Written evidence submitted by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (COR0040)

Background

 

1. ILPA is a professional association founded in 1984, the majority of whose members are barristers, solicitors and advocates practising in all aspects of immigration, asylum and nationality law. Academics, non-governmental organisations and individuals with a substantial interest in the law are also members. ILPA exists to promote and improve advice and representation in immigration, asylum and nationality law, to act as an information and knowledge resource for members of the immigration law profession and to help ensure a fair and human rights-based immigration and asylum system. ILPA is represented on numerous government, official and non-governmental advisory groups and regularly provides evidence to parliamentary and official enquiries.

 

Introduction

 

2. This note collates evidence and perspectives from ILPA members. ILPA has previously submitted a series of policy recommendations to the Home Office, and these were sent to the Committee on 22 March 2020 (Appendix 1). We have focussed our submission on Home Office communications, as well as looking at some of the policy responses to date.

 

Effectiveness of Home Office communications to its partners, responders and the wider public about its preparations

 

3. The overwhelming theme of the responses from ILPA members has been that the Home Office public communication on these issues has been lacking. In addition, what guidance there is should be publicly accessible and easy to find, this has unfortunately not been the case so far

 

4. We have set out below a chronology of the Home Office communications and response to the pandemic.

 

5. ILPA members report that just after Christmas 2019 they first started to encounter Covid-19 related issues and raise queries with the Home Office. On 31 January 2020 the Home Office contacted ILPA to say that they were preparing some short term interim guidance on the implications of the coronavirus outbreak. They said that the aim was to issue guidance by 7 February 2020. They advised that any Chinese nationals whose leave ran out on 31 January 2020 and could not return to China because of Covid-19 did not need to take any action and should instead wait for the interim guidance to be published. They said that all VACs and test centres in China were now closed. The Home Office said that they were working on the following scenarios:

 

-          people in the UK whose leave was expiring but they were unable to return to China due to Covid-19

-          sponsors with people in China who were unable to return to the UK. They said that the guidance would look to reassure sponsors of the pragmatic approach that would be taken by UKVI in the current circumstances.

-          whether those from other countries where travel bans applied could apply exceptionally to come to the UK from those countries

-          given that all the VACs were closed in China, how would “in-flight” applications be dealt with

 

6. The Home Office said that they would be very grateful for feedback from ILPA members on whether there are other scenarios that they should consider covering in the guidance, as they were keen to ensure that the guidance issued covers all the possible scenarios. They reiterated that the guidance would be short term interim measures. Reaching out to immigration practitioners in this way was a really positive, productive step which ILPA would very much encourage. However it is important that when such feedback is provided, that it is used by the Home Office in a meaningful way to inform their subsequent policies and guidance.

 

7. On 31 January 2020, ILPA emailed the first practitioner feedback document to the Home Office (see Appendix 2), and thanked them for engaging with ILPA in this way, stating that it had been well received by members. On 4 February 2020, ILPA emailed the second practitioner feedback document to the Home Office (see Appendix 3). On 5 February 2020, ILPA emailed the third practitioner feedback document to the Home Office (see Appendix 4).

 

8. On 17 February 2020 the Home Office produced their first guidance “UKVI: Coronavirus: immigration guidance if you’re unable to return to China from the UK” (see Appendix 5) and also emailed ILPA to advise that it had been published.

 

9. On 12 March 2020, ILPA emailed the fourth practitioner feedback document to the Home Office (see Appendix 6). In this email, ILPA stated that “the application of the coronavirus policy exclusively to Chinese nationals was not tenable in light of the now global nature of the covid-19 pandemic, especially  given that nationals of Iran, Italy and South Korea are particularly affected. The refusal to extend the policy to nationals of these countries risks unfair discrimination at this point. We would urge the Home Office to revisit this aspect of its policy as a matter of urgency and certainly before the policy is due to be revised at the end of the month.”

 

10. On 21 March 2020, ILPA sent the Home Office a list of broad issues and recommendations, in order to assist them in updating their guidance, given the delays in this being updated (see Appendix 1).

 

11. Lockdown in the UK started on 23 March 2020. Following this, members reported on 24 March 2020 that the Home Office was advising them that biometric/document appointments were classed as “essential appointments” and so clients must still travel to Croydon to attend.

 

12. On 24 March 2020, practitioners contacting the EUSS Resolution Centre started reporting that there was an automated message saying that the centre was unable to keep their telephone lines open due to the COVID-19 outbreak and that they would open again once they are able to do so safely. On 25 March 2020 the recorded message said that the helpline was closed, and it referred people to the website and said that they will continue to respond to queries made via their online contact form. The website that day did not reflect the fact that the phonelines were closed (see Appendix 7).

 

13. On 24 March 2020, the Home Office published the first substantive guidance since 17 February 2020, in what amounted to two pages of guidance, “Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents” on GOV.UK (see Appendix 8, version dated 25 March 2020)[1]. The new guidance covers a much larger group of people, yet introduced more onerous procedures at a time when Home Office resource is inevitably impacted by the pandemic. ILPA is concerned about the current capacity of the Home Office to process and grant these requests in a timely manner, particularly given the backlogs which already existed in the system prior to the pandemic.

 

14. The Home Office has advised ILPA that it is not possible to carry out a blanket extension for all of those whose leave is due to expire before 31 May 2020. ILPA has raised concerns that, as with the EUSS scheme, this creates a risk that not all of those who are eligible for the extension, particularly those who may be more vulnerable, will be reached. We understand from the Home Office that there is some technological reason for a blanket extension of leave being possible, this may be something that the Committee is able to investigate further.

 

Use of web pages for policy changes

 

15. ILPA is concerned about the use of web pages to publish important information, and the fact that when these pages are updated, previous versions are not being retained anywhere that is easily accessible to users. The guidance of 17 February 2020 no longer exists at all on GOV.UK, as the link to the February guidance now redirects to the guidance of 24 March 2020. The most recent version of the February guidance can be found at Appendix 9, as saved by ILPA, it had been amended on 21 February, 25 February and 27 February.

 

16. The guidance of 24 March 2020 has been updated as follows (note that there is no reference to the February guidance or its updates)[2]:

 

17 April 2020

Added link to Tier 2 worker guidance to explain that some NHS workers and their families will get their visas automatically extended because of coronavirus.

14 April 2020

Information added about applicants who can start work or study in the UK before their visa application has been decided.

6 April 2020

Added link to form for visa holders to update their information with the Coronavirus Immigration Team.

3 April 2020

Guidance added for NHS staff, holders of Tier 1 Entrepreneur visas and those applying for a Global Talent, Start-up or Innovator visa.

27 March 2020

UK Visa and Citizenship Application Centres (UKVCAS), Post Office enrolment services and Service and Support Centres (SSCs) are temporarily closed because of coronavirus (COVID-19).

25 March 2020

Updated to add information on the 5 working day response time for helpline emails.

24 March 2020

First published.

 

17. It is important to be able to clearly identify what policies were in place on any given date. For example, extensions of leave were automatic in the February 2020 version of the guidance, which stated as follows:

 

If you are a Chinese national in the UK and have been compliant with the conditions of your visa prior to the coronavirus outbreak, your leave will be automatically extended to 31 March 2020 if your visa has an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020.

 

You don’t need to do anything to get this extension.

 

You will be subject to the same immigration conditions as your last visa during the extension period.

 

You will not automatically receive a new visa or Biometric Residence Permit card.

