Immigration: Frequently Asked Questions for Individuals on the impact of Covid-19
When it comes to immigration and the impact of Covid-19 there are daily developments. That isn’t surprising as in a global pandemic, with a UK government imposed lockdown and an economic recession, the pace and scale of changes affecting Immigration are fast and furious. In this article we look at some of the recent Covid-19 immigration developments for individuals.
UK Immigration solicitors
The individual immigration solicitors and business immigration solicitors at Legal 500 and Chambers Guide to the Legal Profession recommended OTS Solicitors are taking Immigration calls from entrepreneurs, workers, spouse visa applicants, students, business owners and others, all of whom have Immigration queries and worries.
Appointments are available through video conferencing, Skype or telephone appointments with a cyber secure client portal should you need to send us any paperwork.
When it comes to Immigration changes as fast as we write there is a new change; whether it is a further National Health Service visa concession, a tweak to the furlough rules or the latest update on potential quarantine restrictions.
Therefore, if you do have a question about any of the individual immigration developments referred to in this blog it is best to give our friendly and top immigration solicitors a call on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form to get the very latest information on your Immigration related query and advice on how the Immigration development might affect you.
UK quarantine plans
Many people planning to visit the UK to see friends and family on visit visas (or those planning to return overseas to spend time with family and then return to the UK) are concerned about UK quarantine plans and how they might affect them and their friends and families travel plans.
The current government plan, as part of the ‘’Covid-19 recovery strategy’’ say that people arriving in the UK will be asked to quarantine for two weeks unless they are on an exempt list. The government has not yet provided the exempt list or said when the quarantine policy will be brought into force. The only information provided says that if an international traveller can't say where they will self-isolate for the fourteen days then they will be required to stay in accommodation provided by the government.
Is the Home Office Immigration service working normally?
The Home Office Immigration service isn’t shut but it is fair to say that things aren’t ‘‘working normally’’. Some applications are being processed quickly where we can provide the Home Office with electronic information and some applications processes are slow. If you are worried about the timescales for a particular type of immigration application it is best to give us a call on 0203 959 9123 and we will give you more information.
At the moment the Home Office has suspended all:
Life in the UK test centres
Citizenship ceremonies for British citizenship.
Are visa application centres open?
All visa centres in the UK and overseas are closed. If you had an appointment at a visa centre your appointment will be re-scheduled or you will get a refund.
If your UK visa is due to expire and you can't leave the UK because of travel restrictions then you will be worried about inadvertently becoming an ‘’overstayer’’ and the long term impact on your future Immigration plans.
The government has announced that they will extend the leave for all visa holders whose leave has expired or is due to expire during the period of the 24th January and the 31 May 2020 and who are unable to leave the UK due to travel restrictions.
The renewal process isn’t automatic and requires completion of an online form by the visa holder or their immigration solicitor. When submitting the form the following information needs to be provided:
Full name and date of birth
Previous visa reference number
The reason why you can't comply with the visa end date and return to your home country.
The Home Office should extend your visa until the 31 May 2020. The government may further extend this date. If you are in any doubt about what to do you should take legal advice to avoid being classed as an overstayer on your visa.
Switching visa and in-country applications
In normal times the Immigration Rules require some visa applicants to return overseas in order to make a new visa application or switch visa. In view of travel restrictions, the government has announced that if you were leaving the UK to make an entry clearance application because your visa route (such as a sole representative visa) does not allow you to make an in-country visa application, you are now allowed to make the application from within the UK.
Visa extension applications
If you know that you need a visa extension as you plan to stay in the UK beyond the 31 May 2020 (or any further extension date beyond that announced by the Home Office) then the Home Office guidance states that you should apply for your full visa extension because the temporary extension to the 31 May doesn’t apply to those who are subject to Immigration control and who want to stay in the UK beyond the Covid-19 visa extension date.
If you know that you need to make a visa extension application then it is best to take legal advice from a specialist immigration solicitor as failure to make your application on time will result in your being classed as an overstayer on your Immigration record. That may affect your future visa and settlement applications.
