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COVID-19 Pandemic- Impact On UK Immigration Process

COVID-19 Pandemic – Impact on UK Immigration Process

COVID-19 Pandemic- Impact on UK Immigration Process

Everything you need to know during and post-pandemic COVID-19 outbreak;

  • International Travel restrictions (Red, amber, and green list rules)The guidance and support for the UK visa applicants and temporary Residents
  • British National Overseas
  • Current trends in UKVI, UKVCAS, and
  • Home Office policies on various Immigration matters.
If you are within the UK— Advice for Foreign Nationals; visa extensions, coronavirus concession/exceptional assurance.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically impacted the UK immigration system. In particular, the International citizens travel restrictions, i.e. whether they were already in the UK desperate to return to their home country or those longing to travel to the UK to execute various purposeful life activities. On 17 February 2020, the Home Office announced coronavirus concession to regularize the stay and to extend the Leave to Remain for foreign citizens. It was later modified to allow foreign nationals grant to a ‘grace period’ (if the visa expiry date was due between 24 January 2020 and 31 August 2020) to have their visas extended till 31 August 2020.

However, depending on individual circumstances, the UK government has made reasonable and flexible changes to UKVI policies to allow extra time, even if this grace period is over. The government introduced a short-term protection’ exceptional assurance’ for an extension to leave the UK for individuals facing difficulties returning to their Home country. Fortunately, many people were allowed to continue their rights to work, study, or even make living arrangements during this period.

With the escalating emergence of new COVID-19 strains/mutants since last year’s winter, the period of exceptional assurance extended till 30 June 2021. The updated UKVI policy on visa expiries states:

‘You are also able to apply for permission to stay to remain in the UK if you have been issued with an ‘exceptional assurance’. You must submit your application before the expiry of your exceptional assurance’.

If you are looking to apply for the ‘exceptional assurance’, you should drop an email to cihassuranceteam@homeoffice.gov.uk with the subject line “Request for an assurance”.

Be sure to keep an eye on UKVCAS (UK visa and citizenship application centres) updates on gov. uk, which covers essential guidance on booking your appointment, enrolling your biometrics, etc.

If you’re applying in the UK as a Student or Child Student (including Tier 4 student), UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) may be able to reuse your fingerprints.

If you are stranded 'outside' the UK - Travel advice if you have permission to live in the UK.

As of 11 January 2021, the Home office has established guidelines through the ‘Covid Visa Concession Scheme’ for all those stranded abroad due to international travel restrictions. Those who left the UK before 17 March 2020 and were unable to return due to coronavirus restrictions will be granted entry clearance for three months to make arrangements to return to the UK and apply for an extension of their leave accordingly. Those who left the UK after 17 March 2020 can only return under ‘exceptional circumstances’; i.e. if they were outside the UK in case of urgent need of treatment or visiting the family relative who is either seriously ill/ death of a close relative overseas.

People who were about to qualify for ILR (infinite leave to remain status) might be worried about satisfying the continuous period of residency requirements, especially when they are longing to apply for their British citizenship. The Home office has ruled out the 180-day absence associated with “travel disruption due to… pandemic”.

However, if you are currently ‘outside’ the UK with ILR status for over two years— your ILR status (per UKVI new policy) has lapsed; you must apply for the ‘returning resident visa’ with full fee.

UK COVID -19 Pandemic Immigration

If an appointment with the UKVCAS postponed, What happens next?

Due to in-country safety and security restrictions, some UKVCAS centres are temporarily closed. The immigration status will, however, not be affected by any delays in the UKVCAS appointments.

So, how UKVI process has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic?

You would be overwhelmed and frustrated by the drastic impact that coronavirus outbreak may have had on your desired visa. Whether it’s a spouse visa, worker visa, Tier 1 Innovator/start-up/investor visas, Tier-4 study visa (Student or Child student visa). It is crucial to stay tuned with the evolving policies of the Home Office under such a precarious scenario, where travel restrictions are justifiable for Health and Safety measures.

