The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for people seeking to enter or remain in the UK, with the UK on lockdown and nearly all visa application centres both in the UK and around the world closed for the foreseeable future.
The Home Office’s method of announcing changes to the rules through daily press releases and numerous pieces of guidance has resulted in wholesale confusion and uncertainty.
We are receiving numerous calls and emails from concerned clients about their immigration status and have compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions and responses below.
This page will be regularly updated as the situation remains very fluid.
- Applying for a visa to the UK from abroad
- Applying to the Home Office while in the UK
- Leaving the UK
- Court Hearings
- Detained Clients
- Hostile Environment (NRPF, Right to Rent, Right to Work, etc)
Riverway Law is now offering a free telephone or video consultation to anyone seeking advice about their status in light of the coronavirus emergency situation. If you would like to avail of this service, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Applying for a visa to the UK from abroad
Is it possible to apply for a visa to the UK?
All UK Visa Application Centres (VAC) overseas have been closed for several months but some are beginning to open.
Two companies operate the VACs for the Home Office abroad – TLS Contact (for Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East) and VFS Global (for the rest of the world).
You can check VFS Global or TLS Contact website for details as to whether or not the VAC in your country is closed.
If the VAC is closed in your country, then you cannot apply for a visa at this time.
If you have already booked an appointment at a VAC that has now closed, you should be contacted to inform you of the appointment being cancelled.
I am awaiting a decision on my visa application and am worried about my passport?
If you would like your passport returned, you need to contact the company running the VAC – VFS Global or TLS Contact. You can also contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team at email@example.com
2. Applying to the Home Office while in the UK
Is it possible to make an application for permission to remain in the UK or to extend your visa in the UK?
The current procedure for submitting applications in the UK is to complete and submit an online application form, after which you need to attend a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) Centre to enrol your biometrics and have your passport scanned.
It remains possible to submit an online application but you will not be able to book an appointment at UKVCAS centre to submit your biometrics. All UKVCAS centres are currently closed. There is no indication yet as to when they are likely to re-open.
I already have an appointment at a UKVCAS centre. Will I be able to attend it?
UKVCAS centres have now started to open. If your appointment was cancelled, UKVCAS should email you to rebook your appointment.
The Home Office is no longer insisting that applicants provide a fresh set of fingerprints if they need to extend their leave to remain. If previous fingerprints can be reused, you will only need to send in a photo with your supporting documents.
My visa is due to expire and I need to extend it. Can I submit the application?
You can submit the application online and should submit it before your visa expires, as otherwise you will risk being categorised as an overstayer which has both criminal and immigration implications.
However, you will be able to book an appointment to submit your biometrics until the UKVACs re-open.
3. Leaving the UK
My visa has expired or will expire soon but I am unable to leave the UK due to the travel restrictions. What can I do?
The Home Office guidance states that no individual whose visa is due to expire or has already expired and who cannot leave the UK because of the current travel restrictions, will be regarded as an overstayer and this will not be used against them in any future application.
If your visa expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020, it was possible to request the Coronavirus Immigration Team to extend your visa until 31 May 2020.
On 22 May 2020, the Home Office extended that concession until 31 July 2020.
The Home Office has announced that the concession will not be extended beyond this date.
It’s guidance states
If you’re in the UK and your leave expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020
If you had a visa that expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 you were able to request an extension if you were not able to return home because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus (COVID-19).
Now travel restrictions are lifting globally you will no longer be able to extend your visa automatically on this basis and you are expected to take all reasonable steps to leave the UK where it is possible to do so or apply to regularise your stay in the UK.
If you had your visa extended under the scheme until 31 July 2020, you will be given a ‘grace period’ of one month until 31 August 2020 to leave the country.
During this time, your existing rights and entitlements and any conditions on your visa will continue. So if you are entitled to work, study or rent accommodation, these conditions will continue until 31 August 2020.
The guidance states that “You do not need to contact the Home Office to tell us you are able to leave the UK during the grace period up until the 31 August.”
If you remain unable to leave the UK before 31 August 2020, you can apply for additional time to do so, known as ‘exceptional indemnity’ by contacting the Coronavirus Immigration Team.
You will need to provide reasons why you are unable to leave the UK with supporting evidence such as a confirmed flight ticket with a date after 31 August or confirmation of a positive coronavirus test result.
The indemnity does not grant you leave but will act as a short-term protection against any adverse action or consequences after your leave has expired.
I want to switch to a different visa category but the Rules require me to leave the UK and apply from own country. What should I do?
The current guidance allows you to apply for leave to remain in the same or another category in circumstances where you would normally be expected to do so from your home country.
I wish to make asylum. It is my first claim. How can I do it?
You are normally required to attend the AIU for a Screening Interview when you wish to claim asylum.
You should call 0300 123 4193 to make an appointment.
The Asylum Intake Unit (AIU) in Croydon is open and it is now possible to also register your claim in other centres in Glasgow, Belfast, Liverpool, Leeds, Solihull and Cardiff.
I have an appointment for an asylum interview. Will that go ahead?
The Home Office had postponed all asylum interviews scheduled from 19 March 2020 onwards.
These were set to resume remotely from the end of June.
Applicants will be asked to attend in person but will sit in an interview room on their own and communicate with the caseworker and interpreter over video-link.
I wish to make a fresh claim for asylum.
You can continue to make fresh claims for asylum but will no longer be required to attend the Further Submissions Unit in Liverpool in person.
