to remain, to prevent them becoming an overstayer.
However whilst the online application can be made in the usual way, there is a time limit afterwards to take the biometrics. The online application process will ask after the submission of the application, which centre the applicant would like to attend to take their biometrics. This ought to be taken within 45 days of submission of the application. It would, therefore, be a good idea for the person making the application to state in the body of the online form that since visa offices are closed they are unable to take their biometrics until the home office advise they have opened. It may also be a good idea to send a recorded delivery letter to the Home Office with a copy of the online form asking them to advise when the visa centres have opened so that a choice can be made which centre to attend.
The Home Office will either have to extend the period of 45 days, for example until the end of the year, or waive that time limit altogether until further notice. To refuse the application outright for the want of biometrics enrolment would be unreasonable and could be a ground for a judicial review.
Tier 2 workers starting a new job
The above work permit holders can, however, start a new job before approval is granted for the reasons stated above, provided they have a valid certificate of sponsorship from the employers. The applicant must have submitted the online application before their visa to work for their previous employer has expired.
Making an application from abroad
It is not possible to make an application for a visa from abroad because all visa centres in British Embassies or Consulates or other centres abroad are closed. Although an online application can still be made for entry clearance, there appears little point in doing so, if the process cannot be completed, interviews cannot be held where required, and biometrics cannot be taken.
However, the Home Office commercial partners abroad which operate the visa application centres, need to keep their websites updated as to when they will be open for business. Meanwhile, a person who already has a visa and or is a non-visa national not requiring entry clearance to come to the UK can come here, as, despite the lockdown, borders are not closed as in some countries, and there are flights in and out of the U.K.
The 30-day time limit
Persons wishing to travel to the UK to take up tier 2 employment or to study, or to join relatives or their spouses, have usually a 30-day time limit to take up the entry clearance issued and thus travel. However in many countries, there are no flights out, so the person cannot travel.
The 30 days time limit is now extended until the end of the year automatically with no cost to the applicant. However, there is an online form that needs to be completed and sent to the home office as a matter of record. Normally what would have happened if a person was not able to travel, they would have had to apply for a replacement visa and pay a fee.
What about if a person cannot switch in the country and needs to go abroad to apply for entry clearance?
If a person’s current visa expires between 24th January and 31st May 2020, then switching is possible in the country, provided the application is made on or before 31st May 2020. This may be appropriate if the person is here as a visitor and wishes to switch to a spouse visa. This would normally be an application made from abroad. There would still be the problem of taking the biometrics and thus completing the visa process which is a face to face process, and reference is made to ‘ in-country applications’ above in the respect.
Test centres to take the English language test and life in the UK are closed
It is crucial to make the online application before the applicant’s visa expires, and within the body of the application, it may be worth explaining why it had not been possible to take the required tests and maybe provide some evidence from the test centres that they are closed. A copy of the online application plus perhaps a letter to the Home Office as a ‘ belt and braces’ Job explaining the situation may be a good idea also. The Home office should be advised that as soon as the test centres open the test will be taken and an appointment will be booked through one of the UKVCAS for biometrics to be taken and to provide the original test results.
The requirement to leave the UK but unable to
There will be cases where a person has finished their studies in the UK, or for whatever reason now wishes to go home to their country, but is unable to do so because of flight restrictions there, or because they are concerned about the Covid-19 crises, worrying that they may themselves be carriers of the deadly disease and infect others for example. These persons provided they have valid leave to remain in the UK and their visas expire between 24th January and 31st May 2020 can apply to the Home Coronavirus team or contact their helpline ( details will be online), and explain the situation. It would be good to also confirm the situation in writing to the Home office, so there is no allegation of overstaying.
Salary provided by the Government through the furlough scheme
If an applicant or their spouse has to show the minimum financial requirements of £18600 for the applicant’s application to remain here as a spouse, and one of the parties with the funds had been furloughed, the government funds can be included within the financial resources of the applicant for the application to be made. But they must have been on the employer’s payroll on 28th February 2020
Applications for ILR when applicant spends more than the permitted period of absences out of the U.K.
If someone is stuck abroad due to the pandemic, they should return within the permitted 180 days ( 6 months) to the UK if they want to be confident that the period of absence will not count against them when they apply for ILR under one of the 5-year routes, or indeed for ILR due to at least 10 years lawful continuous residence. The Home Office does have the discretion to waive periods of absences over and above 180 days due to serious and compelling reasons, so the applicant needs to show evidence as to why they could not return within a 180 period in any one year for example
The pandemic has driven a coach and horses through our immigration system, but at the same time, the Government has gone some way towards helping those migrants who may otherwise find themselves with no remedy at all.
It is also comforting to note that NHS doctors, nurses, paramedics, other key workers in care homes too, will be granted an automatic extension of their visas for a further year without having to make a formal application before the expiry of their current leave to remain.