Your new expiry date (31 March 2020) will be added to UK Visa Immigration’s systems.

 

18. Therefore people who fall within that guidance will not have overstayed their leave during the relevant period, however this is not the case for those to whom the policy did not apply. Nor is it the case with the current policy, which requires contact with the Home Office in order to obtain the extension.

 

19. Another example of this problem is in relation to the suspension of reporting requirements, again this is on a web page, with no indication of the date that it was published (see Appendix 10).

 

 

20. All information and guidance (not just that relating to coronavirus) should be provided in a format that can easily be accessed, including archive versions, and the date of publication should be clear. All changes relating to Covid-19 made by the Home Office should be available in a single location. After this was raised by ILPA, the Home Office did set up a page which has some of the policies, however it does not have all of the information, for example there is nothing on asylum available on that page[3].

 

21. Information provided by VFS and TLS[4], the outsourced providers used by the Home Office, has also been difficult to navigate easily, neither initially had an easily locatable list of all the countries affected and what the alternative arrangements are, if any. Instead, you had to click through various pages and could only look at a single country at a time. VFS has subsequently made improvements[5].

 

Dissemination of information via “Factsheets”

 

22. The importance of having guidance that is accessible to the applicant and in one place was highlighted in the Law Commission’s report on Simplifying the Immigration Rules, in particular at recommendation 31: the aim of the exercise to simplify guidance should be to rationalise the number of guidance documents with a view to reducing the guidance on any topic into a single document incorporating guidance for both caseworkers and applicants[6].

 

23. The Home Office only partially accepted that recommendation, but did appear to accept the premise[7]: 

 

Our priority is to ensure that guidance is accurate and clear and describes how the Rules work. We will continue to rationalise guidance and remove duplicate and out of date guidance. We will consider the Law Commission’s suggestions to provide an index of guidance linked to the Rules.  We agree that each document should be given a clear and informative title.   We already have an established process where we illustrate in guidance where changes from the last version are set out. We will consider the Law Commission’s suggestions to improve the way we archive our guidance and make sure that is accessible online in the future.

 

24. In addition to a number of policy decisions that are being sent out in response to emails only, rather than published, these ‘stakeholder’ factsheets (Appendices 11 to 15) are not accessible online, seem to often contain key information which are not elsewhere (e.g. that if you have already emailed under the previous system you do not need to also send a form); and not only that, there is sometimes information which is in the email attaching them which is then not published anywhere else.  There is also in some cases apparent discrepancies between the stakeholder factsheets and the published guidance.

 

25. While it is of course extremely useful for the Home Office to contact stakeholders directly with updates, care must be taken to ensure that information is publicly available, and is not solely distributed by email to stakeholders, as this will never have the reach of information that is published on GOV.UK. Good communications practice during the pandemic can be seen in other government departments, for example HMCTS and the Ministry of Justice have been sending out daily emails with updates, marking information that is new each day. A similar service from the Home Office, covering both asylum and immigration, would be useful, although we would still suggest that the daily emails are also published online in order to maximise accessibility and transparency.

 

26. While there are areas that can be improved upon, we have also seen positive examples of communication by the Home Office, such as reaching out to ILPA to ask about the service of asylum decisions electronically, and the Home Office appeals team contacting us in relation to the service of judicial review applications electronically, and to discuss arrangements for the provision of documents relating to appeals electronically. While we are still awaiting a formal response to our recommendations document of 21 March, we have had informal conversations with the Home Office about these and we understand that certain changes are in process, our concern is with the amount of time that this is taking in a situation that so urgently requires action.

 

NASF Stakeholder meetings

 

27. ILPA attends stakeholder meetings with the Home Office and other organisations in the sector. These meetings cover a wide range of areas, including detention, children, decision making and equalities. This is the main way that the Home Office engages with the sector on a regular, constructive basis. It is therefore of concern that ILPA has received communications in relation to three of those groups where meetings have been cancelled or the Home Office are seeking to limit the total number of attendees to ten (to comprise five Home Office staff and five NGO members. We do not consider this to be justified, and it is particularly of concern that this is being done at a time when the Home Office needs to provide answers to many questions, especially as regards detention.

 

NHS concession

 

28. In relation to NHS workers, on 3 April 2020 the update to the “Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents” webpage provided for the following (Appendix 16, version dated 6 April 2020):

 

If you’re a doctor, nurse or paramedic working for the NHS

 

Your visa will be automatically extended by one year if it is due to expire before 1 October 2020. Family members with a visa due to expire before 1 October 2020 will also have their visa extended.

 

The extension is free and you will not have to pay the immigration health surcharge.

 

You do not need to apply. We will contact NHS employers to identify staff eligible for this extension.

 

We will tell you and your employer if you have received an automatic extension.

 

On 17 April 2020, the page was updated again, and it now states:

 

If you’re working for the NHS

 

Some NHS workers and their families will get their visas automatically extended because of coronavirus.

 

This then links to the General work visa (Tier 2) guidance (again contained only on a web page)[8] which states:

 

Visa extensions for NHS workers

Because of coronavirus (COVID-19), some NHS workers and their families will have their visas automatically extended for 1 year. To get the extension, you must:

 

 

The extension will apply from the date your visa is due to expire.

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will contact your employer to confirm your visa has been extended.”

29. This appears to be a change in policy, and that the extension now only applies to those on Tier 2 visas, however the position is unclear and the change was not accompanied by any announcement. If the policy has been changed to exclude anyone who is not on a Tier 2 visa, then this is clearly unfair to anyone covered by the earlier announcement but not under these changes. It is an entirely unsatisfactory manner in which to make such policy changes, not least because the earlier version is not easily accessible.

 

30. There are three groups of health workers who are excluded from the NHS concession:

 

  1. The first group are those who would have fairly assumed that they were in fact covered by the extension when it was announced on 3 April 2020, namely, doctors/nurses/paramedics who are not on Tier 2 visas. For (hypothetical) example, consider a single mother of a nine year old child born in the UK, both granted limited leave to remain in the UK on the basis of their family life, the mother is employed by the NHS as a nurse. If her leave is due to expire in August this year, she will be expected to pay an application fee of £1,033, plus the Immigration Health Surcharge of £1,000, and will need to pay the same again for her daughter, totalling £4,066. Her colleague who is here on a Tier 2 visa will have a free extension to October 2021.

 

  1. The second group of people affected are those who are not directly employed by the NHS, for example agency (or “bank”) staff, and those who are employed by private hospitals but who are also working to support the NHS and the public during the pandemic. This group are not covered by the concession.

 

  1. The third group of people are those who are directly employed by the NHS, but who work not as doctors, nurses or paramedics, but instead work in other vital roles such as hospital porters, health care assistants or cleaners. We do not understand the NHS to place less value on these staff, it is unclear why the Home Office appears to have done so.

 

31. The committee may wish to ask the Home Office to what extent the NHS was consulted about this concession.

 

32. The problem of the Immigration Health Surcharge also cannot be ignored. This is due to increase to £624 per year of leave on 1 October 2020[9]. A doctor whose leave is due to expire on 30 September 2020 will have her leave extended for one year, automatically and free of charge, whereas her colleague whose leave expires the following day would need to pay the application fee as well as the Immigration Health Surcharge. ILPA’s position is that the Immigration Health Surcharge amounts to double taxation, and it should be scrapped. To increase it at this time is particularly inappropriate and due to the financial pressures people are experiencing at present, it is likely to have the effect of driving some people out of immigration status for affordability reasons. While a fee waiver procedure does exist, it is onerous, and difficult to challenge negative decisions.

