CORONAVIRUS NEWS A-Z

This page summarises some of the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on immigration status in the UK. It is not exhaustive: if there is an issue that you have encountered that you cannot see listed here, or where you have found a solution to a particular problem, please feel free to contact me.

A summary of Home Office advice is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-immigration-and-borders

General updates about the Courts and Tribunals are available here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/hmcts-daily-operational-summary-on-courts-and-tribunals-during-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak

Appeals

First Tier and Upper Tribunal buildings have been closed to the public, and arrangements are being made to hear cases remotely. If you have not received information about your case from your representative or the Tribunal, you should contact them to ask for an update.

New directions allow judges to indicate in some cases whether they think a decision on the papers without a hearing is appropriate. You should read any papers you get from the Tribunal carefully to see if you need to deal this in your case.

If you are intending to apply for Judicial Review, you should still ensure that your application is made within the time limits allowed if at all possible. Applications to the Upper Tribunal for Judicial Review in immigration cases should now be submitted by email.

Application process

If your leave to enter or remain in the UK is due to expire, you should normally apply for further leave using the online application process for your immigration category.

Note that this applies to people with UK visas and residence permits, and also if you were granted leave to enter when you arrived in the UK (for example if you are a “non-visa national” visiting the UK).

If you have a “long-term visit visa” (i.e. you have a visa sticker that is valid for 2, 5 or 10 years) you still need to apply for further permission to stay in the UK for longer than 6 months at a time. You should check the date of the entry stamp in your passport to calculate when your leave ends.

You should apply before your current leave expires. In most circumstances the date of your application is the date when you pay the necessary fees and submit your application form online.

If you had a temporary visa which expired (or is due to expire) between 24 January and 31 July 2020 and need to regularise your status, the Home Office has provided a mechanism which it states will extend your leave until 31 July 2020. There is now an online form for this purpose.

You can also consider making an application for leave to remain outside the Immigration Rules.

On 31 March 2020 the Home Office produced a press release saying that “doctors, nurses and paramedics with visas due to expire before 1 October 2020 will have them automatically extended for one year”. There is a dedicated webpage for this scheme on the Home Office website. The page explains what professions are eligible for the extension, and how to apply.

In some circumstances you can switch change immigration categories while you are still in the UK, even if you would normally have to make an application from outside the UK. For example, if you have a visit visa and want to “switch” to a long-term work or family category. In general, the Home Office guidance is that only people whose existing leave expires before 31 July 2020 can do this. However, if you “urgently” need to switch categories, then you might be able to do this even if your leave expires after 31 July:

You can also apply from the UK if your leave expires after 31 July 2020 but you urgently need to make a new application, for example to start a new job or course of study, and cannot leave the UK to make an application from overseas. This includes applications to switch into a different work route or to change jobs in the same route using a new Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS).

You should take legal advice about the best route for your circumstances.

Bereavement and indefinite leave to remain

On 20 May 2020 the Home Office executed a swift U-turn to expand a scheme for bereaved relatives of frontline health and care workers. Relatives of “any NHS worker or a healthcare or social care worker who has died as a result of coronavirus” should be granted indefinite leave to remain free of charge under this scheme.

You can read about the scheme here:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-bereavement-scheme-for-family-members-of-nhs-and-health-and-social-care-workers

Biometrics

The biometric collection process run by UKVCAS was suspended entirely during the coronavirus lockdown period. The “Service and Support Centres” run by the Home Office have also been closed.

Some UKVCAS centres are now re-opening, and appointments are available for applicants who had previously made an appointment that was postponed. UKVCAS is contacting applicants by email with updates about appointments.

UKVI’s own Service and Support Centres are still closed.

More recently, UKVI has taken steps to process some applications without the need for a biometric appointment:

If UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) can reuse the fingerprints you’ve already given, you’ll be emailed with instructions on how to send them an image of your face and your supporting documents.

Because the Home Office does not start to consider applications until biometrics have been taken, the process for issuing leave to remain is likely to be significantly delayed. According to the UKVI website, if you became an overstayer before you submitted your application for leave to remain, your status will not change.

Certificate of Application: non-EEA family members

Some non-EEA family members of EEA nationals in the UK are unable to apply for residence documents or leave to remain under the Immigration (EEA) Regulations 2016 or the EU Settlement Scheme (“EUSS”).

Applicants under the EUSS who do not have a biometric residence document already must scan an acceptable ID document such as a passport at a visa application centre. In both cases, applicants must provide biometrics. All visa application centres in the UK are currently closed.

A non-EEA family member who is unable to start the application process for a residence card or leave under the EUSS cannot obtain a Certificate of Application, which is acceptable proof of a right to work in the UK.

The Home Office has confirmed that they are aware of this issue, but there is no formal solution in place as yet. See also Right to Work and Valid identity document below.

