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COVID-19: Temporary Changes to Visa Extensions and Switching

If you are in the UK on a visa, you may be deeply concerned about your right to remain in the country and what the situation is if you want to extend or switch your visa.

This article is a comprehensive guide to government advice regarding visa extensions and switching as of 4 May 2020. As with all information relating to Covid-19, things can swiftly change, so it is vital to continue to keep checking the official government guidance.

NHS and frontline health workers

During the Covid-19 pandemic, NHS and frontline health workers have become the nation’s heroes. Many of these people are in the UK on a visa. For example, 13 percent of doctors and 7 percent of nurses report an Asian nationality and over 18,500 NHS staff are Filipino.

If you are an NHS worker, the British government will extend you and your families’ visas for one year if the following conditions are met:

  • your visa is due to expire before 1 October 2020, and
  • you work for the NHS or an independent healthcare

The one-year extension will apply from the date your leave to remain is due to expire.

The following professions are eligible:

  • biochemist
  • biological scientist
  • dental practitioner
  • health professional
  • medical practitioner
  • medical radiographer
  • midwife
  • nurse
  • occupational therapist
  • ophthalmologist
  • paramedic
  • pharmacist
  • physiotherapist
  • podiatrist
  • psychologist
  • social worker
  • speech and language therapist

Your employer will tell you if you need to apply for an extension.

Pressure is also mounting for the government to scrap the migrant healthcare surcharge that non-EU migrant NHS and frontline healthcare staff must pay. Doctors, nurses, and carers argue that as they are risking their lives on the Covid-19 frontline, they should not have to pay to access NHS services.

`Carl Perez, a Filipino nurse who contracted Covid-19 whilst working in a care home where several residents died, told The Guardian:

“It feels unfair that we are risking out [sic] lives on the frontline, and we are being penalized by having to pay this large sum out of our own pockets. We’re already paying for the NHS through our national insurance and tax. It doesn’t leave much left for accommodation and living costs.”

Dr Zakiuddin Mohammed, an Indian doctor who is treating Covid-19 patients daily, added:

“Much more than the monetary burden, it makes me feel as though the government doesn’t value our contribution. It is extremely unfair because we’re paying taxes and national insurance and being told: if you’re to access the services of this wonderful organization that you’re contributing so much to, you will have to pay a surcharge. It feels very ungrateful to us.”

In a statement, the Home Office stated that:

“It is in the public interest for migrants to be financially independent and not burden UK taxpayers. Those who benefit from the state should be contributing to it.”

Related article: Read also 'Health Surcharge fee scrapped for non-EU migrant NHS workers in May 2020 - Update'

Visa holders whose leave to remain expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020

If you cannot leave the country because you are self-isolating or because of travel restrictions, your visa will be extended until 31 May 2020. You will not be classed as an overstayer or suffer any detriment to further visa applications you may make in the future.

Note – this only applies to people who do not plan to extend their leave to remain. For example, you may be on a Standard Visitor Visa which expires in mid-May. If you suspect you have Coronavirus symptoms, you need to self-isolate and should this happen in early-mid May; you will be unable to leave the country.

You must apply to extend your visa because if you allow it to expire, you may not be granted a Standard Visitor Visa in the future.

Your 30-day visa to work, study, or join family is about to expire

You can request a replacement 30-day visa by emailing CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk. Your email must be in English. Remember to include your name, nationality, date of birth, and your GWF reference number with ‘REPLACEMENT 30 DAY VISA’ in the subject line.

At present, all UK Visa Application Centres (VACs) are closed; however, you will be contacted when they re-open.

Changes to the Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa requirements

Many businesses have been adversely affected by the Coronavirus nationwide lockdown. Therefore, the government has stated that you do not need to employ at least two settled workers for 12 consecutive months. Instead, you can hire someone to do multiple jobs across different months.

Note that if you furlough any employees, the time they spend off work will not count towards the twelve-month period required to gain an extension on your Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa or Indefinite Leave to Remain.

If you have been unable to meet the 12-month total by the time your visa expires, you can apply to temporarily extend your leave to remain to try and meet the requirement.

Awaiting a Tier 4 Visa decision and starting study

You can begin your course of study even though you have not had a decision on your Tier 4 Student Visa if:

  • your sponsor is a Tier 4 sponsor
  • you have received confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS)
  • you submitted your application before your current visa expired and you have documentary proof of this to present to your sponsor
  • 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

If your visa application is rejected, you will have to cease studying immediately.

Beginning work if you have not received a decision on your Tier 2 or 5 Visa application

The government has temporarily changed its rules to allow applicants to start work if:

  • you have received your Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)
  • you submitted your application before your current visa expired and you can prove this to your sponsor
  • your position is identical to the one listed on your CoS

You are applying to switch your visa to stay in the UK long term

Until 31 May 2020, applicants can apply from within the UK to switch their visas. This includes switching to a visa where you would generally have to return to your home country to make the application. You will still need to meet all the eligibility requirements for the route you are switching to.

If you have any further questions about UK visa extensions or switching during the Covid-19 epidemic, please get in touch with our Immigration Solicitors.

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