 

Home Office Policy Response to Covid-19

 

33. Our recommendations were sent to the Home Office on 21 March 2020. Of those recommendations, some have since been addressed or partially addressed, however many are yet to be formally addressed, for example in relation to the minimum income requirement, no recourse to public funds, victims of trafficking, English language tests, and expiry of vignettes.

 

34. It is difficult to understand why there has been such a lengthy delay. ILPA is concerned that the Home Office continues to prioritise immigration controls above all other considerations, including those of the public health. The issue of priorities highlighted in Wendy Williams’ review[10]. We understand from our dealings with the Home Office that they take this report seriously and are seeking to make changes with the department, however from the response to this pandemic it is difficult to see that there has been much of a change in attitude. We have been in contact with people within the Home Office who certainly do seem keen to resolve the problems highlighted in our recommendations document, however it is unclear what is happening within the department that is delaying or preventing the urgent implementation of the required changes.

 

35. As is detailed below, in areas such as No Recourse to Public Funds and immigration detention, there has been very little if any movement to resolve the issues prior to the Home Office being litigated.

 

No Recourse to Public Funds

 

36. There have been certain areas where the Home Office appears to have taken little action prior to being litigated. One of these areas is in relation to the No Recourse to Public Funds restriction, a condition placed on most people’s leave. An urgent application was made to the court and as detailed on the lawyers Deighton Pierce Glynn’s website:

 

At and just before the hearing, the Home Office made a series of important concessions, including accepting for the first time that the legal challenge to the NRPF policy raises ‘serious issues’, which should be looked at by the court urgently. It has also issued revised guidance to staff instructing them to ‘provide sympathetic and expeditious decision making’ during the pandemic when dealing with applicants seeking to have their NRPF condition lifted.[11] (our emphasis)

 

37. It is of concern that decision makers need to be explicitly told to provide sympathetic and expeditious decision making. Tn our view this should be the baseline for caseworkers, and during the pandemic a greater level of response than this is required. To illustrate, the claimant in the case referred to above is a single mother with young children[12], it is difficult to see how withholding public funds from people in her situation or indeed anyone is the correct course of action during this crisis. The point is obvious and trite, but people should not be put in a situation where they feel forced to work in order to avoid destitution and homelessness, doing so is a public health risk.

 

38.The impact of the Home Office’s delay in implementing and communicating changes is illustrated by the situation of one organisation, The Unity Project (“TUP”), who also supported the above litigation. In March TUP reported that 13 of their service users are currently awaiting the outcome of a pending change of conditions application, to have the No Recourse to Public Funds restriction lifted from their leave.  In every case, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the applicant’s destitution. Their destitution is also exacerbating the Covid-19 pandemic, as their inability to access the support that they need directly impacts their ability to take public health precautions, thus increasing their exposure to the virus and their potential to spread it.

 

39. Of the 13 people referred to above, their circumstances were as follows:

 

-          Eight of them were on ‘zero hours’ contracts and will therefore not be paid if they do not work.

-          Ten were living in shared accommodation with at least one other family (this includes six who were being temporarily accommodated by friends due to homelessness). They were therefore unable to completely self-isolate.

-          Ten were sharing a single room with their children.

-          One of them was self-isolating in a single room with her two children, ages five and six, who are both autistic and extremely active. 

-          One applicant was six months pregnant and ten have underlying health conditions or dependants with underlying health conditions which could make them particularly at risk from the virus. 

-          Seven are ‘key workers’ and therefore required to continue to work and be in contact with vulnerable people, but unable to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and those they live with due to shared, crowded housing. 

-          One of these key workers was forced to leave her 15-year-old daughter alone at home in shared accommodation with five strangers, mostly adult men. 

-          11 out of the 13 are single mothers who will have to pay for/provide childcare while their children are off school.

-          One applicant was travelling by public transport for 40 minutes each day before/after work to leave her children in the care of her sister while she works. 

 

40. Financial or accommodation support from friends/relatives has reduced generally as a knock-on effect of the nationwide loss of income. For example, one applicant was previously reliant on some minimal support from the estranged father of her children, but he has lost income due to the pandemic, and can no longer provide even this. Half the people referred to above estimated that they had less than one week’s food supplies, mainly comprising basics such as rice and potatoes. The pandemic is compounding and highlighting the already desperate circumstances of those who are subject to the No Recourse to Public Funds restriction.

 

Detention

 

41. We are aware that many detainees have been released, however immigration detention can only be lawfully used in order to effect removal, and this is not currently possible to most, if not all countries. ILPA’s position remains as set out in our recommendations document, namely that all detainees should be released and provided with safe accommodation.

 

42. It is unclear how many people still remain in immigration detention. The Home Office should provide these figures on a weekly basis during the pandemic, broken down by Immigration Removal Centre/Prison and by country of intended removal. It appears that bail applications are being granted almost as a matter of routine, BID reporting on 15 April that since 20 March they had 33 clients granted bail, and only one refused[13]. This again raises questions about why people remain in immigration detention.

 

43. As with NRPF, in an area requiring urgent action, it is unclear what steps were being taken to ensure the safety of detainees, and that their detention was lawful, prior to litigation being initiated by Detention Action, whose website states the following in relation to the case they brought that was heard on 25 March 2020[14]:

 

Guidance issued by the Home Office following the initiation of legal proceedings include the following protective measures:

 

44. Detention is only lawful to pursue removal from the UK, which is not possible at the moment, in the course of the litigation the Home Office disclosed a list of countries to which removal was not possible, but it is unclear what action had been taken by the Home Office to review and release those who were no longer removable prior to Detention Action’s case.

 

English Language Tests

 

45. The Home Office position on these has still not been confirmed. The implications of this for those who need these in order to make an application cannot be overstated. For example, a person whose leave is to expire imminently and who is eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain would be required to pass the test in order to make a successful application. The test centres are currently closed. This means that they are unable to fulfil the requirements for the indefinite leave application. Their options are therefore:

-          To allow their leave to expire, as they know that they are unable to meet the requirements for an indefinite leave to remain application

-          To pay thousands of pounds for a limited leave to remain application, where they are actually eligible for indefinite leave to remain if able to take the test

-          To make an application for indefinite leave to remain at a cost of £2,389, with no guarantee or knowledge of how it will be dealt with by the Home Office given it does not meet the requirements.

 

46. The Home Office must urgently confirm the position for these people and publish guidance on GOV.UK which should make provision for refunds for anyone who has applied for further limited leave in order to protect their position, as well as confirming that those who may have overstayed due to the lack of guidance will not be in any way penalised.

 

Students

 

47. Again, communications from the Home Office were reported to be an issue in this sector. For example, the guidance for China nationals of February 2020 came in late, and subsequent to that members reported being unable to advise students from other countries, who seemed to be stranded and suddenly at risk of overstaying.

 

48. Sopra Steria centres were closed at short notice, and this is in the context of them already having a history of cancelling students’ appointments at very short notice, the day before or even on the day itself.

 

49. There were also concerns about help for vulnerable students and those with disabilities who do not have health concerns but would find it harder to travel to appointments (if they were to remain open).