Citizenship ceremonies

Citizenship ceremonies have been suspended. Your local council might update you automatically when ceremonies are being held again. You should continue to check information about the council where your ceremony is being held: this is usually available online.

If your citizenship application has been successful but you have not yet booked a ceremony, you should contact your local council to see what arrangements you can make. The period in which you need to attend your citizenship ceremony after you get your decision has been extended to 6 months.

Coronavirus helpline

The most recent Home Office advice is that people whose leave expired after 24 January 2020 should use the online form to “update their records” and extend their leave until 31 July 2020.

The Home Office says that it aims to respond to these applications within 5 working days, and you should receive an email to confirm the extension of your leave.

If you have other questions about the effect of coronavirus restrictions on your status in the UK, you can send an email to CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk 

I have also written a blog post about using this service: Tempting new Home Office coronavirus policy

Employment: sponsors

There is specific coronavirus guidance for sponsors on the UKVI website.

UKVI has confirmed that employers who are sponsoring a Tier 2 General employee who is switching from another category in the UK (see Applications above) must still apply for a Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship if they would normally have to do this as part of the normal overseas application process.

If a sponsored employee is trapped overseas and cannot submit their application using a Restricted Certificate, UKVI says:

Individuals will not be penalised if their sponsor has been unable to assign a restricted certificate of sponsorship (RCoS) to them within the three month period. Nor will individuals be penalised if they have been unable to submit an application at a Visa Application Centre (VAC) within the further 3 month period, due to a number of VACs being closed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Employment: sponsored workers

If you have a work visa in the UK that depends on being sponsored by an employer (for example, Tier 2 or Tier 5 workers), your leave could be affected if you are made redundant or laid off because of the coronavirus crisis.

A sponsored worker’s leave is usually dependant on continuing to work for their sponsor in the UK. There are restrictions on the amount of unpaid leave that a sponsored worker can take, and if you lose your job your employer must report this to the Home Office. The Home Office can curtail your leave if you stop working for your sponsor.

The Government has introduced a scheme to support pay for employees who are temporarily furloughed during the crisis. Sponsored workers can receive pay under the furlough scheme. Current guidance to sponsors is that they do not need to report sponsored employees who are home-working, or authorised absences related to coronavirus.

If you are made redundant, you must ensure that the Home Office has the means to contact you in case your leave is curtailed. It is very important to know the end date of your existing leave.

If your leave is due to expire and you have lost your job, you might be able to apply for further leave in another category due to the relaxation of rules on switching, or for a temporary extension or leave outside the Immigration Rules.

Employment: other

If you are due to apply for leave to remain in a family category affected by the Financial Requirement, you normally need to show you have an annual income of at least £18,600 to remain in the 5-year route to settlement.

If your income has been affected by the coronavirus crisis (for example you have been laid off or made redundant, or your self-employed accounts for the year ending 31 March 2020 will show a significant reduction), you should still ensure that you apply in time.

There is no exemption from the Financial Requirement in Home Office policy or the Immigration Rules. Reporting to the Home Affairs Committee on 29 April 2020, Home Office official Shona Dunn could only say that the Home Office would “work… flexibly” with people in this situation.

The UKVI website now states:

If you have experienced a loss of income due to coronavirus, we will consider employment income for the period immediately before the loss of income due to coronavirus, provided the requirement was met for at least 6 months up to March 2020.

If your salary has reduced because you’re furloughed, we will take account of your income as though you’re earning 100% of your salary.

If you’re self-employed, a loss of annual income due to coronavirus between 1 March 2020 and 31 July 2020 will generally be disregarded, along with the impact on employment income from the same period for future applications.

However, the Immigration Rules themselves have not been changed. There is a risk that you could be refused or put on the 10-year route if you cannot meet the Financial Requirement. You should present arguments and evidence with your application that show how your income has been affected by the crisis, and ask for discretion to be exercised to allow you to remain in the 5-year route if this applies to you.

See also: Right to Work

English tests

English testing by IELTS, Trinity College, LanguageCert and Pearson Education Limited is suspended in the UK. Your eligibility for leave to remain or settlement in the UK could be affected if you cannot take a test before you have to submit your application.

The Home Office has not changed the Immigration Rules or issued formal guidance about the English language requirements for immigration applications.

The UKVI website now says:

If you’re asked to take an English language test as part of your application, you can apply for an exemption if the test centre was closed or you couldn’t travel to it due to coronavirus when you applied.

You should ensure that you submit your immigration application in time, even if you cannot take a language test. For further information I have written a blog post about English language testing.

Fee waiver

If your visa or leave to remain is based on human rights grounds, and you do not have enough money to pay the application fee or Immigration Health Surcharge, you might be able to apply for a fee waiver.

If you apply for a fee waiver the date of your application is considered to be the date on which you apply for the fee waiver, as long as you then submit your online application within 10 days of receiving the outcome of the fee waiver application (Immigration Rules paragraph 34G(4)).

