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COVID – 19 – changes to immigration procedures – what you need to know.

Date posted: 23 March 2020

Andrew Jones

Andrew Jones, a solicitor in our immigration department, provides an update on the changes to immigration procedure as a result of COVID-19.

 

We are living through very worrying times with the outbreak of COVID-19. For non-British citizens in the UK, those worries may be increased by the impact of travel bans and social isolation measures on their immigration position. Here we summarise some recent changes that have been made in order to deal with the situation.

 

In February, the Home Office announced that any Chinese citizen in the UK with a visa expiring between 24th January 2020 and 30th March 2020, and who had complied with the conditions of their visa, would have it automatically extended until 31st March 2020. There is no need to apply for this extension. The Home Office will not automatically issue new Biometric Residence Permits with the new expiry date, although if needed a letter confirming the new expiry date or a Biometric Residence Permit can be requested by contacting the Home Office Coronavirus Immigration Helpline (0800 678 1767 or CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk).

 

The same also applies to Chinese citizens in the UK on a long-term standard visitor visa (lasting 2, 5 or 10 years), where they have reached the maximum permitted stay of 180 days between 24th January and 30th March.

 

At the time of writing, the Home Office has not said whether this scheme will be extended beyond 31st March, though it is obviously to be hoped that it will. The Home Office has also not yet confirmed whether a similar approach will now also be taken to the citizens of other countries affected by COVID-19, although it has hinted that it will be.

 

Any non-Chinese, non-EEA citizens who normally live in China, and whose UK visa expires between 24th January 2020 and 30th March 2020 can have their visa extended until 31st March 2020 by contacting the Home Office’s Coronavirus Immigration Helpline. They will need to demonstrate that they normally live in China, though the Home Office has not said what evidence of this they will need to see.

 

Chinese nationals in the UK on a Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer visa and who want to switch to a Tier 2 General visa would normally have to return to China to make that application. However now, if their visa expires between 24th January 2020 and 30th March 2020, they can apply from within the UK. They will still need to pay the usual application fee and meet all of the other requirements for that application.

 

Sponsors of students on Tier 4 visas or employees on Tier 2 or Tier 5 visas do not need to report authorised absences due to COVID-19. Sponsors will also not be required to withdraw sponsorship where a student is absent for more than 60 days, or where a employee is absent from work without pay for more than four weeks, where there are exceptional circumstances. The Home Office says it is for the sponsor to decide whether there are exceptional circumstances, but goes on to say that it recognises that the current situation is exceptional and it will not take any compliance action against students or employees who are absent due to COVID-19, or against sponsors who continue to sponsor students or employees despite absences due to the virus.

 

All face to face asylum interviews have been paused from 19th March 2020. All appointments after that date have been cancelled and no new appointments are being made. However, the Home Office says that it is looking at other ways of getting the information it needs a consider asylum claim. Some asylum interviews are already conducted by video link and it seems that those may continue, although the situation is not clear.

 

As of 18th March 2020, asylum seekers who are making fresh asylum claims do not need to travel to Liverpool to submit them in person at the Further Submissions Unit (FSU). All existing appointments at the FSU have been cancelled. People who wish to make a fresh claim can now do so either by post, or by email to CSUEC@homeoffice.gov.uk.

 

From 25th March there will be no in-person immigration and asylum hearings in the First Tier Tribunal. The Tribunal is looking at other ways to consider appeals, which might include remote hearings, and provisional decisions being made without a hearing at all in cases where the appeal is likely to be successful.

 

The current situation is especially worrying for the many people held in immigration detention. With so many people being held in close proximity, and in unhygienic conditions, there is a high risk of COVID-19 being transmitted between detainees. The charity Detention Action has launched a legal challenge to the continued detention of people in this situation and a hearing is due later this week. The Guardian newspaper has reported that in the last few days the Home Office has released as many as 300 detainees. While that is to be welcomed, that still leaves hundreds more detained in conditions that pose a risk to the health and even their lives. All immigration detainees should be released now.

 

By Andrew Jones a.jones@wilsonllp.co.uk

 

If you need advice or assistance on any immigration matter please complete the online contact form found here https://www.wilsonllp.co.uk/contact-us/ or you can telephone our switchboard on 0208 808 7535 and ask to speak to the new client team in the immigration department.