COVID-19 Concession Ends 31 July 2020 but New “Exceptional Indemnity” Grace Period up to 31 August 2020

Yet another update has come in this morning with regards to the Covid-19 concessions (please see our previous article here), clarifying the Home Office’s position, with regards to the deadline of the 31st of July 2020.

The background of this update stems from the almost automatic (upon applicants request) extension of short term visas for those who were unable to return to their own country due to travel restrictions or self-isolation periods relating to Covid-19.

This concession covered anyone whose visa was expiring between the 24th of January 2020 and the 31st of July 2020. Since the current deadline was updated in May 2020, we have not had any indication as to what would happen after the deadline for those who are still unable to travel to their home countries.

Change of approach:

The Home Office has now made it clear that, given that some of the travel restrictions and lockdowns are easing, it will no longer have a wholesale approach in extending people’s visas, and instead would expect that affected persons take all reasonable steps to leave the UK (this could include booking a repatriation flight that some countries are running, eg India), or apply for a visa to stay in the UK, eg by applying under Human Rights.

Good news:

The good news is that the Home Office have, two days before the deadline, confirmed that they will give people a 31 days grace period, for the month of August 2020, to either make arrangements to leave the UK or to apply for a visa to stay for longer.

Bad news:

Unfortunately, this ‘exceptional indemnity‘ grace period of one month is NOT an extension or a grant of leave, and anybody whose visa expires after the 31st of July and who has not left the UK or applied for another visa will become an overstayer. In the updated statement the Home Office has mentioned that :

The indemnity does not grant you leave but will act as a short-term protection against any adverse action or consequences after your leave has expired.

Simply put, this means that the Home Office is not going to remove those whose visa has run out under these circumstances until the 31st of August 2020.

Update raises more questions than answers

This update appears to be an oxymoron, as while the Home Office makes it clear that the exceptional indemnity after the concession ends on the 31st of July does not grant any visa, they also, in the same update, state that:

During the grace period the conditions of your stay in the UK will be the same as the conditions of your leave. So, if your conditions allowed you to work, study or rent accommodation you may continue to do so during August 2020 ahead of your departure.

So, by law, if your visa is expiring after the 31st of July, you will become an overstayer for the month of August 2020, however, if your previous visa allowed you to work, eg a Tier 4 Student visa, you will be allowed to continue to work for that month.

“A Ticking Time Bomb”

It is notable that the exceptional indemnity grace period is new, and not really accommodated by the other parts of the rules, including the good character requirement, that would apply down the line and currently allows the caseworker to only disregard overstaying of up to 28 days. These are exceptional circumstances, and we will see how this plays out in a few years time when those affected try to apply for settlement visas.

As a UK immigration solicitor, I am glad that the Home Office is trying to bring clarity to a confusing situation, but feel that some more forward-thinking might prevent problems arising from people having a lack of status but not being able to leave. This update appears to be setting the stage for another Windrush situation, with migrants becoming undocumented due to no fault of their own.

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