The Home Office have published guidance for people in the UK whose immigration status is affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Their advice will be relevant to independent schools with Chinese pupils and staff.
The Home Office have stated that Chinese nationals in the UK who have been compliant with the conditions of their visa prior to the coronavirus outbreak (with a visa expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020) will automatically have their leave extended to 31 March 2020. No action is required to get this extension and the extended leave will be subject to the same immigration conditions as were attached to the individual's last visa.
Individuals in this situation will not automatically receive a new visa or Biometric Residence Permit. Anyone requiring a status letter confirming the extension or a new Biometric Residence Permit with a revised expiry date will need to contact the coronavirus immigration helpline (details below).
Those who have already applied to extend their visa do not need to do anything, and anyone intending to apply to extend their stay in the UK before 31 March 2020 should continue to do so.
Non-Chinese or non-EEA nationals currently in the UK, but normally reside in China, with a visa expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020, need to contact the coronavirus immigration helpline. The Home Office will be able to extend the visas of those individuals to 31 March 2020 if they can demonstrate that they are usually a resident in China.
UK Visa Application Centres in China are currently closed. Where possible, the Home Office will return passports currently held in VACs via courier if requested when the visa application was submitted.
However, this will not be possible in all locations. Anyone who submitted an application but did not previously arrange for it to be returned by courier can do so now by contacting VFS Global directly: email@example.com.
As soon VACs can be re-opened the Home Office will prioritise the return of all documents. Updates on when the VACs will re-open will be available on VFS’s website.
Some Tier 4 pupils or Tier 2/5 employees may be prevented from attending their studies or employment due to illness, due to the need to serve a period of quarantine or travel restrictions.
Schools do not need to report pupil or employee absences related to coronavirus which they have authorised.
Decisions on whether to withdraw a pupil from their studies or terminate employment are for sponsors to make. However, the Home Office have confirmed that sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship if they consider there are exceptional circumstances when:
The Home Office recognises the current situation is exceptional. They will not take any compliance action against pupils or employees unable to attend their studies/work due to the coronavirus outbreak, or against sponsors which authorise absences. They will continue to sponsor pupils or employees despite absences for this reason.
The Home Office will keep this under review, especially if the length of absences means a potential repeat of period of studies become necessary.
We are aware that a number of schools are considering keeping their boarding houses open during the Easter holidays in order to accommodate pupils who are unable to travel during that holiday. Concerns have been raised over whether such an arrangement will create an additional regulatory burden under either the regulations governing private fostering arrangements or children's homes. We are aware that the Boarding Schools Association and Independent Schools Council are seeking advice from government on this particular issue and hope to be able to report back soon.
Schools may find that they have pupils or staff affected by the coronavirus outbreak, but whose situations are not quite covered by the above notes. The Home Office have set up a helpline to deal with immigration queries arising from the coronavirus outbreak. The helpline is staffed from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
The helpline number is 0800 678 1767 or they can be contacted by email: CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk.
The Home Office's guidance will be kept under review with updates published on the page linked to at the beginning of this note. Public Health England have also published advice on the coronavirus outbreak, including advice for travellers.