The United Kingdom (U.K.) Home Office, who has responsibility for the U.K.'s immigration system, has been developing their response to the coronavirus pandemic. They published new guidance on March 24 for visa holders and short-term residents in the U.K. as well as visa applicants outside of the U.K.
Guidance for Current Visa Holders in the U.K.
The new guidance states that any person who is in the U.K. legally but whose visa is expiring (or has already expired), but cannot leave the U.K. because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, will not be regarded as an overstayer, nor suffer any detriment in the future because of this. This guidance was needed because in normal circumstances, visa holders who had to renew a visa or apply for a new one would have to return to their home country. For obvious reasons, that would currently not be possible for many people.
Step 1: Contact the Home Office Coronavirus Team
The Home Office will extend any visa due to expire in the interim period to 31 May 2020 if an individual cannot leave the U.K. because of travel restrictions or self-isolation due to COVID-19. However, visa holders must contact the Home Office Coronavirus Immigration Team email to advise them on their individual situation.
All visa holders of any nationality whose leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 30 May 2020 must contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team.
Individuals should include the following in their email:
- Full name (including any middle names)
- Date of birth (dd/mm/yyyy)
- Existing visa details
- Reason that has required them to extend their stay (for example, the suspension of all flights to their place of permanent residence)
The email must be in English. Alternatively, the Home Office has a telephone number: 0800 678 1767 (Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Calls are free of charge.
Step 2: Details Updated on U.K. Immigration Databases
After the visa holder has contacted the Coronavirus Immigration Team, the relevant databases will be updated. Visa holders will be advised that they will not be subject to enforcement action and the period will not be held against them in future applications.
Other Relevant Information
Individuals who need to switch categories on their visas would usually have to return to their home country to do so. For now, they can apply from the U.K. to switch. They must still pay the same application fee.
Applicants will still apply online as usual and choose a biometric submission appointment to attend if they are able, in line with public health guidance. The terms of the applicant's leave will remain the same until the application is decided. If an applicant cannot attend their biometric appointment on the relevant date due to COVID-19, they will not be regarded as an overstayer or subject to enforcement action. This website will have up-to-date advice on the U.K. Visa Application Centres.
Workers in the U.K.
Sponsors of workers who are on a Tier 2 or 5 route would normally have to alert the Home Office about change of work circumstances, such as if an employee began working from home. Due to COVID-19 many workers will now be working from home rather than their normal workplace, but the Home Office advises that Visa Sponsors do not have to notify them if the change is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, other changes would have to be reported as normal.
Guidance for Visa Applicants Outside the U.K.
Many of the U.K.'s Visa Application Centres (VACs) are closed and the Home Office advises that more will likely close. Even those that are currently open are likely not operating at their normal capacity, offering limited services. Applicants are advised to consult the U.K.'s relevant commercial partners in their home countries for up-to-date information on each office:
Visa applicants who are presently outside the U.K. and who are affected by current travel restrictions should visit the COVID-19 advice on the gov.uk website. Additionally, some border restrictions are affecting the logistics of printing and sending visa vignettes across certain borders. Applicants should consult the website or contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team for further guidance on how to get their passports back.
There may be further updates as the Home Office works through these challenging circumstances, and Faegre Drinker's Immigration & Global Mobility team will bring further updates as we receive them.
As the number of cases around the world grows, Faegre Drinker’s Coronavirus Resource Center is available to help you understand and assess the legal, regulatory and commercial implications of COVID-19.