In response to continued disruption resulting from the pandemic, the Home Office has announced changes affecting visa holders in the UK with leave due to expire after 31 July 2020.
New ‘exceptional indemnity’ provision
Under new guidance issued on 29 July 2020, there will be no automatic visa extensions beyond 31 July 2020.
Previous temporary measures allowed UK visa holders with leave expiring between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 to request an extension if they were unable to leave the UK due to the coronavirus outbreak, which was then automatically extended to 31 July.
Individuals whose leave was due to expire between the 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 but cannot leave the UK before 31 August 2020 will now be allowed a ‘grace period’.
During the grace period, the same conditions will continue to apply as during your period of leave.
The Home Office has advised they do not need to be informed by individuals leaving the UK during their grace period.
For those with expiring leave who intend to leave the UK, but are not able to do so by 31 August 2020, rather than further extending the automatic extensions of visas beyond the 31st July, the Home Office has introduced a period of ‘exceptional indemnity’.
To qualify under the new provision, you are expected where possible to take all reasonable steps to leave the UK, or apply to regularise your stay. Individuals must however apply for this new provision by contacting the Home Office’s Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT). You will need to provide the reasons why you cannot leave the country.
Exceptional indemnity is effectively the same same as the previous extension provision, in that visa holders will be permitted to continue to work during this period and also apply to switch to another category.
The indemnity does not, however, grant a period of leave. It acts as a “short-term protection against any adverse action or consequences after your leave has expired”.
The guidance states: “If your visa or leave expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 there will be no future adverse immigration consequences if you didn’t make an application to regularise your stay during this period. However, you must now do so from 1 August.”
This means if you have remained in the UK without leave and overstayed in the last 6 months, you may be able to have this period ‘ignored’ and regularise your stay again.
The Home Office has pledged ‘a compassionate and pragmatic approach’ will be taken in deciding all applications where the applicant has not been able to leave the UK by the end of August due to COVID-19 issues.
The Home Office is also making allowances for individuals who would ordinarily have to leave the UK to make an application to switch into a long term visa category.
The period in which visa holders can apply to switch in-country, where they would have previously had to apply from outside the UK, has now been further extended from 31 July to 31 August 2020.
Applicants must continue to meet the eligibility requirements of the new route and pay the relevant application fee.
Note that processing may take longer as the Home Office deals with the operational pressures of the coronavirus crisis.
If you work for the NHS
Eligible frontline health workers and their families will be given a 1-year extension to their visa for free.
To qualify for the extension:
- your visa must be due to expire between 31 March 2020 and 1 October 2020, and
- you must work for the NHS or an independent healthcare provider in an eligible profession.
Eligible professions include, among others, dental practitioners, health professionals, medical practitioners, medical radiographers, midwives, nurses, pharmacists and paramedics.
If applicable, the visa extension will be applied automatically from the date your visa is due to expire. Your family members’ visas will also be extended to the same date as yours if their visas are also due to expire before 1 October 2020.
If your visa is due to expire after 1 October 2020, the COVID-19 rule does not apply and you will need to apply to extend your leave in the usual way.
In an effort to address the backlog in applications, the Home Office has advised it will be looking where possible to reuse applicants’ fingerprints that have already submitted as part of previous applications.
Where the new process applies, the applicant will not need to attend a UKVCAS service point to progress their application.
Those that qualify will instead be contacted with information on submitting the remaining supporting documentation and their recent photograph.
Visa processing centres reopening
UK immigration and nationality processing services continue to resume in phases.
There is reduced availability of appointments and applicants will be required to follow the latest local public health guidelines when attending centres, such as social distancing, wearing face coverings and using hand sanitiser.
Please contact us if you have any concerns or questions relating to your immigration status or that of any of your employees in the UK.