By submitting the visa extension application before the original visa expiry date you will protect your Immigration status even if the Home Office can't fully process your application before the visa expiry date.
Entry clearance expiring
If you are stuck overseas and can't travel to the UK with your entry clearance shortly due to expire then you will be concerned about having to make another full visa application.
The positive news is that if your entry clearance is due to expire you can apply for an on-line extension of your clearance. This concession does not apply to visit visas.
If your entry clearance will expire before you can use it then if you are coming to the UK to work, study or as a dependant then you should ask your immigration solicitor apply on-line for a replacement visa with revised validity dates.
Endorsement by Endorsing Body expiring
If you have secured endorsement from an Endorsing Body as part of your visa application process for a:
Then your endorsement is usually valid for three months from the date of the endorsement letter. However, the Home Office has said that even if the endorsement is beyond the three month deadline, applications can still be submitted. The Home Office will consider each application on a case by case basis.
Specialist immigration solicitors will ensure that the best accurate explanations are given to avoid unnecessary rejections, such as reference to travel or lockdown restrictions in the country in which you are based or your period of self-isolation or recovery from Covid-19.
Covid-19 testing and Immigration status
If you are in the UK on a time limited visa, such as a visit visa, or you have over stayed you may be worried about whether you will qualify for Covid-19 testing if you display symptoms of coronavirus. The advice is that the government has changed the regulations so you are entitled to free testing and, just as importantly, if you test positive free National Health Service treatment.
The regulations say that if your Covid-19 test is negative then the test is still free of charge. Furthermore, any National Health Service treatment up to the point of the negative test result is also free of charge. That is to ensure that everyone gets medical help if they are worried that they may have Covid-19.
Many people need to move accommodation for a variety of reasons during the coronavirus outbreak. Usually, as part of the hostile environment policy, anyone wanting to rent a property has to pass a ‘’right to rent’’ check and produce original paperwork. If you have limited leave to remain finding the correct paperwork can be a pain and furthermore it is very difficult to provide original documents whilst practising safe distancing.
The government has therefore temporarily changed the right to rent regulations and said that landlords can accept a scanned copy or a photocopy of the relevant document by email. A video conference or Skype call then has to be arranged so that the landlord can match the tenant’s face to the paperwork provided and record the date of the remote right to rent check. Once lockdown restrictions are lifted the landlord will need to see the original documents.
Some tenants have reported that their landlords have asked them to leave their rented accommodation because of fears about catching Covid-19 generated by ignorance and prejudice. The Coronavirus Act 2020 gives some protection to tenants from possession proceedings. If you are asked to leave your rental property, and you don’t think that is right and you are worried about passing another right to rent check then speak to a landlord and tenant solicitor on 0203 959 9123. It is best to do that before you make any decisions on leaving your current rented accommodation.
Right to work checks
Although the UK economy is in free fall there are still plenty of job opportunities. However, for an employer to employ a worker the prospective employee has to pass a right to work check to avoid the employer being in breach of illegal working legislation.
The government has relaxed the rules on carrying out right to work checks during the Covid-19 outbreak and employers can now accept photocopy identity paperwork or scanned documents provided that identity is confirmed through video conference call or Skype.
Employers and employees need to be aware that after the temporary rules are lifted the employer will need to re-carry out the right to work check and see the original identification and other paperwork.
Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa holders
Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa holders have been particularly anxious about their visa status because the Immigration Rules require an Entrepreneur Visa holder to employ at least two people for a continuous twelve month period.
The Home office has temporarily relaxed the Immigration Rules and said that:
A combination of time amounting to twelve months can be used
Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa holders can furlough their employees but the period of time spent by the employee on furlough doesn’t count towards the twelve month continuous period
If an Entrepreneur Visa holder can't meet the twelve month rule because of Covid-19 then they may be allowed to apply for a visa extension to meet the Employment requirement for two Employment posts provided that the visa extension applicant can show that the jobs were disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
If you are in the UK on a work visa and you are sponsored by your employer under a Home Office issued Sponsor Licence then you will be aware that your employer is under a duty to report various matters, such as your attendance at work, to the Home Office.