You can submit your supporting documents electronically rather than by post.

Fiancé visas

If you are in the UK with a fiancé visa, you might be concerned that your visa will expire before your wedding can take place (see Register Offices: weddings below).

You can apply for further leave to remain as a partner under the Immigration Rules on the basis that (i) you were unable to have your wedding because of circumstances beyond your control, and (ii) you will be able to have the ceremony within the next 6 months.

If you are able to have your wedding ceremony before your application is decided, you can send evidence of this to the Home Office and ask them to treat your application as one under the rules for spouses. The Home Office can ask you to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge to validate your application.

Alternatively, you could apply to vary your application. You can do this online by submitting a new application form. You will therefore have to pay the application fee twice: the difference should be refunded to you.

If you have overstayed and need to regularise your status, you can consider the visa extension policy (if your last leave expired after 24 January 2020 and before 31 July 2020) or making an application for leave to remain outside the Immigration Rules.

You should take legal advice about the best route for your circumstances.

Immigration Health Surcharge

On 21 May 2020 the Government announced its intention to scrap the Immigration Health Surcharge for certain migrant health and care workers. (See for example stories in Inews, BBC News and the Guardian).

It remains to be seen how this policy will be applied, and whether it will lead to a further push to end the IHS altogether. There is no indication whether workers who have already paid the charge since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic will be refunded.

Knowledge of Language and Life In The UK

The Life In The UK Test page now permits bookings to be made as test centres are gradually opened.

If you need to apply to extend your leave to remain in the UK and you would normally require a test in order to do this, then you should still submit your application in time, with an explanation about why you have not been able to take the required test.

Information is available on the websites for IELTS and Trinity College about the availability of Secure English Language Tests in the UK.

If you have previously taken an English language test at the correct level, but it has expired, then in some circumstances it will still be valid for future applications.

Public funds

Most leave to remain in the UK comes with a condition that the holder does not access public funds.

This is likely to have a serious impact on you if you have been made redundant or laid off, or if you cannot attend work because of childcare commitments while schools and nurseries are closed.

Not all benefits are classed as “public funds”, and you should check what benefits you might still be entitled to claim depending on your circumstances. You can find more information from organisations such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

If your lack of income puts you at risk of destitution, you can apply for the condition to be lifted. The process can be demanding, and the Home Office can take some time to respond. However, the application process is now online, when until recently it involved posting a paper form.

In some cases, local authorities also have obligations to support children in need.

On 7 May 2020 the High Court ruled that the NRPF policy breached Article 3 of the ECHR. A detailed judgment is expected in due course, with an outline of steps for the Home Office to take to rectify the policy.

I have also written a blog post about the NRPF condition.

Register Offices: birth registration

Register Offices have suspended the registration of births. This is significant if you want to make representations to the Home Office as the parent of a British citizen child, or if the birth of your child provides additional evidence of your relationship to your partner.

If you have an ongoing application or appeal, you can send alternative evidence of the birth to the caseworker or Home Office Presenting Officer. For example, you can send a copy of your hospital discharge notes, your child’s medical record (“red book”), midwife notes that name your partner etc.

HMRC confirms that you can start a child benefit claim if you are eligible (for example, the British or settled parent can make the claim), even without a birth certificate.

Register Offices: weddings

Wedding ceremonies were suspended during lockdown, but now seem to be taking place under certain restrictions.

This might affect you if you are in the UK with a fiancé visa, or if your marriage would have helped you to regularise your immigration status in the UK (for example, if you are getting married to an EEA national or a British citizen).

If your ceremony was cancelled, you should take note of any arrangements by your Register Office for reinstating it.

Reporting

Reporting has been temporarily paused by the Home Office. You should receive a text message to inform you when reporting starts again. You should contact your reporting centre by email with your name and Home Office reference number to make sure they have a valid telephone number for future contact (for example, if you think they might have an old number).

Right to Work and Right to Rent

Employers and landlords can temporarily check copy documents to prove a right to work or rent. However, the obligation to check continues.

There is information for employers about right to work checks on the Home Office website.

Valid identity document

You would normally be asked to provide information about a valid passport or national ID document to support an application for leave to remain.

If your existing passport has expired, and you cannot get a new one because of the coronavirus outbreak (for example because your embassy has closed), you should still submit your application but explain the situation in a covering letter or within the application form.

I advise businesses and individuals about immigration law across the South of England including London, Guildford, Woking, Basingstoke, Winchester, Southampton and Bournemouth. If you have other questions about how to manage your immigration law obligations as an employer, please contact me.

Kitty Falls

kf@kfimmigration.com
Tel: 07752 722 292

Last updated 3 July 2020

Image by kalhh from Pixabay

The information on this page is for general guidance only and does not constitute legal advice. You should always take advice based on your individual circumstances and immigration history.