LBW

Saturday, 28 March 2020

UK GRANTS CORONAVIRUS AMNESTY TO VISITORS!

Coronavirus and the UK immigration system

Measures taken to combat the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19 disease have changed almost every aspect of society both here in the UK and around the world. The immigration system is no exception. This post gathers together various updates on changes to immigration law and practice caused by coronavirus.

For now, in contrast with our normal practice, we’ll be keeping this post continually up to date rather than covering new coronavirus developments as separate blog posts that may become rapidly out of date. Use the page contents to navigate.

For lawyers overwhelmed by the number of new guidance documents, Lucy Reed’s take over on Pink Tape may provide some light relief.

Visa extensions and other concessions

General policy for people with expiring leave

Particularly pressing is the situation for people who are in the UK on an expiring visa and unable to leave because of travel restrictions. Government guidance on this initially focused on Chinese citizens and residents of China stuck in the UK, as they were most affected at the time that guidance was first published, in mid-February 2020.

The guidance was updated on 24 March to cover other nationalities. It leaves many questions unanswered but the top line is as follows:

If you’re 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).

The guidance continues:

You must contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) to update your records if your visa is expiring.

You should provide:

your full name (include any middle names)

date of birth (dd/mm/yyyy)

nationality

your previous visa reference number

why you can’t go back to your home country, for example if the border has closed

We’ll let you know when your request is received and when your visa has been extended.

This guidance overrides a previous version at the same webpage. The older version unilaterally conferred leave to remain until 31 March to Chinese citizens whose visas had or were due to expire between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020. It also allowed non-Chinese, non-EEA nationals in the UK who are normally resident in China to get an extension of leave on application to the coronavirus hotline, in a similar process to the one now in force for all nationalities.

The Immigration Law Practitioners Association says that “it is immediately apparent that the guidance is not adequate”. ILPA has however been provided with an additional Coronavirus (COVID-19) factsheet: visa holders and short-term residents in the UK. As of 25 March, this was not publicly available but can be downloaded here (pdf).

The fact sheet is not a great advance on the public guidance, but adds that “individuals will be advised that UKVI have noted their details; they will not be subject to enforcement action; and this period will not be held against them in future applications”.

The legal basis for all this is unclear, to put it mildly.

A note of caution

Please take a cautious approach to the new coronavirus extension policy. If your client has time to give it a try or their leave has already expired, there’s probably no downside, but if your client’s leave is about to expire it is important to note that providing the details requested by the Home Office does not extend leave under section 3C of the Immigration Act 1971 according to the information we currently have. If your client’s reasons are not accepted, they will become an overstayer. If there is a way to protect 3C leave, and that will be a potentially complex matter to decide, that may be the best route.

Also note that this route isn’t likely to help people who need to make an application for longer-term leave if they do not already meet the requirements. For example, Tier 4 to Tier 2 where you are waiting for a sponsor licence to be approved may not benefit from this route as there is no Certificate of Sponsorship, so the requirements cannot be met. Proceed with caution.

– Nichola Carter

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