The Home Office has relaxed the reporting requirements for Sponsor Licence holders who employ workers under a Certificate of Sponsorship to avoid those on work visas feeling that they have to go into work even though they are showing symptoms of Covid-19 or should not attend work because of travel or other restrictions. In addition, if a work visa holder is placed on furlough by their sponsoring employer this will not affect the validity of their work visa.
If a sponsoring employer reduces the salary of an employee who is on a work visa because of the government furlough scheme then that will not affect your work visa. However, at the end of the furlough period, the employer must reinstate the salary in accordance with Immigration Rule requirements for minimum salary thresholds. If you are in any doubts about your rights it is best to take employment and immigration law advice. Call us on 0203 959 9123.
NHS visa extensions
The Home Office has announced an automatic visa extension for one year for any NHS front line worker (and their dependants) whose visa was due to expire before the 1 October 2020. The visa extension is automatic and the Home Office is not charging its usual visa extension fees.
Applying for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme
Any EU national residing in the UK has probably now seen the government’s adverts encouraging applications for pre-settled status or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. Many have assumed that it isn’t possible to make your application but the Home Office is dealing with online applications.
If you are furloughed now may be the time to sort out your paperwork and make your EU Settlement Scheme application. For advice on the settled status eligibility criteria and help with making an application call us on 0203 959 9123.
Applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain
If you are eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain you can still do so. Immigration solicitors are receiving most ILR enquiries from those wanting to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain but stuck overseas because Covid-19 travel restrictions are preventing them from returning to the UK.
The Immigration Rules on Indefinite Leave to Remain applications state that applicants must meet the continuous residence requirement whether they are applying for ILR under the five year or ten year route.
In most cases, an applicant for ILR can be absent from the UK for under 180 days in a period of twelve months. If you have gone beyond the limit, or are concerned that you will do so, then it is best to take legal advice before submitting your ILR application.
If you are applying for ILR under the ten year then Home Office officials can exercise discretion for not meeting the residence requirement for ‘’compelling and compassionate circumstances’’. It is thought a global pandemic and national travel restrictions should count as ‘’compelling circumstances’’ but evidence will need to be provided, such as evidence of:
The reasons you left the UK
The relevant country travel restrictions and the dates they were imposed
Any ill-health or family reason that meant you were unable to leave the overseas country when the coronavirus first started affecting international travel
Attempts to return to the UK , for example, enquiries about flights
Your return to the UK as soon as travel restrictions were lifted.
The exercise of discretion on the continuous residence requirement is harder for Indefinite Leave to Remain applicants on the five year route. However, given the circumstances, the Home Office may issue a guidance to address situations where five year route ILR applicants were detained abroad because of travel restrictions. It is therefore best that ILR applicants under the five year route keep similar evidence of their travel and how their return was impacted by Covid-19 and travel restrictions.
Applying for British Citizenship
It is still possible to apply for British citizenship. Immigration solicitors are recommending that British nationality applications are made whilst applicants have the time to discuss the British Citizenship application process and gather together the information needed by your British citizenship solicitor.
Although it is still possible to apply for British Citizenship you will not be able to attend a British Citizenship ceremony to formally grant your British Citizenship. That is because these ceremonies are temporarily suspended. Some local authorities, tasked with conducting the British Citizenship ceremonies, will add you to their waiting list for an appointment once ceremonies have resumed.
Normally a British naturalisation applicant has to book a ceremony within three months of being told that their British citizenship application has been successful but the Home Office has extended the timescale to six months.
These are just a few of the matters that are being raised by worried visa holders affected by Covid-19. If you are concerned about how Covid-19 is affecting your:
Employment and right to work and sponsorship on a work visa
The specialist lawyers offer fast, efficient, easy to follow immigration and employment law advice looking at your best options and follow-up advice and legal services from employment law to tenant law advice.