So stay alert for the coronavirus concessions announced for various immigration visa categories. Here is what you need to know per individual UK visa category before travelling to and from the UK.

1.

1.Impact on the current business activities—Advice for the Overseas Business Employer and endorsing bodies

It would be a tiring journey to see how adversely COVID has impacted the overall global economy, Britain’s corporate workforce in particular.

Luckily, the home office has published ‘COVID-19 Concession for a start-up to giddy the heights for the entrepreneurs. For applicants who are already on this route but were, unfortunately, unable to develop their business sufficiently to switch to innovator can be granted a further 12 months.

For Tier 1 (Entrepreneurs), if you are unable to develop employ staff for 12 months before the expiry of 2 years period on this leave, you are permitted to extend your stay for additional two years provided you can show:

  • That you have succeeded in creating two full-time jobs before you apply
  • That you were unable to employ/hire staff for 12 consecutive months due to a coronavirus outbreak
It is essential to keep in mind: ‘If your salary has reduced because you’re furloughed, we will take account of your income as though you’re earning 100% of your salary.

For more updates, find out more on guidance for Business visas available on the gov.uk website.

2.

2.Changes to minimum income and adequate accommodation requirements for the Spouses

With the Coronavirus-induced economic crisis, many families have severely been affected by the shortage of household income; the struggle for the spouses to join their beloved British settled partner continues as they fail to satisfy the financial requirements criteria fully. The coronavirus concession for this scenario only came into the spotlight in June 2020. The Home office eased most of the financial requirements for future applicants and considered any income earned before the coronavirus period up to 31 May 2021. For instance, if an applicant or his British partner had a loss of income but have met the requirements for six months before the income loss.

‘If your salary has reduced because you’re furloughed we will take account of your income as though you’re earning 100% of your salary. If you’re self-employed, a loss of annual income due to coronavirus between 1 March 2020 and 31 May 2021 will usually be disregarded, along with the impact on employment income from the same period for future applications. ‘

3.

3.If you've applied for the Student or Child Student visa route-awaiting on UKVI decision

The release of temporary immigration concessions for the students on visas has eased most of the immigration restrictions; students may start their course even before receiving a UKVI decision if:

  • your sponsor is a Student sponsor
  • you have received a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS)
  • Submitted your application before your existing visa expiry, and you show your sponsor evidence of this
  • the course you start is the same as the one listed on your CAS
  • you have a valid Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate if required
Nonetheless, 'If your application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused, you must stop your course or studies'.

The published guidance for the students under the Tier 4 visa category aimed at individual students and offered the following coronavirus concession:

  • Distance learning via virtual platforms:

If you are interested in studying from your home country and ‘don’t require sponsorship’, this platform is ideal for you! So you can enjoy and embark on studying abroad while keeping up pace with the comforts of home.

The only condition is the 'transition to face-to-face learning once circumstances allow'.
  • Extension of an existing visa: If you are planning to finish your course there is a delay because of the pandemic, you can apply for the in-country application extension provided you meet the condition per UKVI policy:
  • Police registration: If the facility is currently unavailable in your country due to a lock-down, you may register “once social distancing measures are lifted”.
  • NHS Working hours for the various listed professions: If you work with the NHS, you are exempted from the ‘normal 20 hours a week cap’.
  • Time limits for the extension: “discretion may be applied” if you are an undergrad student and your extension takes longer than the standard period.
4.

If you are on a worker visa category and awaiting on UKVI decision

If you have applied for the following worker visa routes and are waiting for the UKVI decision for your application approval:

  • Skilled Worker visa
  • Health and Care Worker visa
  • Intra-company Transfer visa
  • T2 Worker visas
  • T5 Temporary Worker visas

To start your work before your application approval, you must strictly comply with the conditions, i.e. a) The workers with approved CoS can either work under the Health Care visa, or their CoS was assigned before 19 January 2021. b) Submitted their application before the expiry of their current visa, or c) Their employment role is the same as the one on their CoS.

So reel up your career engine. Come rain or shine! And ensure your dream to execute career plans in the UK’s top leading organizations are still well in line!

