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How is coronavirus affecting UK immigration?
The Covid-19 coronavirus has really messed up UK immigration, as indeed it has a lot of things. For a start, there are hardly any international flights at the moment, and migration is more difficult without airliners.
But this is only part of the problem. The social distancing requirements have caused all Home Office visa and citizenship application centres in the UK to close, and so no appointments are possible. This means that migrants cannot currently take their application documents to be processed by the Home Office and have their biometric details taken.
And all the UK visa centres outside the UK have also closed.
This means that, at the time of writing – late May 2020 – migrants or would-be migrants cannot start or cannot complete their immigration and nationality applications (with just very few exceptions). Asylum-seekers can still claim asylum – although face-to-face substantive interviews have been cancelled, which will presumably slow the process down even more than it was.
This general situation is of course bad news for those who want to apply for visas to come to the UK. And those whose visa applications have been approved and who have been granted 30-day visas to gain entry to the UK have found themselves a bit stuck. They are, however, able to apply for replacement 30-day visas with revised dates – which is one of the very few overseas visa services still happening.
But things are more complicated for those who already hold visas and are already in the UK.
The Home Office in the UK is, we are pleased to say, still functioning in other areas – as evidenced by the fact that we are still receiving our client’s visas, letters from the home office and they are still answering our phone calls. They have set up a system for those whose visas are expiring and who want to leave the UK but cannot do so because there are no flights or because they are self-isolating. If your visa will expire before 31 July 2020 you can apply for a visa extension up until that date. This is a relatively simple online application. (Those who have already successfully applied for a visa extension up to 31 May 2020 will automatically have their extension further extended until 31 July.)
And NHS workers and private health workers and their families are in some cases having their expiring visas automatically extended.
We imagine that if the coronavirus situation has not improved sufficiently by 31 July then the scheme will be extended, but of course we live in hope.
But matters are more nebulous for those who are in the UK but want to stay here long term. As was always the case, if you want to stay in the UK you should submit your new visa application before your old visa finishes, otherwise you will become an overstayer. The Home Office is evidently still processing such new applications, at least in the initial stages.
So the advice here is clear: do not allow yourself to become an overstayer and do submit your new application as normal. So for example a Tier 4 student migrant can submit an application to extend their Tier 4 leave or can apply for leave to remain as a spouse. However long it takes the Home Office to process the application your immigration leave will be protected.
But here we get into deep waters, because some published Home Office guidance states that such switching applications can be made even “where you would usually need to apply for a visa from your home country”. We really wonder what that means exactly. The most important kind of visa switch that we can think of in this context would be a switch from visitor visa to some other kind of other visa (for example a spouse visa or work visa) – which of course would not normally be possible. But it is not at the moment clear whether such a visitor visa switch is allowed.
In some previously published guidance the Home Office gave the example of a Tier 4 student applying to switch to Tier 2 skilled worker, but this was not very helpful because in many instances a Tier 4 student can switch to Tier 2 in any case. So this subject constitutes at the moment a mystery wrapped in an enigma, but we hope that clarity will emerge at some point.
But there is some good news on the horizon. Some overseas UK centres are due to reopen in June, in some cases on Monday 1 June. And some Home Office visa applications centres in the UK are also due to reopen on 1 June but – initially at any rate – only to process existing appointments.
And Immigration Tribunal appeal hearings are still apparently going ahead, but in most cases remotely. Whatever else this may do it will certainly introduce a different psychological landscape, insofar as everyone’s words and every nuance of body language are presumably going to be recorded for posterity. Perhaps at least in some ways this might be a good thing.
Anyway, these are, it hardly needs to be said, unprecedented times which have engendered unprecedented measures. But at least it looks as though things will – albeit slowly – get back to normal.
Please be aware that this is a rather simplified summary. If you want good detailed advice on this subject we at GSN Immigration may be able to help you.
We are Immigration Lawyers, Advisers and Consultants in London.
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