COVID-19: Can I Stay in the UK if my Visa is Due to Expire?
So much has changed in the UK and the world in such a short period of time. Only a matter of a few weeks ago, we were free to move between towns, cities, and countries. We were even free to go to our local coffee shop or bakery, but not anymore. The COVID-19 lockdown implemented in many countries around the globe has halted immigration to a large extent and caused considerable confusion for those in the UK whose visas are due to expire.
Is the UK Currently Processing Visas?
Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, all visa application centers within the UK were closed on 27th March and currently remain so. The UKVCAS website states the following:
“In response to COVID-19, the UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS), led by Sopra Steria on behalf of UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), has suspended all client-facing services to help protect the health and wellbeing of our customers and staff. Even if you have an appointment scheduled, please do not attend this appointment until we contact you to confirm that the UKVCAS service has resumed. You can cancel your rescheduled appointment online to receive a full refund. Use the following link to log on to your account at any time Log in to UKVCAS account.”
See also 'UK visa application centres reopens worldwide in phases [Recent Update]'
What If my Visa is Due to Expire Shortly?
Understandably, given how firm the Home Office has been on overstayers in recent years, if your Visa is due to expire in the next few days or weeks, you may be anxious as to your position. The issue is pressing for thousands of Visa holders who were due to leave the UK but have been unable to depart due to travel restrictions in their own country. If your Visa is due to expire soon, you can have it extended at no charge until 31st May 2020. Given that this date is now very close, it is hoped this guidance will be updated and the date further extended. In order to have your Visa extended, you will need to complete a short form on the Home Office website. If your request to extend is successful, you will receive an email stating: “your leave has been extended under existing conditions until 31st May 2020. You will not be regarded as an overstayer or suffer any detriment in any future applications. However, you must make plans to leave as soon as you are able to do so. This will only apply where you hold an existing valid visa which has already expired or is due to do between 24th January and 31st May”.
I Am an NHS Worker and My Visa is Due to Expire, What Should I Do?
The Home Office has issued specific advice for those from outside of the EU currently working in the UK on a Visa which is due to expire shortly. The government guidance for NHS workers states that some frontline staff will have their Visas automatically extended, if it is due to expire before 1st October 2020. This applies to those individuals working the following roles:
- biological scientist
- dental practitioner
- health professional
- medical practitioner
- medical radiographer
- occupational therapist
- social worker
- speech and language therapist
- therapy professional
The problem here is in relation to the word ‘automatic’. This may lead many to believe that the Home Office will simply undertake a wholesale search for all relevant Visas and extend the expiry dates without any outside intervention. This is, unfortunately, not the case as employers are being asked by the Home Office to advise them of who is eligible for an extension. And once this is done, you will need to post you, and your family’s biometric residence permits (BRPs) to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). On this basis, it is highly recommended that if you are an NHS worker currently in the UK subject to immigration control, and your Visa is due to expire before the 1st October 2020, you don’t assume your extension is in hand; contact your employers Human Resources department to check your situation, if you have not already been advised. Ask them whether they have told the Home Office you are eligible for an extension and whether you should send your BRP to be updated.
I am a student in the UK and My Visa is Due to expire, What Should I Do?
If you are a student in the UK and your visa has expired, you are not alone. Thousands of individuals who were studying but were unable to return home due to travel restrictions in their home country currently find themselves with Visas close to expiry. As discussed above, you can request an extension of your Visa up to the end of May 2020 if your Tier 4 study Visa is about to expire by completing the online form on the Home Office website. If, however, you have recently applied to switch into the Tier 4 study Visa category from another Visa type, but the response to your application has been delayed due to the current lockdown, and you applied before your current Visa expires, then you can remain and commence your studies (albeit distance learning). The Home Office has stated you will be eligible to commence your studies in this situation, if:
- your sponsor is a Tier 4 sponsor
- you have been given a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS)
- you submitted your application before your current Visa expired and you show your sponsor evidence of this
- the course you start is the same as the one listed on your CAS
- you have a valid Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate if required
They also state that if once your application is processed and it is rejected, then you will need to stop your course of study. If you do need an ATAS certificate, as these cannot currently be obtained from the Foreign Office, the Home Office are recommending that you contact the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre at CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk or by phone on 0800 678 1767 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm).
If you are unsure of your position, plenty of guidance is currently available. Speak to the Home Office COVID-19 helpline, your employer, education provider, or an immigration Solicitor for guidance as soon as possible. Rest assured, you are not alone and everyone concerned is being as flexible as possible in this uncertain time.
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