Coronavirus and the UK immigration system (as of 21 April 2020)

Switching inside the UK

The new Home Office guidance includes information on switching visas. It allows people to “apply from the UK to switch to a long-term UK visa until 31 May 2020. This includes applications where you would usually need to apply for a visa from your home country”.

From what we gather, this would be an in-country application rather than an application for entry clearance. The concession is limited to people whose visa is due to expire by 31 May 2020.


The Home Office released a separate guidance document about coronavirus and student visas on 20 April. It covers a number of temporary immigration concessions for those on Tier 4 and short-term student visas which “will be withdrawn once the situation returns to normal”.

The section of the document aimed at individual students covers:

  • Distance learning: now permitted.

  • Extending a Tier 4 visa: can be done in line with the general policy described above. “Students who need to repeat a year, retake a module, or resit an exam are exempt from demonstrating academic progression as would normally be the case for those applying in the UK”.

  • Police registration: suspended.

  • Working hours: 20-hour a week restriction lifted for doctors, nurses, paramedics and those whose sponsor has suspended all study.

  • Volunteering: permitted for NHS Volunteer Responders.

  • Social distancing: applies to overseas students just like everybody else.

  • Time limits: “discretion may be applied” if someone applies for an extension that would take them over the normal maximum period allowed on a Tier 4 (General) visa.

  • Right to rent checks: can be done remotely.

  • Graduate route: “still scheduled to be launched in summer 2021”.

For short-term students:

  • In-country switching: into Tier 4 from short-term routes “will be allowed on an exceptional basis” until at least 31 May 2020.

  • Permitted study: “Short-term students who have been given an exceptional extension of leave in this category as a result of Covid-19 will be permitted to study on a further course other than that which they originally entered the UK to undertake”.

  • Extending short-term study leave: not catered for, would need to be an application for leave outside the Rules.


Sponsor duties

These Home Office introduced some new concessions for sponsors. They cover the following:

  • Educational oversight: can be done remotely; “flexible approach to unavoidable delays in inspection”.

  • Student absences: do not need to be reported if due to COVID-19.

  • Distance learning: now permitted.

  • Attendance monitoring: no need to report students for missing expected contact points.

  • Basic compliance assessments: students who drop out because of COVID-19 don’t count.

  • Validity of CAS which have already been issued: “The Home Office will take a pragmatic approach to considering applications to study courses with significantly different start dates to those stated on CAS or expired CAS”.

  • Original documents: can now be digitally provided.

  • English language: “higher education providers with a track record of compliance will be able to self-assess students as having a B1 level of English”.

  • Commencing studies: can be done even if the visa application is still pending, subject to certain conditions.

  • ATAS certificates: still needed but can’t be obtained directly from the Foreign Office; contact coronavirus helpline if needed urgently.

  • Right to work checks: can be done remotely.

  • Child students: duty of care and safeguarding duties continue to apply.

Posted on Apr 20, 2020.

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