The Home Office’s response to COVID-19 has been well documented in previous updates, with leave extended to 31 July 2020 for those with visas which had expired, or were due to expire up to 31 July 2020, being permitted to remain in the UK until that date.
The Home Office has confirmed there will be no further automatic extensions. Their view is that as global travel restrictions are relaxing, you should take all reasonable steps to leave the UK where it is possible to do so, or apply to regularise your stay in the UK. But there will be a grace period until 31 August 2020.
During the grace period the conditions of your current leave will continue. So, if you have the right to work or study now, that will continue until 31 August 2020.
If you intend to leave the UK but are not able to do so by 31 August 2020, you may request additional time to stay, also known as ‘exceptional indemnity’, by contacting the coronavirus immigration team. But this indemnity will not be 'leave'.
If you wish to stay in the UK, you need to apply for a new visa. You can apply within the UK where you would usually need to apply for a visa from your home country. You will need to meet the requirements of the route you’re applying for and pay the UK application fee. This includes those whose leave has already been extended to 31 July 2020 and the grace period until 31 August 2020. If you would like assistance with an application, then please contact a member of our Immigration Team.
Entry Clearance Vignettes
The Home Office has recognised long term challenges to travel plans and has therefore added that in circumstances where the 30 day visa to travel to the UK for work, study or to join family has expired, or is about to expire, a request can be made for a replacement vignette with revised validity dates free of charge until the end of this year. This does not apply to other types of visas.
To request a replacement visa an applicant can either contact the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre, or arrange to return their passport to the Visa Application Centre abroad where they applied, if it has re-opened.
More VACs re-opening
We are slowing seeing more overseas visa application centres starting to open. From 28 July 2020 the centres will open in Bhutan, Georgetown, Islamabad, Karachi, Kingston, La Paz, Lahore, Mexico City, Port of Spain, Rio De Janeiro, Sabah, Sao Paulo, Seattle, Tehran and Ulaanbaatar.
Virtual citizenship ceremonies
A successful application for naturalisation does not mean you are British. You still have to attend a citizenship ceremony. Lots of people have been unable to book a ceremony due to COVID-19.
This month the first virtual citizenship ceremony was held by Southwark Council. We hope that other local authorities will follow their lead and allow more successful applicants for naturalisation to complete their citizenship journey.
If you are currently in the UK with a fiancé visa and are using the COVID-19 concession to apply for an extension because your marriage/civil partnership to a British national has been delayed, you should be aware that as well as having to meet the visa requirements again and pay another application fee, you will also now need to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge.
For a 6 month visa, applying in the UK, this should be £200. But the Home Office is automatically taking payment of £1,000 and then only refunding the £800 overpayment when your leave is granted. This can take some time. So you need to make sure you have sufficient funds available!
England has added Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia and St Vincent and the Grenadines to the list of countries exempt from quarantine.
However, Spain was removed from the list over the weekend, with only four hours notice. This has caught out many families who had just travelled there at the start of the school holidays. They will now be required to quarantine for 14 days upon their return. This is a reminder that the list can change at any time.
Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO) has conceded that there is a massive backlog in processing new passports. Around 400,000 passport applications are currently pending. Apparently this is due to fewer staff working because of social distancing requirements.
HMPO has been prioritising requests for passports required urgently on compassionate and emergency grounds. They have now also said that passport renewals will be delivered within five days for people waiting more than four weeks who produce evidence they are to about to travel. However, this delay is not just about people who might miss their holiday.
Please spare a thought for all the children, who are stuck abroad, waiting for their first British passport so that they can move to the UK with their family. Take a family where one parent is British, the other will need a visa. They have children who are British by descent. As they are British those children cannot get a visa, they must apply for their first British passport, but are now stuck in a queue. You might ask if they could get an emergency travel document? No, that only works if you have held a British passport before. What are their chances of getting here ready to start school in September?
The backlog also affects EU nationals who settled in the UK, gave birth to children here and are now panicking that their child needs a passport so they can prove their British nationality and avoid being caught up in the EU settled status scheme.
If you do not have a particular need to renew your passport now, HMPO has asked that you delay applying until the summer peak has passed.
This article is from the July 2020 issue of Employment and Immigration Law Update, our monthly newsletter for HR professionals. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. For further information please contact Clare Hedges or another member of Birketts' Immigration Team.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at July 2020.