 

50. There was a prolonged period of time in which there was no guidance for sponsors in relation to sponsor guidance issues such as the prohibition on distance learning, attendance monitoring, switching in country, and what will happen to those who cannot meet academic progression requirements.

 

51. A manager of a Premium Customer Support Team for Tier 4 sponsors was asked to confirm what would happen to those whose leave was going to expire but were unable to leave the UK, the member was told that it was with Ministers for discussion and that probably nothing would happen for a while and that the member should take a pragmatic approach. This did not assist in alleviating the enormous amount of anxiety felt by students.

 

52. On 27 March 2020 the Home Office published its guidance “Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for Tier 2, 4 and 5 sponsors” UKCISA has published a useful summary of the current position in relation to student visas, including a list of issues that have been resolved, and those that remain outstanding[15].

 

 

 

Coronavirus helpline

 

53.Members widely report that their experience of the Covid-19 telephone helpline has been very poor, and that despite their questions being very specifically Covid-19 related, they are directed to the general enquiry line, who in turn of course direct them back to the Covid-19 helpline.

 

54.One member reports that she has an 80 year old Ukrainian national client, with lung cancer, whose leave was due to expire on Thursday 19 March 2020[16]. However there were no flights available as Ukraine had suspended all air traffic in and out of the country for at least two weeks. Ukraine had also banned foreign nationals from entering the country for two weeks.

 

55.They emailed the Covid-19 team on Monday 16 March 2020 to ask them to extend her leave while she works out what to do. They didn’t receive a reply from the Home Office email address so they spent an hour unsuccessfully trying to get through on Tuesday 17 March 2020.

 

56.On Wednesday 18 March 2020 the lawyer managed to get through after 40 minutes. When they explained the situation, they were told that Ukraine only banned foreign nationals from entering the country. When the lawyer explained that this doesn’t help our client because there are no flights there, the person on the helpline initially tried to argue that there were flights because they could see some on sale. The lawyer explained that these were price comparison websites and that the airlines’ websites stated that there are no flights.

 

57. They seemed to accept this, however they then said that because Ukraine has only suspended air traffic but is still allowing Ukrainian nationals to return home, that the 80 year old client was not prohibited from returning to Ukraine because she can return to Ukraine by other means of transport, for example by car. The lawyer explained that the client is 80 and unable to travel across Europe by car in the middle of a pandemic, particularly with the advice for over 70s to self-isolate. The helpline advisor said that the government’s policy on self isolation only applied to British nationals, not foreign nationals.

 

58. The person on the helpline did repeat that, provided the client made every effort to return home she would not be penalised, but they had also indicated the belief that “every effort” included travelling by car or coach.

 

Asylum screening

59. ILPA and other NGOs have been asking for confirmation of the position on asylum screening for weeks, however this remains unclear. The official position appears to be that those who wish to make an asylum claim must still go and do this in person, however we have had members report to us that screening interviews are being cancelled at short notice. This needs urgent clarification as it is likely to impact on the ability to claim asylum support.

Trafficking

 

60. Members have also raised concerns about the ability to progress casework for victims of trafficking, which is specialised and complex, and involves highly vulnerable individuals. For example, obtaining medico legal reports can be essential to a trafficking victim's case and it is not currently possible to obtain this if the victim has no smart phone with access to a video call for a video assessment with a doctor (which is necessary in MLR assessments to observe body language and reactions), or the difficulties in taking instructions from individuals remotely when the client may struggle to open up when relationships with representatives are new, may be illiterate and does not speak English, especially when there is no smart phone video access.

 

61. If the Home Office cannot make a properly informed decision on a case then victims should be granted leave to remain on an exceptional basis with the right to work and access public funds rather than having cases extended or consideration deferred. In the alternative, if they have no leave and the Home Office is unwilling to grant leave on an exceptional basis then they should be granted the right to work and access public funds and those conditions be lifted from bail conditions in the future if this becomes necessary when an application is decided after it can be properly informed and considered (if leave is not granted as a result of the application).

 

62. Similarly, for people who have first time applications for discretionary leave as a victim of trafficking made on an application form (which could be many as so many are refused discretionary leave at the conclusion of the NRM), if there is no way to enable biometrics and their application is put on hold, they should be granted leave to remain on an exceptional basis as it is not reasonable that their cases are placed on hold when the knock on effect is to leave them in limbo and often destitution. 

             

63. The alternative would be to provide them with accommodation and support by the Home Office under the Victim Care Contract or leaving them destitute and facing the healthcare and other support service implications for the individual remaining in need and unable to move into independent living, even on a temporary basis. Understanding will be needed and dissemination of this understanding to those making decisions on support, so that reinstatement of support is permitted quickly if exceptional leave cannot be granted. There is no guidance on what will happen for people needing reinstatement of support (see support comments below).

 

64. For those who have leave and are seeking to extend it - an exceptional grant of leave would be the preference for the security it brings, rather than keeping applications on hold. Putting cases on hold can bring problems even for those who want to extend leave. 

 

65. On Friday 20 March one member was told by the Home Office service and support centre that if someone cannot lodge their biometrics for a fee free application (where they also give documents to be scanned) then their application will simply be put on hold. We do not believe that there has been formal confirmation of this position yet. From experience, the member has concerns that this will cause problems with the DWP as they have previously had a client who was extending her discretionary leave to remain and her benefits were stopped twice, despite the lawyer providing a letter explaining that the client continued to have leave under s3C of the Immigration Act 1971 with supporting evidence. For them, this was not enough, and information about eligibility had to come from the Home Office and internal bureaucracy held up common sense and compassionate decision making. There was no enquiry made from the DWP to the Home Office proactively before benefits were stopped. This meant that the client, who was unwell at the time, almost went without heating or food over Christmas when services were shut and relied on her lawyer and her independent NGO support worker to provide her with money for these essentials.

 

66. The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee has previously made recommendations about DWP sensitisation to victim of trafficking needs in 2015[17] and this is all the more important if applications will now be put on hold for an unknown period, and victims may struggle to access advice and support workers to undertake advocacy to resolve problems.

 

Disclosure by Home Office


67. On 23 March 2020 the Subject Access Request Unit emailed ILPA stating that the Home Office will only provide electronic SARs from now i.e. just the GCID (database) notes. 

 

68. Members are concerned that it will be impossible to properly prepare many cases without sight of all of the background documents. This has been an ongoing issue for years prior to the pandemic, with the Home Office being reluctant to provide full copies of files and instead insisting on providing electronic copies only. Members experience is that key information and documents for their cases are only found in the full background documents and not in the electronic SARs. Therefore this step is likely to have long term implications for ongoing cases.

 

 

April 2020

 


Appendix 1 – ILPA recommendations to the Home Office

International measures reducing the impact of COVID-19 are affecting foreign nationals who either wish to enter for example to take up a job or are currently in the UK and are unable to leave or apply to extend their stay. It is also having an impact on businesses who rely on them. 

