What Should I Do If My Indefinite Leave to Enter the UK Expired During The COVID-19 Pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been ongoing since March 2021 in the UK, leaving an enormous number of unforeseen consequences in its wake. In the area of immigration, we have seen problems with visa processing offices closing, migrants being unable to travel to the UK or leave when they need to, and migrant workers being furloughed for several months. The extent of any impact of the pandemic on migrants has often been a matter of timing. Depending on when migrants arrived, left, or submitted their application meant the difference between plans being realised or plans being thrown into complete disarray. This was certainly the case when it came to those whose indefinite leave to remain or enter the UK expired while they were outside the UK during the pandemic. In this article, we will explain the impact of indefinite leave to enter (ILE) or remain (ILR) expiring and what can be done if your leave expired while outside the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What do the immigration rules say about ILR / ILE and absences from the UK?
The immigration rules make it clear that those with ILR or ILE will lose their immigration status if they leave the UK for more than two years. Paragraph 20 of the Immigration Rules on returning residents states, “18. A person may resume their residence in the UK provided the Immigration Officer is satisfied that the person concerned: (i) had indefinite leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom when he last left; and (ii) has not been away from the United Kingdom for more than two years; and (iii) did not receive assistance from public funds towards the cost of leaving the United Kingdom; and (iv) now seeks admission for the purpose of settlement”.
Many migrants with ILR or ILE have been unable to return to the UK in time as a direct result of the pandemic, hence putting the immigration status they had worked so hard to secure in jeopardy.
What should I do if I have been unable to return to the UK within two years due to COVID-19?
The Home Office advises that returning residents whose ILR or ILE expired while out of the country can apply for a Returning Resident visa. The guidance states, “If you’ve remained outside the UK for over two years and due to coronavirus travel restrictions, your indefinite leave has lapsed: Your Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK (ILR) or Indefinite Leave to Enter the UK (ILE) will lapse if you are absent from the UK for over two years. If your ILR/ILE lapsed on or after 24 January 2020, and you’ve been unable to return to the UK due to travel restrictions in place relating to coronavirus, you may apply under the Returning Resident visa route to return to the UK and get indefinite leave”. What this means is that you will be able to secure a Returning Resident visa which will give you permission to enter the UK at the border, at which point you can regain your ILR/ILE status (you won’t need to reapply for this status).
How do I apply for a Returning Resident visa if my ILR/ILE expired due to COVID-19 while outside the UK?
If your ILR or ILE expired while outside the UK due to COVID-19, you can apply for a Returning Resident visa by completing an online application form. To be eligible for this visa, you must:
- plan to return to live in the UK permanently
- have been settled in the UK before you last left
- not have been given public funds to help you leave the UK
You will also need to provide evidence of:
- your strong ties to the UK
- your current circumstances and why you’ve lived outside the UK
A Resident Returning visa costs £516, and you will need to provide several items of documentation, including:
- a current passport or other valid travel identification
- previous passports
- a passport-sized colour photograph
- documents that prove you have ties to the UK, for example, proof you’ve earned income, or rented or owned property, in the UK
You should also provide proof that you were unable to return to the UK due to COVID-19.
It is important to note that the Resident Returning visa is not a new scheme to help those who have been affected by COVID-19, but the Home Office is offering to refund applicants; rather, it is available to anyone whose ILR/ILE has lapsed due to an absence from the UK of two years or more; they state, “You’ll receive a refund of the application fee and, where applicable, a refund of £55 if you submitted your application at a Mandatory User Pay Visa Application Centre. Confirmation of your refund will be sent to you by email once we’ve made a decision on your application”.
Can I get a refund of my Returning Resident Visa if I have already applied?
Yes, it is possible to get a refund of the application fee if you have already received your Returning Resident visa due to your ILR/ILE expiring on or after 24 January 2020, and you were unable to get back to the UK due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. The Home Office advises you should email CovidRRR@fco.gov.uk using the subject heading ‘Returning Resident Refund Request’ followed by the GWF number you received when you submitted your application. You will also need to provide your name, date of birth and any unique Home Office reference numbers, including your payment reference for the visa fee.
The returning resident visa will allow you to get back to the UK if you have been unable to return due to COVID-19 restrictions. Even if you have been absent for more than two years for a reason not related to the pandemic, you can still use this scheme, but you will not be eligible for a refund of the application fee. For further information or help, contact our UK immigration solicitors today, you can call us today on +44(0)20 3744 2797 or e-mail us at email@example.com.
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