How COVID-19 is affecting the UK immigration system

By now, we know that everybody in the entire world is familiar with the term ‘COVID-19,’ or coronavirus – as it is commonly known. And you have also seen the damage it has done and is continuing to do in the affected nations. You’ve seen how the virus has shaken even the most powerful nations. It has ruined the global economy in an unimaginable way. It has impacted global societies in all aspects and has changed the way we live our lives. If we were to write all the challenges this pandemic has brought to our world, it’s pretty obvious we won’t be able to exhaust all of them, as they are so many. But let’s leave that for another day!

Now, one of the sectors this pandemic has greatly impacted is the immigration department. You are aware that anyone going in and out of any country is thoroughly being checked for any symptoms related to the COVID-19 disease. The presence of the virus in the UK has left significant knock-on effects for the immigration system. But it is important to note that, even though this is the case, policymakers are advised to be sympathetic to the situation and show some humanity when deciding the control measures to enforce with regards to this fact. After all, we don’t want a situation where the rights of the immigrants are violated.

The reason for saying this is the fact that the Home Office is yet to give some guidance on how the visa holders are affected by this pandemic. This single fact leaves so many people with so much uncertainty and anxiety with regard to their position. Given how fast the virus is spreading, the British government has advised against all non-essential travel, and due to the seriousness of the situation, it has ordered border closures.

Given all these reasons, many immigrants may be unwilling to leave the country, which is understandable, but the thing is, their visas may have imminent expiry dates. But, is the Home Office aware of this? Well, for now, we can say that it is dealing with matters related to immigration on an ad-hoc basis.

What this means is that, for instance, submission in the immigration department is no longer needed to be presented in person. But, being a key immigration office, it has to know how the visa holders may be affected by this pandemic, which is why it has laid down a number of policies as a measure to ensure that everything is running smoothly.

If you are aware that your visa is about to expire, instead of becoming an over-stayer – which is pretty risky and unlawful, you are advised to make an application for an extension to remain in the country, by applying for leave to remain outside the rules of immigration.

Due to the impact of the virus, anyone who had planned to return to the UK and is unable to do so can now rely on the compassionate and compelling factors in support of an application to remain outside the immigration rules. For the Home Office to approve your application to remain, it considers the following factors: unexpected events or emergencies or disasters, crises or an accident that wasn’t anticipated. And since COVID-19 perfectly falls under these categories, your application has a higher chance of being approved.

For non-EEA nationals who are currently living in the UK, their visas are taking a little longer to be processed. The visa extensions policy will also apply to the foreign nationals whose visas have already expired, allowing them more time to apply. This policy initially applied to Chinese nationals, or residents living in china, but it was later updated to include other nationalities, given that the pandemic have now spread to whole lot other countries.

Also, for non-EEA nationals living in the UK under the Tier 2 visa, then you are being allowed to switch to a general (tier 2) visa, from within the UK. In normal circumstances, the applications to switch are done when outside the country.

Also, for sponsors, they won’t be required to disclose absences from their students or employees, sponsored under the Tier 2, 4 or 5 visas, if the absences are somehow related to the coronavirus epidemic. Also, sponsors don’t need to remove the sponsorship, if the individual has been affected by the virus.   

As you know, NHS workers are the front line soldiers in the battle against the pandemic. As a result, the UK government is allowing these workers and their families to get a visa extension for one year, automatically. On March 31st, the Home Office announced that close to 2800 nurses, doctors and paramedics with leave expiring on October 1st would get an extension of one. This extension will include the workers’ family members, and there won’t be charged any fee.  

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