If you don’t meet the above criteria, it’s advisable to wait until your application is approved. Moreover, you can’t start work per the Home office criteria which states:

‘If your application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused, your sponsor will stop sponsoring you, and you must stop working for them. You should either leave the UK or seek to regularize your immigration status if this happens.’
5.

Guidance for the Sponsor overseas workers and Students under the point-based system

The home office published separate guidance per individual category; students/ workers/short-term students/temporary workers, etc.

The Home office has lift-off the ‘enforcement action against sponsors’ who are still permitted to sponsor the overseas employees/students despite the COVID-19 induced absences.

You can explore further updates using the following published guidance documents on the gov.uk website:

    1. Advice for UK sponsors of workers and temporary workers affected by the coronavirus
    2. Advice for UK sponsors whose students are affected by the coronavirus
    3. Coronavirus (COVID-19): Tier 4 sponsors, migrants, and short-term students
‘If your application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused, your sponsor will stop sponsoring you and you must stop working for them. You should either leave the UK or seek to regularize your immigration status if this happens.’
6.

Coronavirus concessions for the NHS workers—grant to one-year free visa extension

Being a healthcare worker often provokes you to be a legendary superhero at the forefront to fight against the COVID-19! So, Suppose you are a (frontline worker, biological scientist, doctor, dentist, midwives, radiographers, NHS support staff, social workers and pharmacists, etc.), and your visa expires between 1 April 2021 and 30 September 2021. In that case, you qualify to extend your visa free of cost. This concession applies to family members (dependents). The bright side to this concession is that there is no Healthcare surcharge fee both for you and your dependents, and the process is duly ‘automated’.

However, the Home Office policy further stated: ‘If your visa is due to expire after 30 September 2021, or you are changing employer, you cannot extend your visa for free’.

‘If you’ll be working at a different NHS site than your usual place of work because of coronavirus, You can work at any NHS hospital during the coronavirus outbreak if your sponsor can maintain their sponsorship duties. Sponsors will not need to notify UKVI of the change in your place of work.’
Extensions of OSCE (Occupational Structured Clinical Examination)

If you are a pre-registered midwife/nurse planning to sit the OSCE, you can now do so latest by 30 September 2021; the extension date published by the Home Office. Moreover, you have till 31 December 2021 to successfully pass the exam. So, NO Tears for Fears there!

Guidance for Scientists working on coronavirus research

Interestingly, The ‘requirements for the coronavirus researchers’ are separately published, encouraging the Research scientists (those working on the COVID-19 research) to apply for the UK Global Talent visa scheme via UKRI endorsed funder option.

You still haven’t missed the boat yet! You can still enjoy the perks of being a science geek on an international scale!

Travel advise for the International Immigrants before travelling to and from the UK- Know the Red, Green and Amber list rules.

For safety and security measures during the pandemic, you should strictly follow the travel advice. Please be well aware, to avoid new variants from entering the UK, don’t travel from the ‘Red and Amber list countries and territories. As for countries on the Amber list, the travellers have to quarantine at the place they are staying, and for the red-listed countries, the travellers must strictly quarantine in a hotel and take 2 Covid-19 tests. While the UK government has lifted off a ban on leaving the UK between 29 March and 17 May 2021, the UK government has still imposed the following fundamental guidelines against leaving the UK.

  • Follow current COVID-19 rule and keep up to date for any travel restrictions; policies vary across the states: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
  • To understand the risks in a country, follow FCDO Travel Advice.
  • When you return, follow the rules to enter the UK from abroad (except Ireland).
  • Quarantine and testing are still required even If you are vaccinated.

Travel restrictions for the amber and/red list countries and territories

If you were outside the UK for the past 10-days, you should take the COVID-19 test. Book for the day-2 and day-8 COVID-19 tests to be taken upon arrival. You should also fill in the passenger locator form. Upon arrival, you must quarantine either in a hotel/ at home for at least ten days.

Travel Rules for the Green list countries and territories

As for those coming from the green list countries to the UK, the government advises: ‘You must only have been in or travelled through a green list country including the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man in the previous ten days.’ You are also ‘not required to be quarantined upon arrival unless found COVID_19 positive.’

