Coronavirus Immigration Update: Advice for Migrants
Coronavirus (COVID-19) has had an unprecedented impact on all aspects of society, and with most countries across the world restricting international travel, UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents (migrants) have been heavily affected too.
The UK Visas and Immigration government department (UKVI) are regularly updating their guidance in the face of the pandemic. While there remains many unanswered questions, their latest guidance update has provided highly sought-after clarity for migrants inside and outside of the UK. There is good news for migrant NHS staff who benefit from the most generous measures, which is unsurprising given the government’s efforts to bolster its frontline medical staff.
The UKVI guidance should be revisited regularly, as new guidance is published. The link can be found at the bottom of this page.
Migrants in the UK
The key takeaway points, at the time of writing, are as follows:
- Migrants in the UK, whose leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020 will have their leave extended to 31 May 2020 if they cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation. These migrants must contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team to benefit from the extension. If predictions about the duration of the current worldwide lockdown are accurate, we would expect that migrants whose visas expire in the period between 1 June 2020 and autumn 2020 will also benefit from extension provisions in due course. This has not yet been confirmed
- Migrants in the UK, whose leave expires before 31 May 2020, can apply to switch immigration categories within the UK. This covers migrants who would typically need to leave the UK to submit a visa application (e.g. for a Tier 2 ICT migrant or a visitor switching into a Tier 2 (General) visa). This is on the proviso they meet the requirements to apply under the Tier 2 (General) category. However, at the time of writing, all UK visa application centres in the UK are closed, so migrants cannot benefit from this relaxed process. We hope that some application centres will be reopened in the coming weeks to enable eligible migrants to switch in-country. This is also likely to reduce the burden on the UKVI who are likely to be inundated by applications once travel restrictions worldwide are lifted
- Migrant doctors, nurses or paramedics working for the NHS will have their visa automatically extended by one year if it is due to expire before 1 October 2020. Dependent family members will also have their visas extended in-line with this. The extension is free of charge and the Immigration Health Surcharge will not be payable. Unlike other migrants, who do not work for the NHS, leave will be automatically extended, and migrants will not need to contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team to benefit from the extension. Instead UKVI will liaise directly with NHS employers to identify eligible migrant staff
A summary of the other points includes:
- Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa holders do not need to comply with the Rule to employ at least 2 people, each for 12 consecutive months. Instead, the 12-month period can be made up of multiple employees across different months. Time when employees were furloughed will not count towards the 12-month period. If a Tier 1 entrepreneur has been unable to employ staff for 12 months in total by the time their visa expires, they will be allowed to temporarily extend their stay to meet the requirement
- Changes have been brought in that affect the number of hours some migrants can work or volunteer. Migrants are now no longer limited on the number of hours they can work or volunteer each week, if they work for the NHS as a doctor, nurse of paramedic and they hold an applicable visa. Applicable visas include leave as a Tier 4 student, Tier 2 worker (and the NHS role is a secondary job), visiting academic researcher or they are a holder of a short-term visa and are permitted to volunteer
- Pre-registration nurses now have until 31 December 2020 to sit the Occupational Structured Clinical Examination
Migrants outside the UK
The UKVI have also issued updated guidance for those migrants currently outside the UK and seeking leave to enter. The key points at the time of writing are as follows:
- All UK Visa Application Centres around the world are closed. For migrants who have yet to submit their visa applications, this means waiting, for now. The UKVI have confirmed that where a sponsor has been granted, but has not yet assigned a Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship (‘CoS’) to a prospective migrant employee, they will not be penalised if the CoS lapses and they then request a new CoS in future. Sponsors are asked to contact UKVI to give reasons why the original CoS could not be assigned. For migrants who have already scheduled an appointment, they should be contacted by the centre to advise them that the appointment has been cancelled, and when this can be rescheduled
- Getting documents returned. For those who have lodged their passport with visa application centres, only to find that the centre has closed before it was returned to them, the advice is to contact the visa application centre where their biometrics were enrolled to arrange its return
- English language testing centres around the world are also being closed. Applicants are encouraged to contact their specific test centre for more information if they have an upcoming assessment
A summary of the other points includes:
- Global Talent, Start-up or Innovator visa applicants with endorsements from an endorsing body, that has now expired, may still be eligible for a visa. Applicants should make their applications as planned, and UKVI will exercise discretion when considering their applications
- In some areas UKVI cannot send visa vignettes across borders and routes due to restrictions. Migrants should contact their visa application centre for more information
- British nationals abroad will not be able to apply for a British passport if their visa application centre is closed, but they can still apply for an emergency travel document.
The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.