These individuals would be anxious about inadvertently breaching UK immigration laws by for example overstaying and harming their ability to visit and reside in the UK.  Given these exceptional circumstances, the UKVI’s approach must not prejudice individuals impacted by the pandemic and should be flexible and embrace the variety of situations arising from the current containment measures, both immediate and in the longer term. The UKVI’s policy on the Ebola outbreak in 201416 sets an example of how the UKVI could respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. ILPA strongly recommends the following:

 

a.       Flexible and pragmatic approach to those whose position is compromised by the COVID-19 pandemic.

b.      Automatic extension of limited leave to remain for any foreign national currently in the UK to at least September 2020. 

c.       Allowing foreign nationals to rely on expired documentation for entry into and residence in the UK.

d.      Waiving residence requirements for individuals who either cannot return to the UK or need to travel out of the UK due to COVID-19 outbreak.

e.       Waiving employment restrictions for individuals whose employers are negatively impacted by COVID-19.

f.        Reporting tool to communicate inability to comply with immigration conditions.

g.       Confirmation to third parties (e.g. employers, landlords, NHS) that individuals’ residence in the UK remains lawful.

 

We understand the situation is moving extremely quickly and so it has not been possible to follow ordinary procedures implementing such significant changes to immigration control. However, we urge the Home Office to ensure that any automatic extensions of leave to enter/remain are made secure by way of statutory instrument.

An urgent comprehensive policy update is needed now as individuals are already facing situations which compromise their UK immigration position. The below table sets out concerns and recommendations proposed by ILPA members based on their experience of representing clients whose immigration position has been affected by COVID-19 containment policies. The Law Society has received similar concerns from members and supports ILPA in raising these concerns to assist the Home Office at this time, however, the proposals within this document do not amount to Law Society policy.

The table reflects the live issues arising from the current pandemic and further issues may arise which we will convey to the Home Office as soon as practicable. Given the fast moving situation ILPA is ready to meet with Home Office representatives to contribute to the measures and policies the Home Office will adopt in response to COVID-19. 

 

22

 


 

             

Appendix 1 continued

UKVI operations and policy

 

Issues

Recommendations

 

Out of country 

 

1.

Applicants unable to apply from their country of nationality / residence

We recommend a flexible approach is adopted to allow applications to be made from different countries , provided the applicant can show lawful entry into that country. 

 

2.

Criminal record certificates and English language test (family/Tier 2/Tier 4) 

We recommend accepting alternative evidence or waiving the requirement (where appropriate) if it can be demonstrated that the centres are closed. 

 

3.

Decision delivery - Refugees unable to travel due to travel bans and no access to social assistance to collect decisions.   

We recommend that the Home Office send decisions to solicitors on record rather than insisting vulnerable people with no resources pick up decisions in person. E.g. Members have reported that clients in Hitsas, Ethiopia who applied for visas to join refugee siblings in UK, cannot get to the VAC in Addis to pick up decisions as Hitsas is closed.

4.

30 day vignette - Visa holders unable to travel to the UK within the 30-day validity period on their vignette. 

Given the difficulty in applying for replacement vignettes and current travel restrictions we recommend the following: 

1.       issuing vignettes for a longer period of 90 days to allow for possible delays in travel to the UK 

2.       exceptionally allowing non-visa nationals to enter the UK relying on the expired vignette 

3.       facilitating an easier process for the issuing of replacement vignettes one where no application form is required 

 

5.

BRP Collection - Visa holders unable to collect their BRPs from Post Offices within usual timeframes  (currently 10 days of arrival / vignette expiry).

We recommend  that BRPs are retained by the receiving Approved Collection Locations/Post Offices for more than the usual 30 day window.  

We also recommend facilitating the collection of BRPs by other individuals as nominated by the visa holder e.g. legal representative.

6.

Visa expired overseas - Visa holders unable to return to the UK prior to the expiry of their visa due to travel restrictions imposed 

 

We recommend allowing these individuals to return to the UK relying on their expired visas as some would have been stranded whilst on holiday overseas. We understand this was the approach adopted for those impacted by the Volcanic Ash Cloud. 

This will need to be communicated to the airlines so that visa nationals are allowed to board the plane and to the border force to allow them entry to the UK. 

 

 

7.

Official fees unused visas - Individuals who have been unable to travel and utilise their visas potentially for some months, but have incurred costs, such as Immigration Health Surcharge for full period of leave.

 

As these individuals are likely to have to pay some of these fees again we recommend that where the visa has not been utilised that the fees are refunded including immigration skill charge and immigration health surcharge. 

 

In country 

 

8.

Leave expiry - Foreign nationals in the UK who are either unable to leave the UK or apply for an extension before the expiry of their leave and become overstayers:

          E.g. visitors, students, fiancées, although potentially affects any category where individuals hold limited leave to remain.

          Affecting employment, housing, access to benefits, criminality / good character and/or having to re-start immigration route to be eligible for settlement.

          We recommend the current approach adopted in the current guidance of providing automatic extensions be expanded to all foreign nationals in the UK whose visa is due to expire or has expired.

          We recommend that these foreign nationals are granted automatic extensions to at least September 2020 without the requirement to submit fresh applications or incur additional fees. 

          The approach should be the same for people who feel unsafe to travel as it is for those who are unable to due to official travel bans or requirements to self-isolate

          We recommend that the Guidance be reviewed ahead of the September deadline to see if a further extension is needed. The date of a future update should be prearranged. 

          Measures need to be adopted to make sure these individuals are able to evidence their extension to third parties so that their right to work, rent, drive, hold a bank account etc. is not impacted. 

 

9.

Difficulty attending Home Office core centres -  human rights and asylum applications

          We recommend facilitating alternative means for vulnerable people to provide supporting documents e.g. by post / email  and for biometrics to be postponed / taken at alternative locations which are nearer to their address or greater use of the mobile biometric units to accommodate such individuals without having to incur extra costs. 

          We recommend that asylum applicants are permitted to lodge their claim and have remote  screening interview and a flexible approach adopted to the substantive interview.

 

10.

Fees / refunds - Individuals and sponsors face losing application related fees due delay and changes in plans due to COVID-19 crisis.

Offer timely full or partial refund on visa application related costs, including immigration skill charge and immigration health surcharge. Withdrawals should be permitted and full refunds where application withdrawn or where visa granted but individual not activating leave by entry.

11.

Extension / ILR requirements – inability to meet requirements for extension /settlement e.g. Tier 1

We recommend that discretion is applied to waive some of the extension/ILR requirements where the applicant has not been able to meet the requirements due to COVID-19. 

 

 

Entrepreneur               unable               to               meet               employment requirements 

 

12.

Switching in-country - Those currently in the UK who do not meet the requirements for an in-country switch but are unable to travel to make fresh application from overseas.

We recommend that the current concession allowing certain nationals to switch from Tier 2 ICT to Tier 2 General in-country be expanded to include all foreign nationals impacted by COVID-19 and to include other categories. 

13.

Registering with the police -

The 7 day deadline for updating Police Registration Certificates 

The HO and police should relax the deadline, and/or allow people to update this electronically or by post instead (rather than requiring them to come to OVRO/police station in person). It would be useful if there was an email address or electronic system instituted temporarily so people can declare the change “in time”.

14.

BRP delivery - BRPs being sent out by TNT to legal representatives.

We recommend that the HO / TNT send an email confirming when a BRP has been dispatched and allowing for re-delivery.

 

Points Based sponsorship and compliance 

 

15.

Validity of RCOS / COS / RLMT  - sponsors may be unable to assign the CoS within the relevant period or the migrant may be unable to apply within the relevant period 

We recommend that these deadlines should be removed / extended for Tier 2 sponsors and Tier 2  migrants who are unable to meet these deadlines  due to coronavirus restrictions. The relevant deadlines are as follows:

          Resident labour market test this is only valid for 6 months. We recommend that during this period and given that sponsors are unable to complete their recruitment exercise that this limit is removed if the advert was first published from December 2019 onwards 

          Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship (COS) / COS this must be used within 3 months of being granted. We recommend that this limit is suspended to allow sponsors to use this as and when travel restrictions are lifted

          Start date the maximum delay to the start date is 28 days from date of entry clearance vignette start date/work date - we recommend that this is also suspended given the travel restrictions to allow sponsors to extend the start date provided the individual has not entered the UK

 

16.