Emergency measures in effect—the Immigration Tribunal hearings

With the escalating coronavirus pandemic and maintaining social distancing, emergency remote hearings arrangements per the ‘Chamber’s procedural rules’ are recommended. Which emphasized that:

everyone must treat remote hearings as seriously as if they were in a Tribunal Centre’.

So if your Immigration hearings are coming ahead any sooner, the extension for the remote hearings is till 18 September 2021.

For more details and updates, you can always check out more information on the UK’s government official webpage:

Presidential guidance note No 1 of 2020: Arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As far as appeals that require in-person hearings, most centers remained open but only specified a limited number of people.

Claiming Asylum during the pandemic

The Home Office has made some necessary announcements through a Preliminary information questionnaire for asylum claims across the UK to allow Asylum seekers to book an appointment / register their asylum claim by telecommuting. However, any walk-in visits are strongly discouraged due to health and safety measures. So if you are in Great Britain, you should contact 0300 123 4193.

(In Northern Ireland, appearance at Stockman House between 9 am and 5 pm. is advised).

Since 18 March 2020, For making a new claim, further submissions are being considered via email to (CSUEC@homeoffice.gov.uk).

Guidance on attending the Substantive Asylum Interviews

Due to the first wave of the COVID-19, most of the substantive interview sessions from March 2020. However, new updates from the Home Office Guidance announced:

“There will be a phased resumption of interviewing which utilizes remote interviewing via video conferencing, but we are aiming to resume face to face interviews as soon as we are able to do so”.

Further, Asylum applicants can bring along their legal representatives in the case if walk-in-interview/ in-person interview has to be conducted provided social distancing is maintained, or else they can join remotely.

Asylum support for the destitute asylum seekers

For destitute asylum seekers, the government raised asylum support payments from £37.75 a week to £39.60 a week in June 2020 and has now further increased it by 3p a week, i.e. £39.63.

Furthermore, for both the refugees and asylum seekers, necessary accommodation arrangements are made if other sources of support are unavailable.

So what about the enforcement in UK Immigration detention centers during the pandemic?

There have been no legal enforcements in action to release the immigration detainees; instead, the High court has launched necessary changes;

‘to reduce the number of persons in the immigration detention.’

For instance, the number of detainees, i.e. from over 1,500 at the start of January, reduced to 700 in late April. The government has further stressed on the Tribunal Judges to make a favourable bail grant.

As for the conditions concerning the immigration bail reporting, the Home office announced: “attend your appointment as usual unless you or someone you live with has any coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms or you are self-isolating”.

Effect of the pandemic on the Removal order

The government imposed no general policy on suspending the removal order, and charter flights continued to remain functional during the pandemic, i.e., removing 285 people between 1 April and 30 June 2020 ( data gathered from the freedom of information act)’.

Moreover, as for the social visits to the removal centre, only under ‘exceptional circumstances/compelling, compassionate reasons’. Moreover, legal representatives were allowed to visit only if other means of contact (Skype, phone, email) weren’t accessible by their clients.

British Citizenship Ceremony
UK Citizenship— effect of the pandemic on the citizenship ceremonies

For a successful UK citizenship application, please keep in mind that; ‘The process of becoming a British citizen is not legally complete until the person has attended a citizenship ceremony: section 42 of the British Nationality Act 1981′.

You have 6-months instead of the usual three months for booking your ‘citizenship ceremony’.

‘It is taking longer than usual to process applications because of coronavirus (COVID-19). This will not affect the decision. A small trial of remote ‘virtual ceremonies’ has recently taken place successfully, and further work is now to make these more widely available.’

Cancelling your UK visa during COVID-19

Since the coronavirus pandemic, caught between the two stools, struggling to decide whether it would be safe enough to travel long after your visa application submission. At the drop of a hat, all of a sudden, you plan to revoke your visa application; you can always check out the published guidance on how to cancel your visa, immigration, or citizenship application.

Visa Cancellation - Covid 19 Pandemic
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