10 April 2020
Since February 2020 the world has been all but halted by the global coronavirus pandemic COVID-19. The pandemic has affected all areas of life including international immigration and travel. The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has maintained the government guidelines within the operational restrictions. Whilst casework remains accessible remotely and within relevant departments, all face to face TLS, VFS and UKVCAS Sopra Steria biometric and document scanning appointments have been cancelled until further notice amid coronavirus concerns.
This disruption to applicants seeking to obtain or extend their UK visa/BRP has brought many questions and concerns to the fore. Fortunately, the UKVI has been very compassionate in the way that they deal with individual applications that have been affected by the current travel restrictions, or by those who have had to self-isolate due to the ongoing pandemic. The UKVI has set out clear guidelines on their interim procedure in light of the pandemic. They have been very transparent in confirming that once the procedures have been followed, as discussed below, remaining in the UK during this pandemic will not result in an adverse immigration history.
Individuals on short-term visas in the UK
Since the lockdown and travel restrictions commenced at the end of February 2020, the UKVI has stated that anyone whose visa was due to expire between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020 will be able to extend their visa automatically until 31 May 2020 as long as they intended to leave the UK at the end of their temporary stay, but were unable to do so due to the ongoing pandemic and border closures. Whilst the UKVI has established a specialist COVID-19 team to handle enquiries on an application for the temporary extension, it is vital that steps are taken to contact them and advise as soon as possible. The UKVI will not contact anyone in the UK with a short-term visa. The UKVI can be contacted on: CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk. Alternatively, temporary visa holders can use an online form available on the official Home Office website.
Due to the high amount of correspondence received at the Home Office we advise that you provide your Home Office reference number or visa application reference with your date of birth, full name, nationality, passport number, contact information and date your current visa was granted (including the date you last entered the UK) / expired. This will allow the UKVI officials to access your immigration status in the UK easily and make the necessary changes.
The Home Office will send you an email to confirm your email address. It is vital that you check your emails regularly and take action indicated in Home Office correspondence. Once your email has been confirmed, the UKVI should respond within five working days. To ensure that you have proof of applying for an extension as well as to assist you in remembering what you put in the form, we would advise that you take a screenshot or print out the application submission and retain it with your passport and onward travel ticket. If you have contacted your travel provider and they have sent you confirmation that your flights have been cancelled due to COVID-19, we would also advise you to retain this and include this in your correspondence to the UKVI.
According to the UKVI, temporary visitors whose visas/leave to remain expire before 31 May 2020, may be eligible to switch to a long-term UK visa until 31 May 2020. This includes applications that would normally need to be made from the applicant’s home country. The Home Office has not yet released any further information on this special provision; however, we assume that it directly applies to visitors switching to the partner/spouse visa route, which is normally not allowed as a matter of general policy. The Home Office announcement implies that anyone who entered the UK as a visitor on or before 30 November 2019 may be eligible to apply for further leave to remain (FLR) under the 5 or 10-year partner route to settlement in the UK.
Individuals on settlement or long-term routes in the UK
If you are in the UK on a long term visa/BRP that is due to expire and you intend to remain in the UK in the settlement (including partner routes) or points based system categories, it is important that the pandemic is not seen as an exemption for applying for leave to remain. Partner and spouse visa holders cannot us the same channel described above to extend their stay in the UK, as the UKVI COVID-19 team only deals with temporary visa holders at the moment. Despite the ongoing lockdown, they must still submit their FLR or ILR application in a timely manner.
Visa applications are considered submitted once the visa application fees and associated IHS payments have been made. Therefore, once the application has been submitted online and paid for within the prescribed timeframe, the FLR or ILR application is considered as submitted on time. Once this happens the applicant will be covered by section 3C of the immigration rules, which means that they can legally stay in the UK while their application is being processed.
As biometrics bookings and document uploads are processed via the UKVCAS site, it is important to note that there are no bookings available and all services are currently suspended until further notice. Essentially, this means that you can still create an account on the UKVCAS site and upload your documents, but biometric bookings cannot be made at this time. However, it is not a matter of concern once an online further leave to remain (FLR) or indefinite leave to remain (ILR) application has been paid for and submitted on the Home Office website. The UKVCAS normally allows 60 calendar days to book and attend an appointment after submitting an online application. This grace period should be extended if the lockdown remains in place.
Applicants outside of the UK
Individuals who had applied for entry clearance from abroad before the lockdown commenced must continue to wait for the decision on their application. At present the Home Office has stated that individuals who are unable to attend a biometrics appointment due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be contacted by the department once restrictions have been removed. No application will be adversely affected due to the pandemic, if appointments cannot be attended.
The UKVI has advised individuals who have compelling or compassionate circumstances to contact their local TLS or VFS centre, if they have an approved UK visa which has not been collected as they may be granted a visa waiver or “authority to carry” such applicants. Whilst there are no concessions for individuals who have entry clearance but cannot travel to the UK, an extension of the 30-day entry visa can be requested on the official Home Office website. The fee for this is £169.00 and it will extend the initial visa/entry clearance for another 30-day period.