Coronavirus – Immigration Implications

Global outbreak affecting global migration: what does this mean for foreign nationals in the United Kingdom?

250,000 people have so far been infected by the Coronavirus with more than 10,000 deaths around the world. These unprecedented times have left many of us in a state of confusion, panic, and worry. Naturally, our main concern is our individual health and the health of our loved ones. However, the concerns of foreign nationals in the United Kingdom may extend beyond their health and to their current immigration status. The Coronavirus is not only impacting the health of individuals but also Global Migration.

So how exactly is the Coronavirus impacting foreign nationals in the United Kingdom? Well, as it stands the Foreign Office is advising UK nationals against all but essential international travel. Border closures and other travel restrictions are increasing preventing most international travel, in any event.  Due to these travel restrictions, individuals are facing uncertainty concerning their current UK Visa or leave to remain. The Home Office understands that in this present pandemic, circumstances are beyond an individual’s control.

The Immigration concessions announced thus far favour just Chinese Nationals and provide Sponsors with some flexibility in respect to absence related compliance requirements. They are concessions up to 31 March 2020.  We await Home Office further guidance in respect of other nationalities and beyond 31 March 2020.

Inside the United Kingdom:

Those who are not subject to the Immigration concessions introduced will be required to apply to extend their leave in the UK by either applying for further leave to remain or leave outside of the Immigration Rules. No guidance has yet been published in respect of whether applications submitted out of time will be refused on the basis they are out of time or whether the applicant will be placed on a different route i.e. 5-year partner route to 10-year partner route as the application was out of time.

Outside the United Kingdom:

If you have made a successful entry clearance application, the vignette in your passport will confirm the period within which you need to enter the United Kingdom.  This is usually 30 days.  Due to the travel restrictions, this may not be possible; If you find yourself in this situation, you can apply for a transfer of conditions.  Given the extraordinary circumstances, an extension to enter the United Kingdom will be provided.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services have temporarily closed their offices as a response to the COVID-19 outbreak.  This closure impacts those individuals who are looking to travel from the US to the UK.  Individuals are still in a position to apply. However, they may be subject to significant delays in the processing of the visa applications as the application centres  are closed.

The government understands that in these exceptional circumstances, students may be unable to attend studies as required by the terms of their visas.

These are unparalleled times, no new legislation has been passed nor have new Immigration rules been implemented; there has just been a simple policy announcement on the government website.

Switching to a Tier 2 category in the UK: One obstacle which does apply to Tier 2 ICT Visa holders is the so called 12-month cooling-off period. This cooling-off period means that after using a Tier 2 ICT Visa, you must return to your country of origin for at least 12 months before applying for a Tier 2 General Visa 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.

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 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 means a potential repeat of the period of studies becomes necessary.

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

Chinese Nationals in the UK who have been compliant with the conditions of their visa before the coronavirus outbreak will automatically have their visa extended to 31st March 2020. To receive an automatic extension, the current leave must be expiring between 24th January 2020 and 30th March 2020.

Long-term standard visitors will also receive an automatic extension if they have exceeded the 180-day allowance in any 12 months between 24th January 2020 and 30th March 2020.

The visa will be issued automatically and the conditions of the visa will remain the same dur-ing this period.

Please note: if you are intending to apply to extend your stay in the UK before 31 March 2020, you should continue to do so.

There are scary times ahead of us. However, foreign nationals in the United Kingdom must comply with their visa requirements and must ensure they have valid leave to remain in the United Kingdom.

We are offering an initial 10-minute free phone consultation to discuss your current immigration situation and provide you with initial advice in respect of any concerns you may have  Please get in touch by email to with your contact details.

There is also a Home Office coronavirus immigration helpline and an email address is available for immigration enquiries related only to Coronavirus:

Telephone: 0800 678 1767, open Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 5.00pm. Calls are free of charge.

Sonum Behar