Coronavirus (COVID-19) UK Immigration Update: Government Extend visas and Relax switching rules for those affected

The Covona Virus situation continues to develop, and there has now been a further update from the government with regards to those migrants affected by the almost universal shutdown of normal business and services, in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19. If you have been affected you may find the below information useful.

Extension for visas expiring between 24th of January 2020 and 31st of July 2020

The government has issued a Guidance (Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents), slightly similar to the changes they had previously applied to Chinese nationals, that, if you cannot leave the UK due to travel restrictions or are in self-isolation related to coronavirus (COVID-19), you can extend your visa to the 31st of July 2020.

NB: unlike the Chinese National automatic extension up to the 31st of July 2020, this is NOT an automatic extension and one must contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) to update your record if your visa is expiring. Upon receiving these details they will confirm that your visa has been extended (this is handy especially for those in employment).

You will need to provide them with:

  • 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

Although this is not automatic extension, this is absolutely fantastic news, especially given that it is free of charge and the process is seemingly straightforward, as otherwise a lot of people would have been facing the option of either applying for an expensive outside of rules visa, costing £2,033 (plus legal fees as not straightforward) or becoming illegal overstayers.

NB: these rules were originally published to extend up to 31st May 2020 but have since 26th May 2020 been extended to 31st July 2020. with a caveat that:

You will be expected to return to your home country as soon as it is safe and possible to do so.

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Temporary UK residents can Switch to Long-term Visa – In-Country

More fantastic news; you can switch from any short -term visa e.g a visitor visa to a long term visa, such as a spouse visa, from within the UK at this time.

The government has announced that:

You can apply from the UK to switch to a long-term UK visa until 31 July 2020 if your leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020. This includes applications where you would usually need to apply for a visa from your home country.

You’ll need to meet the requirements of the route you are applying for and pay the UK application fee.

This includes those whose leave has already been extended to 31 July 2020.

You can apply online. The terms of your leave will remain the same until your application is decided.

Whereas normally, a lot of temporary visas (e.g. Visitor visa, Tier 2 Intra Company Visa etc), come with the caveat that you cannot switch to a long term visa, such as a settlement visa, spouse visa or Tier 2 General visa, this restriction has now been lifted.

For Example:

If you are here on a visitor visa to visit your wife and children, normally the rules would bar you from applying for a spouse visa without first leave the country, and only in exceptional circumstances (e.g. young child / best interests of the child) would your application be allowed, and even so it could only be granted outside the rules on the 10 years route, meaning that it would take you twice as long to qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain if you stick to this route. Now, you will be able to apply for a Spouse visa from within the UK, and get the visa under the normal 5 years route.

NB. You, of course would need to pay for the application and meet all the other terms of a spouse visa, or otherwise apply under human right 10 years route as a partner.

Automatically extensions for NHS Migrant workers

In a positive move and in recognisance of the demanding role that key NHS staff as currently undertaking the government has also announced Doctors, Nurses or Paramedics working for the NHS will have their visa automatically extended by one year if it is due to expire before 1 October 2020. This Extension will be extended to their family members e.g. Tier 2 Dependants spouse and children of nurse and doctors.

This is extension is like the one previously announced for chinese citizen i.e. Individuals do not need to apply but instead the government will contact NHS employers to identify staff eligible for this extension. It is free and no immigration health surcharge payment needed. It is also for a generous ONE YEAR.

This extension is likely to come as a big relief for key workers at the frontline fighting to save lives against this Covid-19, it is notable it applies to only selected few of the NHS worker who would originally but under Tier 2 work permit and would struggle to find the time to apply for visa extensions at this time when their services are needed the most.

One should note: that whereas the relevant migrant need not apply the employer, e.g. the NHS trust she/he works for, must contact the HomeOffice for this extension to be granted, thus worth checking with the employer that their names have been forwarded to the Home Office.

30 Days Visa to Work, Study or Join Family from abroad to be replaced Free of Charge

One of the current headache for migrant who may have been caught up by the Covid-19 flight ban and flight restrictions are those from abroad who had already applied for a visa to come to the UK and not find themself stuck abroad with expiring visas.