Sponsored worker change of circumstances - Employers may need to change role outside of SOC code / reduce salary / reduce hours for unspecified

The current Home Office guidance currently allows unpaid leave for more than 4 weeks. We therefore recommend that this is extended to take into account other measures which sponsors are having to take in response to the coronavirus pandemic such as: 

                            Allowing reduction of salary below the threshold / reduction of hours for a limited period 

 

 

period / put employees on a period of unpaid leave because of current circumstances

 

          Allowing workers to change roles and work under a different SOC Code whilst the business allocates resources to try to meet business needs during/as a result of the crisis

          Suspending curtailment of leave where sponsorship is terminated to allow workers longer time to try and find alternative sponsorship

 

17.

Cooling off period - Many individuals will need to travel to home country result is unexpected early termination of sponsorship even though may still be required once coronavirus issues reduced.

We recommend the suspension of the cooling off period on those who were impacted by COVID-19  where for example the individual’s employment was terminated early as a result of being unable to return to work in the UK . 

 

 

18.

Sponsor compliance inability of sponsors to comply due to circumstances outside their control

          We recommend that a pragmatic and flexible approach is taken to compliance with duties and obligations which sponsors are unable to meet due to COID-19 e.g. reporting requirements. 

          With regards to Tier 4 sponsors - confirmation that discretion will be applied when considering Basic Compliance Assessment applications as rates likely to be impacted by COVID-19 

 

19.

Original documents inability to provide these

We recommend that the Home Office allows for alternative means of providing supporting documents rather than having to send in original documents e.g. sponsor licence applications. 

 

20.

Tier 4 - Maximum period of study in the UK - students are likely to need to apply for an extension given the disruption to studies

We recommend that the cap on study periods in the UK be suspended for students impacted by the Coronavirus and whose studies have been disrupted as a result. 

 

General

21.

Indefinite Leave to Remain - inability to meet immigration rules due to COVID-19

          Excess absences from the UK since 1 January 2020  arising from the COVID-19 outbreak to be waived (also applicable to naturalisation applications) .

          Tier 2 Salary thresholds for ILR discretion to be applied where salary was reduced as a result of measures taken by sponsor in response to COVID-19 

          Allowing stranded applicants to make ILR applications from outside the UK. To apply discretion where dependants have reached the age of 18 and are unable to apply in-country. 

          Ensure that children are not adversely affected due to parents’ ability to apply for leave at the same time as one parent may be stranded overseas.

 

22.

Appendix FM - Minimum Income Requirement 

 

The Minimum Income Requirement in the five year route should not be applied in circumstances where the person has disrupted income during/immediately following this period.

23.

No recourse to public funds

Given that some foreign nationals may be placed in circumstances where they have no means of support e.g. being made redundant and unable to leave the UK. If such individuals are offered official assistance by the UK government this should not be considered a breach of their visa conditions.   .

24.

Victims of trafficking - Those  recognised as victims of trafficking with a positive Conclusive Grounds decision but are  not granted leave to remain.

A grant of leave to remain should accompany all positive CG decisions, as the VoT is unlikely to be able to return to their country of origin.

 

VACs/Service Points 

 

Issues

Recommendations

25.

Applicants unable to attend the VACs to have their biometrics taken 

We recommend that UKVI:

a)      Re-use previously captured biometrics ; Or

b)      If the above is not possible, extend the time by which biometrics need to be completed by and confirm that applications will not be invalidated if biometrics are not submitted in time. 

26.

Inability to upload documents due to self-isolation by applicants and by legal representatives.

Facilitating the ability of applicants to provide the supporting documents through alternative means at no extra charge e.g. post; email etc. 

 

Border Force/Enforcement  

 

Issues

Recommendations

27.

Right to work checks - Employers are unable to conduct a physical document check for an employee’s right to work

We recommend that for those where online right to work check is not applicable, that electronic documents should be accepted and that the statutory excuse checklist is updated to reflect that electronic documents will be accepted.

28.

Immigration Bail - Reporting requirements 

We recommend that reporting requirements are suspended. 

29.

Detention and removal – 

Those still in immigration detention in circumstances where removal is not imminent given the restrictions on travel (i.e. those being removed under the Dublin Regulations).  

Given the circumstances and as these individuals no longer meet the criteria for detention as their removal is no longer imminent, they should be released and arrangements made by the SSHD to accommodate them in safe accommodation. In addition, all detainees must be assessed to determine if they have been exposed to Covid-19.

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Appendix 2 - ILPA Members feedback on UKVI Coronavirus communication – collated on 31st January 2020

 

  1. Please can we also ask UKVI whether there is a possibility of those currently in the UK under a Tier 4 (General) visa category, not meeting the requirements for the in country switch, to apply in the UK on exceptional basis or commence their employment on a Tier 4 (General) visa?

 

  1. Many thanks for the update as I have had a few queries relating to this. One query that we have is that it is no longer possible to obtain police clearance certificates in Hong Kong because of the coronavirus:

 

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It would be helpful to have confirmation from the Home Office that they will accept applications without providing the certificate if possible. The Rules would seem to allow for this as they state:

 

(f) Where the applicant is 18 years of age or older, the applicant must provide a criminal record certificate from the relevant authority in any country in which they have been present for 12 months or more (whether continuously or in total) in the past 10 years, while aged 18 or over. This requirement does not need to be met where the Secretary of State is satisfied, by way of an explanation provided in or with the application, that it is not reasonably practicable for the applicant to obtain a certificate from the relevant authority.

 However, it would be helpful to have confirmation of this to avoid any issues with processing or when encountering staff at the Visa Application Centre.

  1. Other issues for the guidance:

 

  1. Dear ILPA,

Thank you for circulating the UKVI’s response to outbreaks of Coronavirus in China.

We currently have these concerns from our clients and the public:

 

These are immediate questions, concerns from my contacts, and I will continue to collect feedbacks from my source. Thanks for your kind assistance.

 

  1. Nicole

Thank you for this incredibly timely and helpful update.

Taiwan – VAC open but delays in sending/receiving documents to/from mainland China

The VAC in Taiwan is currently still operating and the staff there are immensely helpful. For any Chinese applicants in the Asia-Pac area this could be a useful alternative biometric location if they can make it there. The one catch is that until yesterday (it may still be the case now) the passports were going to/from the decision making centre (DMC) in mainland China, causing delays in transit as international couriers/diplomatic staff may be working at reduced capacity within and from China.

One solution to the delays in transit to/from the DMCs in China would be to divert documents for visa printing to another DMC in the region, such as Manila,  Singapore, etc.

 

Tier 2 applicants

It would be great if the policy could clearly set out a blanket indefinite waiver for sponsors to the usual 28 day maximum delay to the work start date stated on the CoS for decisions made by the Chinese DCMs (without having to seek authorisation/approval on a discretionary basis for each individual). This is because my client, once he eventually receives his passport and arrives in the UK from Taiwan, will likely be in self-quarantine for two weeks and unable to present for work at his UK employer’s office to complete right to work checks, and start the role.

