Coronavirus is not subject to border controls: an immigration update

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Following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, governments across the world have put in place immigration-related measures in order to decelerate the spread of the virus.

Such measures include:

  • Implementing restrictions on entry or travel for individuals who have been in countries where the virus is widespread
  • Requiring travellers from such countries to be quarantined upon entry
  • Introducing health screening procedures on entry
  • Closing visa application centres
  • Advising against non-essential travel; either generally or to specific countries acutely affected by the outbreak

How does the current situation impact my immigration status in the UK?

  • If you have a visa already in place which is not due to expire anytime soon, there are no active steps you need to take at present. If you wanted to travel outside the UK (or if you have already left the UK and are seeking to return), we suggest that you check official government websites for warning and travel information.
  • If you have a visa in place which is due to expire soon, you may find yourself in a situation where you are unable to leave the UK on expiry of your visa, due to travel restrictions.

On 24 March 2020, the Home Secretary announced an extension of visas for visa nationals who cannot return home due to the pandemic. This extension is until 31 May 2020 and will be kept under review, with the prospect of further extensions being made if necessary.

Anyone in this situation should contact the COVID-19 immigration team, which has been set up within the UK Visas and Immigration division of the Home Office. It is suggested that affected individuals email this team (see contact details below), informing the team that their visa has expired and that they will be issued with an extension.

Those who contact the Home Office for these visa extensions will not face any immigration enforcement action. They will however be expected to return to their home once travel restrictions have been lifted.

The spirit in which this extension has been put in place is re-assuring; namely, to give affected individuals peace of mind that they will not be penalised for visa overstay when it is out of their control due to the pandemic.

How does the current situation impact on my current visa application?

Applying for a UK visa requires the applicant to comply with a number of steps, which may include, at the very least:

  • Submitting the visa application online
  • Booking and attending an appointment at a visa application centre to provide biometric information
  • Attending a face to face interview
  • Arriving in the UK to collect the biometric residence permit (“BRP”) before the vignette sticker in the applicant’s travel document expires (usually 30-day validity)

There may be inevitable delays in securing interviews and appointments at your local visa application centre to provide your biometric and other information. This, in turn, is likely to delay the formal submission of the visa application. We suggest that you make direct enquiries with the centre you plan to attend, in terms of appointment availability. There are a number of centres that have temporarily closed down.

Unfortunately, there is currently a lack of guidance on the requirement to arrive in the UK in time to collect the BRP within the timeframe granted by the vignette. The Government will be aware of this difficulty created by travel restrictions however, due to the fast-paced situation, we still await guidance on this specific point.

It may be that a vignette transfer of conditions is required, or the timeframe to collect the BRP may be extended. There are a number of potential routes which may be adopted.

In the meantime, it may be worth reporting to the Home Office your inability to collect the BRP in time and guidance should be provided to you within 5 working days. A report can be made by following this link: https://www.gov.uk/biometric-residence-permits/collect

Coronavirus Immigration Helpline

The Home Office have set up a dedicated Coronavirus immigration telephone helpline and email address you can use:

Telephone: 0800 678 1767 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm). Calls are free of charge.

Email: CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk

Contact our immigration law experts today

IBB Solicitors provide expert advice on all aspects of UK Immigration & Nationality law to businesses and individual clients. Contact us today on immigrationteam@ibblaw.co.uk or 03456 381381 to see how we can help you with your immigration matter.