Does Exceptional Assurance Grant Me Leave in the UK During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
As regular readers of our blogs will know, since 2020, the government has put in place a series of measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, including a range of concessions. Knowing that many migrants with leave in the UK have been unable to return home, either due to contracting the virus or travel restrictions in their home country, the Home Office put in place temporary protection referred to as ‘exceptional assurance’, which meant that those who were still in the UK after their visa expired for a valid reason could avoid adverse action being taken against them. In this article, we will look at the latest advice for the COVID-19 pandemic exceptional assurance request process, what this means, and whether those who are approved are granted additional leave.
What is exceptional assurance due to COVID-19?
Any migrant granted exceptional assurance is protected from action being taken against them by the Home Office if they have stayed in the UK past the expiry date of their visa (and have not applied for a new visa or settlement). The Home Office’s COVID-19 guidance explains, “If you are granted ‘exceptional assurance’, it will act as short-term protection against any adverse action or consequences after your leave has expired. If conditions allowed you to work, study or rent accommodation, you may continue to do so during the period of your ‘exceptional assurance.”
Ordinarily, anyone who is found to have overstayed is committing a criminal offence under section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971 if they do so without a good reason. If you are applying for a new visa but this is submitted late (i.e., after your visa has already expired), UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will disregard any period of overstay up to 14 days if there is a good reason. Reasons include being in hospital for urgent treatment or the bereavement of a close family member.
Exceptional assurance is not granted automatically; rather, migrants are required to submit a request by email to a dedicated team at UKVI (more on the process below).
When will the exceptional assurance process end?
Under the current rules, those who have overstayed and intend to return to a red-listed country have until the end of November 2021 to request exceptional assurance. The guidance states, “If you intend to leave the UK to return to a country or territory currently listed red but have not been able to do so and you have a visa, leave or ‘exceptional assurance’ that expires before 30th November 2021, you may request additional time to stay, known as ‘exceptional assurance’.
Can I apply for exceptional assurance if I intend to return to a green listed country?
UKVI also says it may be possible to apply for exceptional assurance if you intend to return to a green listed country, but there are certain factors preventing you from doing so. These may include where that country has closed their borders, or their quarantine provision is so oversubscribed you have been unable to return.
Does having exceptional assurance mean I have additional leave?
Technically no, having exceptional assurance does not mean you have additional leave granted to you, it gives you the chance to make your next step without being treated as an overstayer. Your exceptional assurance will have an expiry date attached to it, however. As UKVI explains, “‘Exceptional assurance’ does not grant you leave. It is a means to protect those who are unable to leave the UK due to COVID-19 restrictions and not to facilitate travel, other than to return home”. This means that if you plan to leave, you will need to do so when you can. If you plan to stay, you will need to apply for a new visa. You must meet the requirements for the visa you are applying for and pay the required fee.
How do I apply for exceptional assurance?
You should email the Home Office’s exceptional assurance team directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. The title of the email should be ‘Request for an assurance’, and you will need to include the following details:
- full name
- date of birth
- Home Office, GWF or any other reference number
- type of visa
- expiry date of visa
- reason for request
- evidence of flight or evidence showing reason you can’t leave
With your request email, you should also attach any evidence which shows why you have been unable to leave. This may include a lack of flight availability or a letter from your doctor explaining your medical situation.
It is important to note that while your exceptional assurance request is being considered, you will need to adhere to the conditions on your current or most recent visa. In other words, if you were able to work or study, you would be able to carry on doing so while waiting for approval.
If your leave expired between 24th January 2020 and 31st August 2020 and you didn’t regularise your immigration status (either by applying for exceptional assistance or a new visa) during this time, the Home Office advise that no adverse action will be taken against you, but you will need to make arrangements to leave the UK as soon as possible.
There is no guarantee that if you apply for exceptional assurance, you will be approved. You will need to provide strong evidence to show why you were unable to leave after the expiry of your visa. If your visa has already expired and you have not put in place any arrangements to leave or apply for a new visa, you need to take action as soon as possible. Not only might you face criminal legal action, but you will also increase the chance of a future visa application being approved in the future. If you are unsure of the best course of action or whether you are eligible for exceptional assurance, speak to an immigration Solicitor immediately who will be able to advise you based on your immigration history, current situation, and future plans, and those of your immediate family.