Immigration, COVID-19 Concessions and Exceptional Assurance
During a global pandemic with national and international travel and movement restrictions most people concerned about their immigration status need some assurances. Now the UK COVID-19 ‘freedom day’ has come and gone where does that leave people who stayed in the UK after the expiry of their visa because of COVID-19? In this article we look at the current position on COVID-19 concessions, exceptional assurances, and UK immigration.
A heads up, current COVID-19 concessions end on the 30 September 2021 so you may need to act now to protect your immigration status and record.
UK Online and London Based Immigration Solicitors
The Home Office COVID-19 immigration guidance
The Home Office COVID-19 immigration guidance is contained in several guides and documents. If you are not an immigration solicitor it can be a bit confusing to try and work out what guide applies to your circumstances. In fairness to the Home Office, it is tricky to cover everything in one guide so there is a separate guidance for students and different rules if you work for the NHS.
If you are in any doubt about your immigration status because of the impact of COVID-19 it is best to get specialist legal advice. You don’t want to be classed as an overstayer because of the effect on your immigration record and the implications if you want to remain in the UK.
Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents
The guidance most people need to look at is called ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents ’.
The guidance was last updated by Home Office officials on the 19 July 2021. This article is based on the 19 July 2021 guide but, as we all know, when it comes to COVID-19 and government policy the rules can change frequently and rapidly.
Prior to making any important visa decisions make sure that you are aware of the very latest guidance and if you aren’t sure, it is best to speak to an immigration solicitor.
The Home Office guide is for ‘visa customers and applicants in the UK, visa customers outside of the UK and British nationals overseas who need to apply for a passport affected by travel restrictions associated with coronavirus’.
If you are in the UK on a visa and unable to return home
If you are in the UK on a visa that is due to expire, the COVID-19 guidance says you are expected to take ‘all reasonable steps to leave the UK where it is possible to do so or apply to regularise your stay in the UK’.
What all reasonable steps to leave the UK means is a question of interpretation. If flights are stopped or unobtainable you won't be expected to buy a dinghy, cross the English channel and make your way home from France. That is not reasonable.
If you haven’t been able to leave the UK you may have already taken advantage of the COVID-19 concession that enabled visa extensions. This concession was replaced by ‘exceptional assurance’.
The COVID-19 concession – ended 31 August 2020
The COVID-19 concession was brought into force in February 2020 and initially extended the leave to remain of Chinese nationals until the 31 March 2020 provided their visas were due to expire between the dates of the 24 January and the 30 March 2020. With the spread of COVID-19 around the world, the concession was extended to all nationalities who were in the UK on visas so anyone in that situation could get a visa extension until the 31 May 2020.
Sadly, as COVID-19 rampaged globally, the concession had to be extended. Initially to the 31 May 2020 and then the 31 July and finally the 31 August 2020.
When the COVID-19 concession ended, the Home Office replaced it with the ‘exceptional assurance’ provisions.
Exceptional assurance – due to end on the 30 September 2021
Exceptional assurance is available only to people whose visa or UK entry clearance or earlier granted exceptional assurance ends before the 30 September 2021.
The Home Office guidance states that if you are in the UK on a visa, and you will need to return to a country that is on the UK government amber or red list but you aren’t able to return, then if you have a visa, leave or ‘exceptional assurance’ that expires before the 30 September 2021 you can ask the Home Office for additional time to stay or ‘exceptional assurance’.
If your situation is exceptional and you are unable to return to a country on the UK government green list ( for example, as the country has closed the borders) you can also ask for ‘exceptional assurance’.
A request for exceptional assurance is made by email to the Home Office. You will need to provide:
- Your full name and date of birth.
- Your nationality and your Home Office, GWF or any other reference number.
- The type of visa you are in the UK on and the expiry date of the visa.
- The reason why you are asking for exceptional assurance.
- Evidence in support of your request. For example, evidence that a border is closed or that there are no flights or other means of travel.
If you aren’t certain whether you will qualify for exceptional assurance, or you are worried about your supporting evidence, speak to an immigration solicitor.
What does exceptional assurance mean?
If the Home Office grant your request for ‘exceptional assurance’ you can stay in the UK during the period of exceptional assurance but the status doesn’t give you any extra rights or concessions.
That means if your visa said you could not work in the UK as part of your visa conditions you also can't work whilst you are in the UK under the COVID-19 exceptional assurance provisions. Likewise, if you need a sponsoring employer to work in the UK on your work visa you can't take up employment with a UK employer who doesn’t have a sponsor licence during your period of exceptional assurance.
The big advantage of exceptional assurance is that you aren’t classed by the Home Office as an overstayer on your visa because you did not leave the UK before the expiry of your visa. That is significant as without that concession you would find it hard to get another visa or entry clearance to the UK.
What exceptional assurance doesn’t mean is that you will be guaranteed a visa extension or a new visa. Any visa application will be decided on its merits and in accordance with the relevant guidance for the visa you are applying for.
What happens if exceptional assurance is due to end
If you applied for exceptional assurance and it is due to end but you still can't return to your country you can apply for exceptional assurance again. You must not assume that the Home Office won't take any action if you don’t make an application or that your immigration record won't be affected. Immigration solicitors say that it is best to stick to the rules.
If you want to stay in the UK on a new visa
Exceptional assurance is not designed to cover people who are in the UK on visas and subject to immigration controls who want to extend their current visa or switch to a new visa but who have not got around to making the application. The guidance says you must make your extension or switch application.
If you need exceptional assurance
If your visa or permission to be in the UK expired between the dates of the 24 January 2020 and the 31 August 2020 there won't be what the Home Office refers to as ‘future adverse immigration consequences’ if you didn’t make an application to the Home Office to regularise your position.
If you have not applied for exceptional assurance or a visa extension or switch it is crucial that you take urgent legal advice on your best options.
COVID-19 is a global pandemic that has affected nearly everyone’s lives in one way or another. It is a crisis that will hopefully pass. You should not let a temporary crisis impact on your short, medium, or long-term plans to live, study, work or settle in the UK. That is why it is best to use exceptional assurance if you need to do so to protect your immigration record.
UK Online and London Based Immigration Solicitors