As the worldwide response to COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the UK immigration rules, we set out below immigration guidance published by the UK Home Office to assist individuals and businesses who may be affected by COVID-19. The guidance will include two parts, Part 1 if you are individuals, Part 2 If you are UK sponsors.
If you are in the UK
If you are in the UK and your leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020 your visa will be extended to 31 May 2020 if you cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus (COVID-19). It also requires all visa customers who may be eligible for the above policy to contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) to update their records. Please note this guidance does not mean their current visa is extended automatically and unconditionally. Please do contact CIT and wait for their reply.
For the applicants who are already in the UK and wish to apply to stay in the UK long-term, they can submit applications online inside the UK until 31 May 2020. This also includes those whose leave has already been automatically extended to 31 March 2020. You can apply online. The terms of your leave will remain the same until your application is decided.
Life in the UK test centres, relevant to applicants for Indefinite Leave to Remain and Naturalisation, are closed in line with Government requirements until 30 April 2020. Any tests booked during this period will be automatically rescheduled to another date after 1 May 2020. New test dates are available to book from 1 May 2020 onwards.
Police registration at the Overseas Visitors Records Office (OVRO) is currently suspended. Anyone with a pre-booked appointment will be contacted directly to reschedule the appointment. Action will not be taken against individuals who are unable to attend the OVRO or to book an appointment in order to either register their stay in the UK or update existing certificates. Updates can be monitored on the OVRO website. Those who live outside the London metropolitan area covered by OVRO should contact their local police force for guidance.
If you are on a Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa and your business has been disrupted, 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.
Absences for Indefinite Leave to Remain (“ILR”) Application and Naturalisation Application
Currently the Home Office has not yet issued any specific guidance on how the Home Office will consider absences which exceed the required limits for ILR and naturalisation applications which were caused by COVID-19. The Home Office has discretion to waive excess absences in certain circumstances, such as for “serious or compelling reasons”. However, the Home Office is yet to confirm whether COVID- 19 would be taken into account as “serious or compelling reasons”. Before the Home Office issue any further guidance in regards to this, we suggest visa holders who wish to apply for ILR and naturalisation as a British citizen to avoid any unnecessary travel and for someone who are staying outside the UK for an extended period due to COVID-19 should keep evidence of the reason why you are unable to return to the UK.
If you are outside the UK
Many UK Visa Application Centres are closed or offering limited services. While the VFS visa application services in Mainland China has been closed for months, VFS Hong Kong announced temporary closure on 30 March 2020 with the processing of current applications being delayed. The existing appointment will not be able to get rescheduled until the centre is re-opened.
For the applicants who are awaiting document returning from a visa application centre and have already paid for courier service, their passport will be posted by courier as long as the routes remain open. Otherwise the applicants should contact their visa application centre for available options.
IELTS - There are also impacts on English Testing Centres. In some locations, IELTS testing has been suspended due to COVID-19. IELTS test centres in Mainland China (Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Chongqing) are suspended until 30 April 2020. More information can be found at ielts.org.
If you would like to seek any further legal advice, please contact Fei Yang, Partner and Head of Immigration at DKLM.