Until further notice, you can submit the fresh claim by emailing the relevant paperwork to CSUEC@homeoffice.gov.uk. You can also post it to Further Submissions Unit, The Capital Building, Old Hall Street, Liverpool, L3 9PP.
My asylum appeal was dismissed and I have no further appeal options. Will I need to leave my Home Office accommodation?
The government has announced that asylum seekers and refugees will not be required to leave Home Office accommodation until the end of June 2020 even if their asylum case has come to an end.
5. Court Hearings
I have an appeal hearing listed. Will this go ahead?
The Tribunal will contact you or your representatives with instructions about the next steps in your case.
The Tribunal may wish to list your hearing as a remote hearing which would mean it would be conducted by telephone conferencing, video or Skype. If you do not believe that your appeal is suitable for such a hearing, you should inform the Tribunal.
Face-to-Face hearings are now being listed where possible and social distancing will be observed.
A list of email addresses for the immigration tribunals can be found here.
My application has been refused by the Home Office and I want to appeal the decision to the Tribunal. How can I do so?
You can continue to lodge an appeal with the Tribunal but must use the online procedure (MyHMCTS) to do so unless you fall within one of the exceptions contained in the practice statement issued on 11 June 2020.
There are three annexes to the new practice statement about how the appeal should proceed:
- Directions on cases lodged using MyHMCTS
- Different directions on cases not lodged using MyHMCTS
- Directions for appellants with no lawyer
6. Detained Clients
I want my solicitor to visit me but he is not making an appointment. Why not?
It is currently not possible for legal representatives or friends and family to visit detainees in Immigration Removal Centres.
Face-to-face visits with legal representatives will only be facilitated in exceptional circumstances and only if no other means of contact (Skype, phone, email) can be used instead.
Is it possible to apply for bail?
It remains possible to apply to the Home Office and/or the Tribunal to grant you immigration bail. Bail hearings will be prioritised over other hearings but will be listed to take place by telephone or video link.
Is my detention lawful in light of Covid-19 and the travel restrictions?
In response to a legal challenge by Detention Action, the Home Office released 350 people from detention. The number of people held in immigration detention as of 24 March was 736 people (down from 1,225 on 1 January).
The Home Office has committed to urgently review the cases of every person currently held in immigration detention. They are starting with the most vulnerable, so it will be important to make the Home Office/healthcare services in the detention centre aware of any factors that make you vulnerable.
The Home Office has stopped the new detentions of people who would in normal circumstances be facing removal to one of the 49 countries to which removals are not currently taking place because of Covid-19 travel restrictions.
These countries are, at the time of writing:
Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Austria, Bulgaria, Cameroon, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, India, Iraq, Ireland, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Latvia, Lichenstein, Lebanon, Libya, Luxembourg, Mauritania, Morocco, Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, Zimbabwe.
People from these countries who the Home Office consider to be in the “high harm” category may still prior to deportation (as opposed to removal). If this detention happens, the detention will still be challengeable if the deportation is not going to be able to happen anytime soon because of Covid-19 travel restrictions.
I am on immigration bail. Do I still need to report?
The Home Office has suspended all reporting requirements. You will be notified by SMS text message with details of your next reporting date.
If you need to contact your reporting centre, use the email address for that centre. A full list of the email addresses can be found here.
Further details of the changes can be found on the Home Office’s own website https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-immigration-and-borders
7. Hostile Environment (NRPF, Right to Rent, Right to Work, etc)
I am unable to work anymore as I need to self-isolate but my. BRP says that I have no recourse to public funds (NRPF). What can I do?
You can apply to the Home Office for you BRP to be amended to grant you recourse to public funds by completing the online application form below.
The NRPF policy is currently being challenged in the High Court but the Home Office has agreed to review the policy in light of COVID-19 and to deal with any applications to be granted recourse to public funds with sympathy and expediency.
For more details, see here.
How can my landlord carry out a right to rent check on me without seeing me with my documents in person?
As of 30 March 2020, the Home Office has permitted right to rent checks to be carried out remotely.
The following procedure is to be followed:
- Ask the tenant to submit a scanned copy or a photo of their original documents via email or using a mobile app.
- Arrange a video call with the tenant – ask them to hold up the original documents to the camera and check them against the digital copy of the documents.
- Record the date you made the check and mark it as “an adjusted check has been undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19”.
If the tenant does not have the right documents, the landlord must contact the Landlord’s Checking Service
How can my employer carry out a right to work check on me without seeing me with my documents in person?
As of 30 March 2020, the Home Office has permitted right to work checks to be carried out remotely.
The following procedure is to be followed:
- Ask the worker to submit a scanned copy or a photo of their original documents via email or using a mobile app
- Arrange a video call with the worker – ask them to hold up the original documents to the camera and check them against the digital copy of the documents
- Record the date you made the check and mark it as “adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19”
- If the worker has a current Biometric Residence Permit or Biometric Residence Card or status under the EU Settlement Scheme you can use the online right to work checking service while doing a video call – the applicant must give you permission to view their details
If the above is not possible, the employer must contact the Home Office Employer Checking Service.
Visadreams.com, Diary of an Immigration Lawyer, is a blog run by Fahad Ansari, the director and principal solicitor of Riverway Law, a niche UK immigration and nationality law practice based in London. If you would like any advice or assistance in relation to your immigration matter, please do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit your details here.