 

All overseas applicants

It would also be most helpful if the replacement temporary vignettes for travel could be replaced free of charge if they have already been issued and the individuals unable to travel within the window specified when they applied because of travel restrictions in their region, and also BRPs retained by the receiving Approved Collection Locations for more than the usual 30 day window to allow for travel delays.

 


Appendix 3 - UKVI Coronavirus communication - ILPA Feedback – 4/2/20

  1. Some feedback from a University.

In point number 1 of your scenarios we’d like to see reassurances to students whose visa expires during the period of the travel restriction (or if people feel unsafe to return), as well as to visitors/short term study visa holders if they have to remain in the UK for longer than as specified in their original visa application (in terms of the implications to their future visa applications). This should include those whose visa has been curtailed and they feel unsafe to return to China before the new visa expiry date (what reassurances/ pragmatic approach should students take if they fall into this category- we have already received enquiries from worried students who are taking temporary withdrawal from studies). Is there any plan to pause visa curtailment for this reason?

In point number 2 of the scenarios can the UVKI also include guidance on the attendance monitoring (missed monitoring points discounted, for example, in line with the strike actions guidance). Also, how to facilitate people’s application for a new 30-day travel visa if they are unable to travel within the validity of their original visa (would there be a fees concession because this is not through their own fault)? Any concession policy to the calculation of the study cap (if students have already obtained their visa but unable to travel to the UK to take exams, for example, and have to postpone their studies for another year, any curtailed visa will still be considered in the calculation of the study cap under the current policy).

Also, we’d like the UKVI to incorporate any concession into the guidance document and published on GOV website.

  1. One scenario we wanted to add for the Home Office’s consideration is families who would be applying for ILR having completed 5 years in the relevant category but are unable to travel back to the UK before leave expires due to cessation of flights etc. 

An example we have currently is a Tier 1 (Investor) with a spouse and children.  The spouse is currently stuck in China.  Whilst the Investor can apply for ILR in the UK, the spouse is unable to return to apply for ILR:

 

So unless the Home office policy provides for these circumstances, the whole family will have to apply for extensions rather than ILR, and then apply for ILR as soon as the spouse is able to travel – substantial wasted costs and case working time. 

In the case we have most of the family happen to be in the UK, but many families may not be given the Chinese new year celebrations.   

It would be extremely helpful if the Home Office could consider allowing stranded main applicants/dependants to apply for ILE in these circumstances (or perhaps waiving the fees if families have to make 2 applications, to re-enter the UK with further limited leave first and then apply for ILR in-country following their return– but that would still involve double handling of application for the Home Office where as ILE would be more efficient). 

Alternatively allowing PBS dependants to apply for further PBS dependant entry clearance where the main applicant has applied ILR – and allowing PBS dependant children who have now reached 18 to apply for further entry clearance as PBS dependants (currently also only permitted when applying in-country) this would go some way to assist. 

Many families will have had to proceed with applications before the Home office has published its policy – in such circumstances could Home Office consider allowing families to vary their applications appropriately.  So for example in the above scenario, if the family all apply for further limited leave (some as LTR, some as LTE) (on the basis that this is at least permitted under the current rules and they do not yet know what policy provision the Home Office is going to make for this situation) and then the Home office announces that it would have permitted ILR/ILE in the circumstances , will they allow applicants the opportunity to vary their applications accordingly?

  1. Dear Ilpa

Can this area be escalated as a matter of urgency please.

We have a client who employs a Chinese national on a Tier 5 visa. Ordinarily, she would be required to leave the UK, return to China, and re-enter under a Tier 2 General visa subcategory. The individual’s visa expires on 14 February 2020. The role appears on the shortage occupation list which is an additional factor relevant to the case.

Our client has a Tier 2 CoS allocation, and it would appear sensible that UKVI accepts an in-country Tier 2 General visa application under circumstances such as these.

This is an urgent matter which other sponsors will currently be facing. Can the UKVI be persuaded by ILPA to issue earlier guidance?

I look forward to hearing from you as a matter of urgency

 

 


Appendix 4 - ILPA Members feedback on Coronavirus – part 3 – 5/2/20

  1. I have a client from Wuhan who is currently in the UK and her visa is about to expire on 17 Feb 2020. She is not in a position to return to Wuhan due it being under lock down as the epi-centre of the Coronavirus.

Is there any update on the UKVI guidance and how to proceed in a situation like this?

I look forward to hearing from you.

  1. Following on from the below, our team have been fielding a few queries on this and we’d be grateful if UKVI can comment on the following relating to people who are unable to attend a VAC or who do not have an outstanding application but are unable to travel to the UK: 

 

  1. Also I would like to give you the feedback on the following scenario for UKVI to consider for the interim guidance please:

We currently have case: 

Tier 1 investor (£1 million) extension has been refused, client wants to re-apply for Tier 1 investor (£2 million) within 14 days after visa refused.

However, on Home Office website, they are not allowed to apply in the UK, or switch to Tier 1 investor of 2 million pounds.

The client and her family are Chinese national, they cannot return to China because of Coronavirus. 

I am seeking for your advice, should they also wait for the interim guidance to be issued by 07/02/2020 for further advice?

Looking forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience

 

 

 

Appendix 5 ILPA Coronavirus Resources, UKVI: Coronavirus: immigration guidance if you’re unable to return to China from the UK (17 February 2020)

Coronavirus: immigration guidance if you’re unable to return to China from the UK

Guidance on immigration provisions made by the Home Office for individuals in the UK who are unable to return to China. Published 17 February 2020From:Home Office and UK Visas and Immigration

 

Contents

1.     Chinese nationals in the UK whose visa has recently expired or is about to expire

2.     Non-Chinese, non-EEA nationals in the UK normally resident in China

3.     Chinese nationals in the UK whose leave was granted by Irish authorities (British Irish Visa Scheme (BIVS)

4.     Chinese nationals in the UK whose leave was granted by the Crown Dependencies

5.     Switching to a Tier 2 category in the UK

6.     British nationals whose passport is at a Visa Application Centre (VAC) in China

7.     Chinese or third country nationals whose passport is at a Visa Application Centre (VAC)

8.     Licensed Tier 2, Tier 4 or Tier 5 sponsors: absences due to coronavirus 9. Other immigration queries

10. Coronavirus Immigration Helpline

11. Further updates

Due to travel restrictions because of coronavirus some individuals may be facing uncertainty in relation to the expiry date of their current visa or leave to remain in the United Kingdom. The Home Office understands that in many cases this is because of circumstances outside of your control.

Subject to the below guidance, most people in the UK whose immigration status is affected by the coronavirus outbreak will get an automatic extension of their visa until 31 March 2020.

Read the guidance below to find out if your visa will be automatically extended or if you need to contact the Home Office’s dedicated coronavirus immigration helpline to discuss your circumstances and arrange an extension.

 

Chinese nationals in the UK whose visa has recently expired or is about to expire

If you are a Chinese national in the UK and have been compliant with the conditions of your visa prior to the coronavirus outbreak, your leave will be automatically extended to 31 March 2020 if your visa has an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020.

You don’t need to do anything to get this extension.

You will be subject to the same immigration conditions as your last visa during the extension period.

You will not automatically receive a new visa or Biometric Residence Permit card.

Your new expiry date (31 March 2020) will be added to UK Visa Immigration’s systems.

