The announcement - published on 24 March 2020 and updated on 26 May 2020 - provides some comfort to individuals whose visas have, or will shortly be, expired and are unable to leave the UK because of travel restrictions or because they are self-isolating.
While these measures provide a welcome update to the previous guidance updated almost a month previously, individuals, their employers and sponsors will still have many questions which remain unanswered.
Individuals who are in the UK whose leave expires or has expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 and are unable to leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus can contact the Home Office's Coronavirus Immigration Team to have their visa extended to 31 July 2020. (If you have already had your visa extended to 31 May 2020 your visa will be extended automatically to 31 July 2020.
Individuals who were planning to stay in the UK in the long-term will - until 31 July - be permitted to apply from the UK to switch to a longer-term visa. This includes applications where the individual would normally need to return to their home country to apply.
As stated above, your visa will be extended to 31 July 2020 if you cannot leave the UK because of the travel restrictions but you must contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team email to advise them of your situation.
The Coronavirus Immigration Team contact email is: CIH@homeoffice.go.uk
You should include the following information in your e-mail:
You can also telephone on 0800 678 1767 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm). Calls are free of charge.
However it is advisable to email in the first instance as clients have told us they have tried phoning and have been kept on hold for up to 3 hours.
If you are in the UK in an immigration category that does not normally allow you to switch to another category you will now be able to switch and apply while you are in the UK. Under normal circumstances you would have had to return to your permanent place of residence to apply for entry clearance before returning to the UK.
You must be applying to be switching from or to a published eligible route, you will need to meet the usual visa requirements and pay the relevant application fee. You have until 31 July to submit the switching application.
You will not be regarded as an 'overstayer' or be subject to enforcement action if you are unable to attend a biometric appointment due to the coronavirus or if there are delays in processing your application. Some UK Visa and Citizenship Application Centres (UKVCAS) will reopen for existing customers on 1 June 2020 as follows: Birmingham, Birmingham Premium Lounge, Chelmsford, Croydon, Exeter, Leeds, London Mark Lane Premium Lounge, London Victoria, Manchester Fountain Street Enhanced Service Point, Manchester Premium Lounge, Sheffiled and Southampton.
The Home Office advise you to check www.ukvcas.co.uk for up to date advice on UK Visa and Citizenship Application Centres.
Tier 4 Sponsors can offer distance learning to existing Tier 4 students in the UK or who have chosen to return overseas but wish to continue their current studies. Tier 4 sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship in these circumstances.
New international students who have been issued a Tier 4 visa but have been unable to travel to the UK are permitted to undertake distance learning and their sponsorship does not need to be withdrawn.
New international students who have not yet applied for a visa but wish to start a course by distance learning do not need to travel to the UK to do so and therefore do not require sponsorship under Tier 4.
The Home Office is aware that many workers sponsored under Tiers 2 and 5 are now working from home rather than their normal workplace due to the coronavirus pandemic. Tiers 2 and 5 sponsors are normally required to notify the Home Office of such changes of circumstances. However due to the current exceptional situation the Home Office will not require sponsors to do so if the working from home is directly related to the pandemic.
You can start work before your visa application has been decided if:
If your application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused your sponsor will stop sponsoring you and you must stop working for them.
You no longer need to employ at least 2 people for 12 consecutive months. The 12 month period you are required to employ someone for can be made up of multiple jobs across different months. Time when your employees were furloughed will not count towards the 12 month period.
If you have not been able to employ staff for 12 months by the time your visa expires, you will be allowed to temporarily extend your stay to give you time to meet the requirement. These arrangements will continue for applications made after 31 May 2020, where the jobs you are relying on were disrupted due to coronavirus (COVID-19).
The above arrangements apply until 31 July 2020 by which date they will be reviewed.