In recent days and weeks, Coronavirus cases both within the UK and globally have risen exponentially. Whilst originally mostly China was affected, the virus has become a global pandemic. The virus will undoubtedly lead to changes in the short term regarding UK immigration, as countries all over the world begin to shut their borders.

What is the UK’s position currently regarding inbound immigration?

Currently (25th March) the UK’s borders remain open. This means people can continue to travel to the UK and will be permitted entry on arrival. Those that are applying for visas from abroad can still proceed where visa application centres are still open whilst those who have successfully been approved still may enter if they have not already done so. Many consulates and visa application centres however, for example India, the UAE, US and Canada, have closed until further notice. This means applicants will be unable to submit UK immigration applications for entry clearance from locations where these centres are closed. Further, visa vignettes cannot be sent across some borders and routes due to border restrictions, meaning if an application is approved, there may be significant delays in receiving the visa label for the purposes of travel. These factors mean the ability to apply for UK visas at this time is severely reduced for those currently applying from outside the UK.

The Home Office has recently released advice to British nationals not to travel abroad, and all those that are currently abroad should return home immediately. Many countries have begun to close their borders to foreign nationals. It may be the case that in the coming weeks, the UK may adopt similar policies and may shut its borders as well. This is purely speculative at this stage, however this would mean that foreign nationals would be prevented from entering the UK, even those with valid temporary UK visas such as those under the Tier 2, Tier 4 and Tier 5 categories.

What about temporary visa holders currently in the UK?

First, it is likely that as long as one’s grant of leave is valid they will continue to be able to remain in the UK during the term of their visa. It is extremely unlikely that those with valid permission to remain will be deported.

What about those whose visas are due to expire?

New guidance released today has announced temporary rules in place for those who cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus. Those in the UK whose leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020 must contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) to update their records if their visa is expiring. Once contacted, the Home Office will consider the application and decide whether in the circumstances it is appropriate to temporarily extend the applicant’s leave.

It should be noted the above only applies to these specific circumstances. If you are not self-isolating or can travel back to your country of origin, you will be expected to leave the UK prior to the expiry of your visa.

The most drastic and potentially significant change made during the latest announcement is that those currently in the UK with valid leave in any category will be able to apply from within the UK to switch to a long-term UK visa until 31 May. This includes applications where an applicant would usually need to apply for a visa from outside the UK. Whilst still in its very early stages, this means theoretically that those under Tier 5 visas and other visas whereby you cannot switch categories in country can switch to long-term UK visas without having to leave the UK. Applicants will still be expected to meet the visa requirements and pay the application fees.

We strongly emphasise that this is a rapidly evolving situation which has the potential to change day by day. As such, we strongly recommend checking the latest travel advice before making any plans to travel.

In this period of uncertainty, if you are concerned about how to extend your visa or if your circumstances mean you believe you will not be able to leave the UK before the expiry of your current leave, we are happy to advise as to how you might be able to extend your visa. Please get in touch with us urgently.

For an update on all the legal implications relating to Coronavirus please see here.

Please note that this blog is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content of this blog.

Edwin Coe LLP is a Limited Liability Partnership, registered in England & Wales (No.OC326366). The Firm is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. A list of members of the LLP is available for inspection at our registered office address: 2 Stone Buildings, Lincoln’s Inn, London, WC2A 3TH. “Partner” denotes a member of the LLP or an employee or consultant with the equivalent standing.

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