On the 24th of March 2020 the Home Office finally released updated advice for those whose UK visas are affected by Coronavirus. While this guidance is by no means comprehensive, and leaves a lot of questions unanswered it will still be helpful for a number of people. As such I have summarised the questions it has answered below.
What if my leave is expiring but I can’t return to my country?
This is a common problem, and one which the previous update did not address for the vast majority of people. Thankfully the government has said if you are in the UK and your leave expires between 24/01/2020 and 31/05/2020 you will be able to extend your visa if you cannot leave the UK due to travel restrictions or self isolation.
This will be a relief for those dreading the prospect of international travel, as well as for those whose visas may have already expired and who may be anxious about the long term implications of overstaying. This process is not, however, automatic.
The government has set up a Coronavirus Immigration Team who should be contacted to update your records. You will need to provide:
- Your date of birth
- Your full name
- Your nationality
- Your previous visa reference number
- The reason you cannot go back to your home country (ie isolation, border closure)
Please note that if flights are running back to your country and you are not in isolation, you may run into trouble as this concession only appears to apply to those who are physically unable to return, not everyone.
Do I have to return to my home country to switch my visa?
The Home Office insists, for reasons best known to itself, that a number of visa applications must be made from the applicant’s home country, regardless of whether the applicant has existing leave in the UK. These include switching from Tier 5 to Tier 2, and switching from a Tier 2 dependent visa to a Tier 2 general visa. Given the current climate applicants are likely to find this difficult to impossible.
Thankfully the Home Office has indicated that due to these ‘unique’ circumstances that it will allow in country applications for those ‘applying to stay in the UK long-term’. As the Home Office has not provided any lists of accepted visa switches or further details we are working under the assumption that any switch to a long term visa, such as tier 2, could be made.
Applications are to be made online and can only be made up until 31/05/2020, although this is up for review and may be further extended if the need should arise.
I’m outside the UK and the Visa application centre in my country has shut. What should I do?
Unfortunately a number of overseas visa centres are now shut and you will not be able to apply until they re-open. If you already have an appointment and it has been cancelled, you should follow the instructions from your visa centre on what to do next.
English Language Testing Centres are also affected, so you should keep up to date with the IELTS website for information on what to do if your test is cancelled.
If your documents are with a visa centre then you may be able to get them couriered back to you, but you should check with your specific visa centre.
If you are British and need a passport to urgently travel to the UK, you will not be able to apply for this if your country’s visa application centre is shut. You will need to apply for an emergency travel document.
I’m a sponsor, what do I need to know?
If you are a Tier 4 sponsor, you should be aware that the government has indicated that in these circumstances it will permit distance learning, which is not normally permissible, where students are overseas but wish to continue studying. There will be no requirement to withdraw sponsorship in this scenario.
Furthermore students who wish to commence a course via distance learning will not need to travel to the UK or be sponsored under Tier 4.
If you are a tier 2 or 5 sponsor, there is a good chance that much of your workforce is suddenly working from home. While you would ordinarily need to report this to the Home Office, if it is as a direct result of the Coronavirus pandemic, you will not need to report this. All other changes of circumstance must be reported as usual.
There are a number of other questions which remain unanswered, including:
- Whether those on visas with ‘no recourse to public funds’ will be eligible for wages through the ‘coronavirus job retention scheme’.
- Whether Tier 2 employees can be ‘furloughed’.
- How long Tier 2 employees will have to find another sponsor should they be made redundant, or their sponsor go bankrupt.
- What will happen to people overseas who have been granted visas but now cannot come to the UK within the allowed time frame.
We will let you know as and when answers to these questions become apparent. If you have any other questions, please do let us know in the comments and we will do our best to answer you. You can also contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01403 801 801 for a consultation.