Coronavirus in the UK: updates regarding the immigration rules (as of 12 January 2021)

People stuck in the UK

Some people who were in the UK when the pandemic hit were unable to leave before the expiry of their visa because of travel restrictions. The government had been allowing people in this situation to easily extend their visas through a simplified online application process, but that concession has now been replaced with “exceptional assurance”, a promise of extra time to stay that falls short of proper leave to remain.

Exceptional assurance was initially available only to those with a visa expiring up to 31 October, but the cut-off point has been pushed back as the virus crisis escalated again over the winter. The most recent version of the policy states that exceptional assurance is available to people who “intend to leave the UK but have not been able to do so and… have a visa or leave that expires between 1 December 2020 and 31 January 2021”. This seems likely to be pushed back again, although the Home Office has tended to wait until the last minute before extending concessions like this.

People requesting exceptional indemnity/assurance need to contact Home Office.

The guidance also allows people to apply for further leave to remain in the UK even “where you would usually need to apply for a visa from your home country” — provided that the application is “urgent”.

People stuck outside the UK

On 11 January 2021, the Home Office published a Covid Visa Concession Scheme. It is designed to help people who had permission to live in the UK but whose permission expired while they were stuck abroad due to coronavirus travel restrictions, leaving them unable to return. Provided they meet the eligibility criteria in the guidance, such people will be granted entry clearance valid for three months to allow them to travel back to the UK and apply properly to extend their stay. But the scheme is aimed at people who left the UK before 17 March 2020 (the date the Foreign Office changed its travel advice, apparently).

Those who left the UK after 17 March 2020 will only be considered for this concession in “exceptional circumstances”. These include “serious illness or death of a close relative overseas” and “travel for the purpose of receiving medical treatment”. 

For those worried about breaking their period of continuous residence in the UK for the purposes of indefinite leave to remain, Appendix Continuous Residence now states that absences caused by “travel disruption due to… pandemic” will not count towards the 180-day maximum.

Start-up and Innovator visas

The guidance for the Start-up route includes a coronavirus concession:

Applicants who have already received the full 2-year period allowed in the route, but have been unable to develop their business sufficiently to switch into the Innovator route due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic can be exceptionally [granted] a further 12 months.

There is also a coronavirus section in the guidance for Start-up and Innovator endorsing bodies. Among other things, it advises those handing out endorsements to have “frank discussions” with would-be applicants, who may wish to think about “whether they are likely to be able to start developing their business in the UK under the current situation”.

Travel to the UK: Compulsory quarantine

International travellers arriving in England must quarantine for ten days and, from 15 January, have a negative coronavirus test taken pre-departure. The test must be taken no further out than three days before departure and testing negative does not exempt the person from the quarantine requirement. However, under the Test to Release scheme, travellers can take a private coronavirus test in England after five days and leave quarantine if they test negative.

There is also a list of countries and territories for which there is no quarantine requirement at all, known as “travel corridors“. The number of exempt countries has risen and fallen in line with the coronavirus situation around the world; the list started out in July 2020 with 59 countries/territories and at last count had 77. The last amendment to the list saw the United Arab Emirates removed on 12 January 2021. 

People coming from travel corridor countries will still need to provide a negative pre-departure test.

Expiring entry clearance

Between 28 April and 31 December 2020, the Home Office offered a concession for people who had secured entry clearance to the UK but couldn’t use it before it expired after 30 days:

If your 30-day visa to travel to the UK for work, study or to join family has expired, or is about to expire, you can request a replacement visa with revised validity dates free of charge until the end of this year. This does not apply to other types of visas.

This process will be in place until the end of 2020.

This concession now seems to have expired; the guidance page no longer mentions it. However, those issued with a free replacement visa under this scheme (which should have been valid for 90 days instead of 30) can apply to extend it further at a cost of £154. The Home Office says “we strongly advise that you only… apply to replace an expired vignette, when you are confident you can travel to the UK”.

Applications from within the UK

All visa application centres within the UK closed in late March but gradually reopened over the course of 2020. The Home Office updated its guidance on 5 November 2020 to stress that they are staying that way despite the second wave: “our in-country immigration services (UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services, Service and Support Centres and English Language Test centres) will remain open”.

That remains the case during the lockdowns in force at time of writing in early 2021: all UKVCAS centres were open, except for four that were closed because of a “due to a COVID-19 related issue”.

EU Settlement Scheme

There are no plans to extend the application deadline beyond 30 June 2021. The Home Secretary said in April 2020 that “we see no reason to extend the deadline when there’s still over a year to apply”.

Posted on Jan 13, 2021.

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