This blog is to update our earlier blogs about immigration issues arising from the coronavirus pandemic. Health warning – whilst this information is up to date as of the morning of 7 April 2020 it is essential that you check if anything has changed. These continue to be difficult and fast-moving times.
The Home Office is regularly updating its guidance for visa applicants and temporary UK residents, most recently on 6 April 2020 (and this includes guidance for those outside the UK): here.
Extensions of leave for NHS workers
This guidance also confirms the policy announced last week that doctors, nurses or paramedics working for the NHS will have their visas automatically extended by one year if they are due to expire before 1 October 2020. Family members with a visa due to expire before 1 October 2020 will also have their visa extended. The extension is free and the immigration health surcharge is not payable. No application needs to be made. The Home Office will contact NHS employers to identify staff eligible for this extension and then notify the workers and their employers if the receive an automatic extension.
The guidance for Tier 2, 4 and 5 sponsors was last updated on 3 April 2020 here.
The key points from the guidance are:
- 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.
- A visa will be extended to 31 May 2020 if an individual cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus (COVID-19). Individuals must (as of 6 April 2020) complete a form to notify the Coronavirus Immigration Team.
- The Coronavirus Immigration Team contact details are:
Telephone: 0800 678 1767 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm) Calls are free of charge.
- Tier 4 student migrants can receive tuition by way of distance learning (in the UK or if they have returned home).
- Tier 2 and 5 migrants can work from home without their sponsors needing to notify the Home Office.
- Individuals will not be regarded as overstayers or be subject to enforcement action if they are unable to attend a biometric appointment due to Covid-19 or if there are delays in processing their applications. All Sopra Steria service centres and the Croydon Service and Support Centre (SSC) are closed.
- Migrants in the UK wishing to switch into a long term visa category which would normally require them to make a visa application from abroad can apply from inside the UK.
- The position for visa applicants outside the UK is tricky as all visa application centres are closed.
Individuals who normally report on a regular basis to the Home Office do not need to do so at present. Reporting has been temporarily suspended and those affected should receive a text about when they next need to report.
EU Settlement Resolution Centre
The centre’s phone lines are closed until further notice but enquiries can be made by email.
All current scheduled hearings are vacated. All appeals will proceed by way of a Case Management Hearing via telephone or Skype which will take place on a date to be notified in a time slot to be allocated.
The Upper Tribunal has vacated all its hearings. It has arrangements in place for the lodging of judicial review applications. The Administrative Court has similar arrangements in place.
Legal Aid Agency
The Legal Aid Agency has also put in place arrangements to take into account the current changed working environment.
Following a high court judicial review case brought by DPG Law and supported by The Unity Project the Home Office has agreed to a rethink of ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) policy in light of coronavirus. The applicant, the child of a single mother, sought an urgent suspension of Home Office’s ‘no recourse to public funds’ policy, to allow those who are now unable to work because of coronavirus to have immediate access to welfare support. The Home Office has been given until 21 April to respond failing which the judicial review will be heard in early May.
Also the Department for Education has confirmed, in a response to a pre-action letter in proposed judicial review proceedings, that during the pandemic free school meal provision will be extended to families reliant on section 4 support, granted leave to remain as ‘Zambrano carers’, granted leave to remain under Article 8 ECHR and supported under section 17 Children Act 1989 and who have ‘no recourse to public funds’. At the moment it is unclear quite how this is going to be arranged practically but is good news.
Citizenship ceremonies are not currently taking place. It is also not possible to take Life in the UK tests and English language tests at present.