Latest Update from UKVI: No Further COVID-19 Visa Extension Requests
It is no exaggeration to say that the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK and across the globe changed our lives beyond all recognition. Actions that we took for granted were suddenly no longer possible as countries tried to grapple with the virus, and prevent further spread. A core part of the strategy in many countries was to prevent international travel, and hence stop further new cases of COVID-19 entering. It was for this reason that the Home Office announced concessions to help migrants who were in the UK with visas which were due to expire and who could not return home.
UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) published an announcement stating that those whose visas had, or were due to, expire between 4th January 2020 and 31st July 2020, could fill in a form to have their leave extended to the end of July 2020. Clearly, for those whose visa was due to expire towards the end of July, this was not much of a concession. But for those whose visa expired towards the start of lockdown; this would have provided some help while waiting for their home country to reopen.
Read also: COVID-19: Temporary changes to visa extensions and switching
COVID-19 Visa Extension Requests Ending
Those in the field of immigration guidance were unsure if the Home Office would further extend this policy into August or September as a result of ongoing travel uncertainty around the world. On 29th July 2020, they published new guidance which provided the answer to this question. The new guidance states:
“If you had a visa that expired between 24th January 2020 and 31st July 2020 you were able to request an extension if you were not able to return home because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus (COVID-19). Now travel restrictions are lifting globally you will no longer be able to extend your visa automatically on this basis, and you are expected to take all reasonable steps to leave the UK where it is possible to do so or apply to regularise your stay in the UK”.
This means that the ability to request an extension to a visa due to expire before the end of July 2020 is no longer available. There are, however, some further concessions which migrants in the UK whose visa expired on or before the end of July 2020, and who are planning to leave the UK, should be aware of.
Extra ‘Grace Period’ Of One Month
For those who do plan to leave the UK due to the lifting of travel restrictions in their home country, UKVI is now offering a ‘grace period’ of one month. This means that until 31st August 2020, if your visa expired before the end of July 2020, you have another month to make the necessary preparations to leave the UK. The UKVI website confirms that the conditions of your stay will be unchanged in this time, which will allow you to continue working, studying, and/or renting accommodation throughout August before you leave.
You will not need to advise UKVI that you will be leaving the UK by the end of August 2020.
This period of grace essentially provides an automatic extension of one month. It is clear, however, from this policy, that unless there are any further serious events as a result of COVID-19, there will be no further extensions made available.
Exceptional indemnity If You Cannot Leave by The End of August 2020
Migrants currently in the UK whose visas expired on or before the end of July 2020 and who do plan to leave the country but know they cannot before the end of August 2020 are requested by UKVI to email the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) at CIH@homeoffice.go.uk to request additional time to stay. UKVI will not grant further leave to remain in the UK, but they may offer ‘exceptional indemnity’ which means that you will not suffer any ‘adverse action or consequences’ (i.e. you will not be forced to leave or treated as an illegal overstayer). UKVI states, “The Coronavirus Immigration Team will provide you with further advice on what you need to do to request an indemnity. This will include providing details of the reason why you are unable to leave the UK and supporting evidence, for example, a confirmed flight ticket with a date after 31st August or confirmation of a positive coronavirus test result”.
Anyone in this situation will need to provide strong evidence to UKVI that not only do they intend to leave, but there are genuine reasons why they cannot leave by the end of August 2020. For this reason, it is advisable to speak to immigration lawyers who will be able to advise if you are likely to have grounds for exceptional indemnity, and if you are, the exact information which you will need to provide. It is, however, recommended that unless you have a very strong case, you should not expect to be granted exceptional indemnity, and should either submit a new application to remain in the UK or make arrangements to leave.
Recommendations If You Plan to Stay in the UK, But Your Visa Has Expired
UKVI has stated that there will be no action taken against you if your visa has expired and you have not made an application to extend your leave (or for ILR). They will, however, require you to do so from 1st August 2020. You will be able to make an in-country immigration application (where you would normally have to apply from your home country). This means that the terms of your leave will remain as they are under your current visa (which due to the grace period will still be valid until the end of August 2020). Those who are switching to a work or study visa may be allowed to start their employment or studies before they receive a decision on their application.
The Home Office has offered a degree of flexibility to migrants who would ordinarily have been expected to return home when their visa expired, but have been unable to do so due to COVID-19. It will remain to be seen whether further concessions will need to be introduced (or re-introduced) in the weeks or months ahead. We will keep you updated as events unfold. If your visa has expired, or about to, and you feel unsure about the next step to take, you can contact our team of experienced immigration solicitors to know your options.
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