As we are all grappling with our new world order, it seems abundantly clear that COVID19 affects every aspect of ours and our client’s lives, whichever industry you are in or whoever your clients are. Here, we outline the main areas our clients are being affected and how to navigate this constantly changing situation:
Visa Applicants Outside the UK
Those applicants who were in the process of applying for a UK visa are hugely affected as pretty much all visas centres abroad have closed. The few that remain open are only offering limited services. A visa applicant would normally need to, as part of their application, attend one of these centres in their home country to submit their biometric information. The priority and super priority services are suspended from outside the UK.
This is also an issue for applicant who has already made their UK visa application and attended their biometric appointment at the visa centre before they closed but are still waiting for a decision as there are difficulties in terms of the applicants collecting their passport and visa. All that can really be done is to keep monitoring the situation by checking the UKVI’s commercial partners (TLS or VFS) websites.
Visa Applicants inside the UK
Those with a UK visa who are already in the UK and their leave is due to shortly expire or has already expired and they cannot return to their home country as a result of the travel restrictions will be concerned that they should not be deemed an overstayer. Thankfully the Home Office has sensibly released guidance earlier this week confirming that:
• Those whose visas expire between 24 January 2020 – 30 March 2020 but cannot leave the UK either to return home permanently or to make a visa application to return to the UK in a different visa category, can automatically qualify for a visa extension until 31 March 2020. This date will be reviewed depending on the COVID19 and the travel restrictions in place at that time. It seems likely it will be extended past 31 March 2020. This can be done by contacting the Home Office at CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk
• No individual who is in the UK legally, but whose visa is due to, or has already expired, and who cannot leave because of travel restrictions related to COVID-19, will be regarded as an overstayer, or suffer any detriment in the future.
• Applicants who would normally be required to return to their country of residence to apply for a visa in a different category (e.g, Tier 5 switching to Tier 2), will now be able to apply from inside the UK provided they meet the relevant immigration rule requirements in that category.
English Language Tests
The vast majority of the visa applications made from either outside the UK or inside the UK, including settlement applications and naturalisation applications have an English Language requirement, whereby the applicant (and any dependents over the age of 18) need to pass an English language test at an approved test centre. In the UK, both approved providers have suspended all tests and awards from last week as a precautionary measure against the COVID-19 pandemic so as to safeguard the health of the candidates and staff. Both Trinity College London and the IELTS Consortium websites should be monitored as any information on when the tests will resume or if they will introduce remote testing will be displayed there.
The Life in the UK test centres have also closed until 13 April 2020. Any tests booked that have been cancelled will be automatically rebooked when the centres open again. This will affect applicants who need to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain or British Citizenship and have not yet passed the test.
If an applicant’s leave is due to shortly expire and they have not yet sat their test or received their result it is recommended they submit their immigration application to protect their Section 3C leave and explain in the application the exceptional circumstances. However in cases where the applicant intends to apply for British citizenship, it is likely they will simply need to wait until the situation has settled and the Life in the UK tests resumes because there is no time limit for this application and in most cases is a discretionary application, rather than an entitlement.
For any application made in the UK, once the application is submitted and paid for online, the applicant then has to attend a location to submit their biometric information. As of 27 March 2020 all centres are closed and one should review the UKVCAS website for further update. The current guidance is if you already have an existing appointment, you do not have to do anything. UKVCAS will automatically reschedule your appointment. Initially appointments will be rescheduled for 6 weeks ahead of your original appointment. You should monitor your UKVCAS account to find out when your new appointment has been scheduled for.
If you have submitted the application online but have yet to book an appointment, you will need to keep checking the UKVCAS website for further update on when and how you can book an appointment.
The priority and super priority services are also suspended.
Applicants whose leave is expiring should submit the application online paying the relevant fees so as to protect their 3C leave, which will permit them to continue living and working in the UK.
Once a British citizenship application has been approved, all adults need to attend a citizenship ceremony organised by their local authority where they swear allegiance to the Queen and they are presented with their Naturalisation certificate. As a result of COVID-19 many local authorities are cancelling these ceremonies. It is important to note one is not legally recognised as a British citizen until they have attended the ceremony and have received their Naturalisation certificate. It has been suggested that should the lockdown continue for much longer, that the Home Office should do away with the need to attend a ceremony and simply send the Naturalisation certificates to each applicant directly.
EU Settlement Resolution Centre
The Settlement Resolution Centre phone lines are currently closed in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. There is an automated message to state they will open the line again once they are able to do this safely. This is an issue for EU nationals and their family members in the UK who have applied for documentation under the EU Settlement Scheme as while they are closed they can no longer call this line to chase an application or request a passport return. It is recommended that anyone who is affected by this uses their email address to make contact.
No charge for NHS coronavirus testing
Regulations have been passed adding COVID-19 to the list of diseases for which no charge is required for NHS treatment, regardless of the patient’s immigration status. This change will have most significance for short term visitors and for migrants with no legal status, who normally have to pay for NHS care. Those lawfully resident are already entitled to use the NHS as they have for this via the Immigration Health Surcharge at the point of their application submission.
From 25 March 2020, there will be no face to face hearings listed in any centre. Applications for bail and emergency work will continue to be given priority. Save in exceptional circumstances, applications and hearings will be conducted remotely. Notice of Remote case management hearings will follow so that FTT judges can decide which appeals may be decided without a hearing, and, if not, whether a hearing may proceed remotely by means of Skype, Microsoft Teams or similar technology.
It is anticipated the First Tier Tribunal will shortly be sending notice to the parties in all cases that they should engage with the Tribunal so that wherever possible evidence and submissions are lodged by electronic means.
Appellants who have upcoming hearings are advised to keep in contact with the Tribunal as well as their legal representatives. If a remote hearing would be detrimental to an appellant’s case an application for adjournment until face to face hearings resume should be considered. However, there would have to be very compelling reasons especially if the matter can be dealt with by way of a Case Management Hearing or a remote hearing.
Our Immigration lawyers have the knowledge and experience to guide you through these challenging times and have been ranked in the Legal 500 for their expertise.
If you are in need of advice or assistance on any of the issues mentioned in this article please contact Mariam or another member of our expert Immigration Team on 020 7631 4141 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The above is correct as at 27 March 2020. The information above may be subject to change as this is a constantly evolving situation.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case by case basis.