Example: James from America made an application for a spouse visa at the end of January to come to join his British wife Amber in the UK. this visa was processed and issued in End of March. He would get visa sticker ( AKA Vignette) with a 30 days validity and instructions letter warning that he will need to apply at a fee for a new Vignette if he does not travel within the 30 days and must collect his Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) with the actual 2.5 years visa, within 10 days of arriving in the UK.

Now that he is not able to fly within the 30 days what happens?

The home office has now issued guidance that for all those in above circumstance coming to the UK on Student Visa ( Tier4) or Work Visa ( Tier 2) and Family ( Spouse or Dependent Visa), will until the end of 2020 NOT be charged any fee to have their visa stamp renewed and will not be penalised for not collecting there BRP card on time due to the Covid-19 measures been in place. The guide states:

“you can request a replacement visa with revised validity dates free of charge until the end of this year.
To make a request, contact the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre. You’ll need to include your name, nationality, date of birth and your GWF reference number with ‘REPLACEMENT 30 DAY VISA’ in the subject line. …..

Visa Centers around the world continue to close

For those who are abroad about to apply for a visa to come to the UK or have already applied, you will find it difficult to make any headway, as some of my clients have been confirming. A lot of UK Visa Application Centres (VACs) are closed or offering limited services; you can find more information on specific centres online.

Unfortunately some sites have been slow to update their website e.g. Hong Kong is closed for all visa applications, although online it only says the priority service is closed – the situation is changing so fast that the information online may be outdated by the time you go for your appointment.

The Gorevement have advised that you should contact the individual visa center to find out what services are available in your country; the contact links are:

  • TLS contact if you’re in Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East
  • VFS global for all other countries

NB:if you have an appointment and the VAC is now closed, (which is happening a lot even in the UK) you’ll be contacted and told your appointment will not take place. They are then informing you when you can can reschedule the appointment online or go in for walk-in appointment.

UK Biometrics Appointment and English Testing Centers- Closed for now

Following the government lock down on Monday the 23rd of March 2020, all non-essential public places such as libraries are closed, thus most Biometric appointments will not proceed if located in a library, and you should get an email from the UKVAS information that this will be rescheduled.

Note that while Biometric enrolment centres in the UK are currently suspended, the visa application is NOT and the Home Office continues to work on peoples visas. You MUST thus make sure that your visa is submitting ON Time, online even if you may not be able to attend any Biometric enrollment immediately after. In fact, the Home Office is for some application asking them to send the supporting documents to them after online submission. In which case the Home Office are then sending them a biometric enrolment letter to do the Biometric at their local post office which remains open.

Remember: Date of submission for visa is date when you submit and pay for the application online, Not the date you attend your Biometric enrolment thus provided you are able to submit online on time your stay will then be automatically extended by law until such time as when the process will be completed – so stay safe and stay legal

On the same token a lot of English Exams are being cancelled or postponed, as most English Testing Centres are also affected by the lockdown. Visit the International English Language Testing System (IELTS)’s website or contact your test centre for more information.

Exemptions: For those unable to sit their English and Life in the UK exams in time for their visa extension, one is advised to keep a clear record of all the attempts or efforts you have made to have then done e.g. copies of the emails confirming original bookings, cancellation and rescheduling of the exams. You should consult your UK Immigration Lawyer on the possibility of using a little know but a handy rule for exemptions from this requirement under exceptional circumstance or the options of applying for an alternative visa that does not require you full filling the Life-In-The-UK requirement.

Cross Border Legal Solicitorsstill here for you – available online from the UK to any part of the world

Although Cross Border Legal Solicitors are currently not seeing clients physically at our offices in Leicester, we will continue to avail our services to persons from any part of the world, especially for those in the UK looking to extend their visas, and are contactable via phone, WhatsApp, WeChat or Facetime during normal working hours.

You may contact us by filling our Quick Enquiry form any time you need professional support or have any questions. Alternatively, you can call us during office hours on 07544669131 / 0116 3800 744