UK Visa Extensions Due to Coronavirus
Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an enormous amount of confusion, upset, and inconvenience for migrants planning to come to the UK and those who are already here but were planning to leave. One of the concerns that migrants who were unable to leave the country had was that they might automatically be classed as illegal overstayers. Thankfully, the Home Office implemented an emergency policy which meant that any migrant in the UK whose visa expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 was able to request an extension if they were unable to return to their home country due to a COVID-19 lockdown. This temporary policy came to an end on 31 July and was not further extended.
As the latest COVID-19 guidance from the UK Home Office explains, “…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”.
The August ‘Grace Period’
Once the temporary policy came to an end, the Government then implemented a grace period up to the end of August 2020. In practice, this meant that those migrants whose visa expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 August 2020, and had made the decision to leave (rather than extend their visa, or apply for a new one), had the month of August to prepare and leave the UK.
The Home Office also stated at this time that “you do not need to contact the Home Office to tell us you are able to leave the UK during the grace period up until 31 August 2020. If you intend to leave the UK but are not able to do so by 31 August 2020, you may request additional time to stay, also known as ‘exceptional assurance’, by contacting the coronavirus immigration team (CIT)”.
The exceptional assurance is not intended as a visa extension, but it does offer protection against ‘adverse consequences’ for remaining in the UK with an expired visa. When requesting an exceptional assurance, the Home Office will want to know why you could not leave by 31August 2020, and they will advise what you will need to do next – e.g. they may request a copy of a flight ticket or a positive COVID-19 test.
What If I Did Not Request Exceptional Assurance By 31 August 2020?
If you are currently in the UK and your visa or leave expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 August 2020, but you have yet to email the Home Office to explain your intentions, you have missed the deadline to do so. If you had a good reason why you were unable to contact the CIT team by 31 August 2020, such as if you were seriously ill in hospital with COVID-19, it is possible that if you can provide evidence to this effect, you may be given a further grace period. The risk of not contacting the Home Office is that you may be flagged as an overstayer, which may jeopardise any future immigration applications in the UK.
If you are unsure of the best course of action, it is recommended that you contact experienced immigration lawyers who will assess your options and recommend how to proceed.
What If My Visa Expires in September?
Unfortunately, there are no more COVID-19 extensions available for those whose visa expires in September. If you plan to leave the UK, then you will need to do so before your visa expires. The only slight concession is that anyone who wishes to remain in the UK will be able to make an application in-country even if they would normally have been required to return to their home country. The Home Office have also stated that they will help to prioritise your application if it is urgent – e.g. for a course of study or job which is due to start shortly.
Are Visas for Healthcare Workers Still Being Extended?
Yes, the policy to automatically extend the visas of non-EEA healthcare workers remains in place, but this will only continue until the end of September, hence time is of the essence. This automatic extension is available to healthcare workers whose visa expires/d between 31 March and 1 October 2020 and who are in the following roles:
- biological scientist
- dental practitioner
- health professional
- medical practitioner
- medical radiographer
- occupational therapist
- social worker
- speech and language therapist
- therapy professional
The extension should be requested by your employer (whether you work for the NHS or an independent health or care provider) and it cannot be requested by the individual. For this reason, if you have not been told that your visa will be extended by your employer, then you should contact your HR department to check this is being done. It is recommended that you do this as soon as possible to avoid overstaying your visa.
COVID-19 has resulted in a range of other changes to UK immigration policy, and these may affect you. For example, there are changes to the minimum income requirement which mean if your income has fallen because you were furloughed, and hence did not receive 100% of your salary, the Home Office will now “take account of your income as though you’re earning 100% of your salary”. They also state, “If you’re self-employed, a loss of annual income due to coronavirus between 1 March 2020 and 31 August 2020 will generally be disregarded, along with the impact on employment income from the same period for future applications”.
As we head towards Autumn in the UK, and with the prospect of the virus spreading here and in other countries, it may be that the Home Office is forced to introduce new temporary measures; we will keep you updated with any updates.
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