So COVID has been with us ‘properly’ for just over 1 year, having been first detected in China and making its way around the world, affecting millions of people and changing the way we work and carry out our daily lives immeasurably. Whilst the virus might be with us for the forseeable future there is hope in the form of vaccines and lessons learned from lockdowns and testing so that we can all hopefully look forward to a more ‘normal’ and positive future.
But what has the impact been on immigration, specifically to the UK and within the UK, and how have the authorities dealt with this very important area of life during a global pandemic?
PEOPLE IN THE UK WHOSE VISA IS EXPIRING
Whilst it is expected that people whose leave is expiring try to leave the UK as soon as possible, if there are no flights available or the person concerned has coronavirus there are options to remain by applying for something called ‘exceptional assurance’ which the Home Office may grant depending on the evidence and reasons provided. A grant of exceptional assurance means that the person can remain in the UK under the conditions they were initially given but is not a grant of leave.
PEOPLE WHO WISH TO REMAIN IN THE UK
For those people who wish to remain in the UK, they will need to apply for leave to remain if they meet the relevant requirements.
The terms of current permission will remain the same until the application is decided. If the applicant is switching into work or study routes they may be able to commence work or study whilst their application is under consideration, depending on the terms of their current permission.
An applicant is also able to apply for permission to stay to remain in the UK if they have been issued with an ‘exceptional assurance’. The application must be submitted before the expiry of ‘exceptional assurance’.
If an applicant has overstayed their leave
If a visa or leave has expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 August 2020 there will be no future adverse immigration consequences if an application isn’t made to regularise your stay during this period. However, if an applicant has not applied to regularise their stay or submitted a request for an exceptional assurance they
Application and service centres in the UK
As immigration and visa services are an essential service applicants can still travel to attend appointments and enrol biometrics.
Most UK Visa and Citizenship Application Centres (UKVCAS) have reopened for existing customers. Applicants can check which UKVCAS centres are open and book an appointment if they have not already done so.
UKVCAS Service Points are essential services and will remain open throughout the UK so customers can continue to book and attend appointments to progress their visa applications. Service and Support Centres (SSCs) are essential services and will remain open. SSCs are offering a reduced number of appointments because of coronavirus
Applications for a visitor visa, visa in transit or direct airside transit visa (DAT)
The application decision may be delayed if the application is being made from a country where travel to the UK is suspended. In this case, an applicant will receive their visa when suspension of travel is lifted if the application is successful.
If travel to the UK is suspended but an applicant needs to travel urgently for compassionate reasons, they still need to apply for a visa in the usual way, including submitting biometrics at their chosen Visa Application Centre (VAC). The applicant should clearly explain the compelling or compassionate reasons for their visit in the application form and alert the VAC staff during biometric submission. The applicant should then be contacted by UKVI once your application has been received.
Obviously one of the main effects of the pandemic has been the delay in various factors associated with UK Immigration. Applicants for citizenship, for example, are having to wait longer for the citizenship ceremony when they will pledge allegiance to Queen and country. Whilst some ceremonies have taken place virtually, the rule regarding numbers who are permitted to gather together for various events means that actual ‘live’ ceremonies are not currently happening.
Entry clearance applications have also been affected.
Application decisions may be delayed if the application is from a country where travel to the UK is suspended. Applicants will receive their visa when suspension of travel is lifted if their application is successful.
If travel to the UK is suspended but applicants need to travel urgently for compassionate reasons, they still need to apply for a visa in the usual way, including submitting biometrics at their chosen Visa Application Centre (VAC).Applicants should clearly explain the compelling or compassionate reasons for their visit in their application form and alert the VAC staff during biometric submission. They will then be contacted by UKVI once the application has been received.
Applications to enter the UK or remain on the basis of family or private life
If an applicant is unable to travel back to the UK due to coronavirus travel restrictions and thei leave has expired, a short break in continuous residence will be overlooked. Applicants are expected to make their next application as soon as possible.
There will be no future adverse immigration consequences if there has been a short break of continuous residence if leave expires between 1 March 2020 and 31 May 2021. However, if an applicant returned to the UK and did not make a valid application to stay upon their re-entry, they must now make arrangements to leave.
If an applicant intends to leave the UK but has not been able to do so and they have a visa or leave that expires between 1 December 2020 and 31 May 2021 they may request additional time to stay, known as ‘exceptional assurance’.
If an applicant’s leave expires after 31 October 2020, they can make their application from inside the UK where they would usually need to apply for a visa from their home country if either one of the following applies:
- The application is urgent, for example if there is a family emergency and cannot apply from outside the UK
- The applicant cannot apply from outside the UK due to coronavirus
If an applicant is in the UK with 6 months’ leave as a fiancé, fiancée or proposed civil partner and the wedding or civil ceremony has been delayed due to coronavirus they may request additional time to stay, also known as ‘exceptional assurance’, and providing evidence of when the wedding or civil partnership ceremony will take place.
Otherwise, an applicant can apply to extend your stay for a further 6 months to allow the ceremony to take place.
Changes to the minimum income and adequate maintenance requirement
If an applicant has experienced a loss of income due to coronavirus up to 31 May 2021, the Home Office will consider employment income for the period immediately before the loss of income, provided the minimum income requirement was met for at least 6 months immediately before the date the income was lost.
If an applicant’s salary has reduced because they have been furloughed the Home Office will take account of the applicant’s income as though they are earning 100% of their salary.
If an applicant is self-employed, a loss of annual income due to coronavirus between 1 March 2020 and 31 May 2021 will usually be disregarded, along with the impact on employment income from the same period for future applications.
For further information regarding any other categories that you might personally be affected by because of the pandemic please contact me by email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 0121 231 7145 and I will be happy to advise.