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UK Home Office Announces New Immigration Guidance for Those Affected by COVID-19

March 25, 2020

The UK Home Office has issued further guidance for individuals who are currently in the United Kingdom and unable to return to their home countries due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), as well as for individuals applying for UK visas outside the UK.

This LawFlash supplements our recent LawFlash on COVID-19 UK immigration measures.

UK Visa Extension Process Relaxed Due to COVID-19

The UK government announced that foreign nationals holding visas expiring between January 24, 2020 and May 31, 2020 and who are currently unable to return to their home countries due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions or self-isolation will be able to extend their visa until May 31, 2020. They will not be regarded as overstayers or suffer any detriment in the future. Individuals seeking to extend their visas for this temporary period must contact the Home Office and provide biographical and other information, and the Home Office will issue confirmation evidencing the individual’s extension.

The Home Office has also announced that it is now possible for individuals currently in the UK who hold leave expiring between January 24, 2020 and May 31, 2020 to switch to a long-term UK visa whilst in the UK. This applies even where the individual would normally be required to return to their home country to apply for a visa in a different category. The same relevant visa requirements and application fees for the applicable visa category will apply. This also includes those whose leave has been auto-extended to March 31, 2020 under the Home Office’s previously issued COVID-19 guidance.

If an individual intends to remain in the UK beyond May 31, 2020, a valid extension application should be submitted prior to the expiry of their current visa. It is likely that the individual will encounter delays in attending a biometric appointment and in the processing of their application, however, the terms of their leave will remain the same until their application is decided, and they will not be regarded as an overstayer.

Applications Submitted Outside the UK

Many individuals are facing delays or the inability to submit applications due to visa application centre closures for applications submitted outside the UK. Individuals can find the most up-to-date information on closures by accessing the website of the relevant visa application centre:

Due to global border restrictions, there are ongoing delays with passports being returned to individuals. Where courier service has been purchased, visa application centres are returning  passports where courier routes remain open. Where courier service has not been purchased, some application centres are allowing applicants to purchase this additional service.

In some areas, English language testing centres are closed, and this will have a direct impact on the ability of applicants to submit their visa applications. See the latest testing information here.

Impact on Employers

The Home Office announced that Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsors are not required to report a change of circumstances for employees who are working from home due to the COVID-19 situation. In addition, Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsors are not required to withdraw sponsorship if they consider there are exceptional circumstances when an employee is absent from work without pay for four weeks or more. 

The Home Office recognises the current situation is exceptional and have confirmed that they will not take any compliance action against employees who are unable to attend work due to the coronavirus outbreak, or against sponsors which authorise absences and continue to sponsor employees despite absences for this reason.

Other changes must still be reported using the sponsorship management system.

Employers should consider extending their foreign national employees’ stay now in the UK if their visas are due to expire before the end of May. Employers should consider whether to utilise the new extension policy or extend their employees’ visas through normal processes if the employee will remain in the UK after May 30, 2020.

The new policy does not address outstanding concerns regarding right-to-work check changes and any amendments to public benefits being extended to migrants during this unprecedented time. However, we anticipate that the Home Office guidance will continue to be updated.

How We Can Help

Morgan Lewis stands ready to assist individuals seeking to extend their visas for this temporary period. For help with this or any other immigration query related to COVID-19, please reach out to your Morgan Lewis contact or any of the lawyers below.

The Home Office is also operating a Coronavirus Immigration Helpline, which can be reached at: +0800.678.1767 (Monday to Friday, 9:00 am–5:00 pm GMT) or email CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force

For our clients, we have formed a multidisciplinary Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force to help guide you through the broad scope of legal issues brought on by this public health challenge. We also have launched a resource page to help keep you on top of developments as they unfold. If you would like to receive a daily digest of all new updates to the page, please subscribe now to receive our COVID-19 alerts.

Contacts

If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this alert, please contact any of the following Morgan Lewis lawyers:

London
Jennifer Connolly
Yvette Allen

Washington
Shannon Donnelly