If you need a status letter confirming this extension, or a new Biometric Residence Permit with a revised expiry date, you should contact the

 

coronavirus immigration helpline.

 

If you have already applied to extend your visa you don’t need to do anything.

If you are intending to apply to extend your stay in the UK before 31 March 2020 you should continue to do so.

Non-Chinese, non-EEA nationals in the UK normally resident in China

If you are a non-Chinese or non-EEA national in the UK but are normally resident in China and your visa in the UK has an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020 you should contact the coronavirus

 

immigration helpline.

 

The team will be able to extend your visa to 31 March 2020 if you can demonstrate you are normally resident in China.

You will be subject to the same immigration conditions as your last visa during the extension period.

Chinese nationals in the UK whose leave was granted by Irish authorities (British Irish Visa Scheme (BIVS)

If you are a Chinese national in the UK with a visa that was granted by the Irish authorities and has an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020 you should contact the coronavirus immigration helpline to discuss your circumstances.

 

Chinese nationals in the UK whose leave was granted by the Crown Dependencies

 

If you are a Chinese national in the UK with a visa that was granted by a Crown Dependency and has an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020 you should contact the coronavirus immigration helpline to discuss your circumstances.

Switching to a Tier 2 category in the UK

If you are a Chinese national in the UK on a Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer visa and want to switch to a Tier 2 General visa you normally need to return to China to make your application.

You can exceptionally apply to switch from a Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer to a Tier 2 General visa from within the UK if your visa has an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020.

You will still need to pay the relevant fee and meet all the requirements of a Tier 2 General visa, other than the requirement that you usually have to apply in China.

British nationals whose passport is at a Visa Application Centre (VAC) in China

UK Visa Application Centres in China are currently closed.

It is not possible to remove any documents, arrange further delivery or collection of new/replacement passports from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou Visa Application Centres.

You can apply for an emergency travel document if you need to travel urgently.

 

The Home Office is monitoring the situation and as soon as we are able to reopen the VACs we will prioritise the return of all documents to our customers.

Chinese or third country nationals whose passport is at a Visa Application Centre (VAC)

UK Visa Application Centres in China are currently closed.

It is not possible to return any documents to customers until the VACs re-open.

You should contact the Chinese authorities or your consular representative in China to get an alternative travel document if you need to travel urgently. An urgent visa request can only be considered if you have a valid travel document.

The Home Office is monitoring the situation and as soon as we are able to reopen the VACs we will prioritise the return of all documents to our customers. Licensed Tier 2, Tier 4 or Tier 5 sponsors: absences due to coronavirus Some Tier 4 students or Tier 2/5 employees may be prevented from attending their studies or employment due to illness, the need to serve a period of quarantine or the inability to travel due to travel restrictions caused by coronavirus.

Sponsors do not need to report student or employee absences related to coronavirus which they have authorised.

Sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship if they consider there are exceptional circumstances when:

a student will be unable to attend for more than 60 days an employee is absent from work without pay for four weeks or more

Decisions on whether to withdraw a student from their studies or terminate an employment are for sponsors to make. The Home Office recognises the current situation is exceptional and will not take any compliance action against students or employees who are unable to attend their studies/work due to the coronavirus outbreak, or against sponsors which authorise absences and continue to sponsor students or employees despite absences for this reason.

The Home Office will keep this under review, especially if the length of absences mean a potential repeat of period of studies become necessary.

Other immigration queries

For any other immigration queries related to coronavirus, you can contact the coronavirus immigration helpline.

 

   Coronavirus Immigration Helpline

The helpline will be open from 9am on 18 February 2020 Telephone: 0800 678   1767 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm) Calls are free of charge.

Email: CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk

 

Further updates

We will keep our guidance under regular review. You can keep up to date by reading the latest Public Health England advice which includes the latest advice for travellers.

 

Published 17 February 2020

 

Document Date

Monday February 17, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix 6 - Coronavirus – ILPA Members Feedback part 612/3/20

  1. 6 March 2020

I’ll summarise this client’s scenario and please feel free to share these details with the UKVI if you think this would help:

- Client and wife are both Iranian

- In the UK currently with Tier 5 leave expiring on 13 March 2020.

- Has an offer of a job with a Tier 2 (General) sponsor and we have a restricted CoS in place for the role.

- Were planning to leave the UK on 10 March 2020 to submit an entry clearance application from abroad, but fearful about travelling to Iran or elsewhere in the region due to the virus. They would be travelling for the sole purpose of applying for the Tier 2 (General) entry clearance.

 

  1. 6 March 2020

Our experience of the telephone helpline has been very poor - despite our questions being very specifically Covid19 related, they directed us to the general enquiry line - who in turn of course directed us back to the CIG helpline.

So whilst it’s good to hear that everyone’s feedback is being collated by HO, some actual answers for clients in desperate and distressing circumstances are urgently needed. 

The published policy fell way short of expectations following the encouraging discussions prior to its publication.  Given that the general direction of travel for policy post 2020 is to allow most switching (other than for visitors) there is clearly no longer an ideological objection to switching by government -  may we really press HO now to allow switching for people affected by Covid19 due to travel restrictions etc. 

 

  1. 9 March 2020

I wonder if there is any guidance or you know about the following scenario please.

We are aware that the Home Office has confirmed that if a sponsored worker is unable to come into work because of coronavirus-related travel restrictions or quarantine/self-isolation (either in the UK or abroad), sponsors can continue to sponsor them and don’t need to report this as an unauthorised absence (if they have agreed to it).

Normally if a 30 day visa holder is not able to enter the UK during the validity of their 30 day entry visa, they can apply for another replacement one. Against this, however, is the requirement that  it is not possible to delay the UK work start date of a Tier 2 General visa holder beyond 28 days once the visa has been issued.   Our client is trying to plan for one of its sponsored migrants currently applying out of Japan.  If a complete travel ban out of Japan is imposed, do we know if the requirement not to delay the start date for Tier 2 General once the visa has been issued by more than 28 days will be relaxed and that they will be able to apply for replacement 30 day visas?

 

  1. 9 March 2020

We are currently working on an Entry Clearance application for a Chinese national who has been issued with a CoS under the Tier 5 – Temporary worker (Government Authorised Exchange). As you are aware the visa centres in China are currently closed due to the issues related to COVID-19. We wish to find out whether you are aware of the anticipated issues which have arisen at the appointment booking stage in respect of the visa centres in China. We would also like to find out if the applicant can book an appointment at a location outside of China, once the Entry Clearance application has been submitted.

Any support or guidance would be much appreciated, we have contacted UKVI and they have provided very little information in respect of the query above.

 

  1. 10 March 2020

We contacted the Home Office today in regards to individuals who have been issued with Visa Vignettes to enter the UK within a 30 day period, however due to the Corona virus outbreak,  there is a concern that flights to the UK from certain countries may be cancelled.

The Home office caseworker stated that where a flight is cancelled and an Individuals Entry Clearance Vignette is expired a new application must be made.

There is no guidance on the Home Office website in relation to this matter.

We wanted to query whether this was in fact the case or whether policies have been put in place in relation to non-Chinese nationals whose travel plans may be affected due to the Corona virus outbreak, especially where they have been issued with a 30-day visa vignette.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix 7 – EU Settlement Scheme information from gov.uk 25/3/2020

 

 

Appendix 8 Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents from gov.uk published 24/3/2020 and updated 25/3/2020, accessed 25/3/2020