Coronavirus and the UK immigration system

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The coronovirus epidemic has affected all areas of our lives. Immigration rules in Britain were no exception. In recent weeks, the Home Office has published a number of unprecedented instructions relating to foreign nationals who are temporarily in the UK on various types of visas. Let's look at the main new temporary regulations.


Visa extension

If a foreign national entered the UK on a valid visa and cannot leave the country before its expiration due to the fact that the border of the home country or country of residence is closed, flights are cancelled or a person is ill, you must apply to the Ministry of Interior for an extension of your visa. The Ministry of Interior assured foreigners who have expired on January 24, 2020, will not be considered as infringers of immigration laws of the UK. An expired foreigner's visa will be extended until 31 May 2020 if an individual cannot leave the UK due to transport restrictions or coronavirus-related self-isolation (COVID 19). This rule applies to nationals of any state whose visa expires between 24 January 2020 and 30 May 2020.


Filing an application to change your immigration status without leaving the UK (switching visas)

Under normal circumstances, under current immigration rules, in order to file a deferred application to change your immigration status, you must return to your country of residence, that is, leave the UK. For example, in order for an employee's spouse to change her status from a family member to her own work visa, she must leave the UK and apply from her country of citizenship. Due to the pandemic, the Home Office has temporarily allowed such visa applications until May 31, 2020, without leaving the UK. The new rule also applies to those whose visa has already been automatically extended until 31 March 2020. The application must be made online, following the rules of your chosen immigration route. The conditions of stay in the UK for the applicant will remain the same until a decision is made on the application.


Visa Application Centres

The British Visa Application Centres (UKVCAS) and Application Service and Support Centres (SSCs) are temporarily closed due to the coronavirus. The Home Office assures that the immigration status of foreign nationals will not be adversely affected. If a person is already booked with the UKVCAS or Service and Support Centre (SSC), they will be contacted and informed about further action.


Students in the UK

Students holding Tier 4 General visas are usually not allowed to participate in distance learning courses. However, in the present circumstances, the MIA has stated that it will not consider it a violation of the offer of distance education institutions. Students who are in the UK and those who have decided to return home but wish to continue their studies at a British institution may do so remotely.

New international students who have not yet applied for a visa but want to start a distance learning course should not enter the UK to do so. These rules apply until 31 May 2020, but may be reviewed and extended.

If a foreign national has applied for a Tier 4 student visa, they are already entitled to begin their studies while waiting for a decision from the Home Office. This new rule applies to prospective students who have received a CAS (Certificate of Enrollment) and have applied for a new visa before the current one expires. The course they start studying before the visa application is decided must be the same as the one specified in CAS. If the visa application is eventually rejected, the student must stop studying.


Entrepreneur visa (Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa)  

If the business of a foreign national on a Tier 1 Entrepreneur Business Visa in the UK has been disrupted by the pandemic, the Home Office will temporarily allow no job creation or employment of at least two employees for a period of 12 months.  An Entrepreneur may send an employee on unpaid leave, but this period will not count towards the required 12 months of two jobs being created. On the other hand, the entrepreneur's visa will be extended in order to enable the entrepreneur to fulfill his obligation to create two jobs for a period of 12 months each.


Doctors, nurses or paramedics working at NHS

Visas for medical workers that expire before October 1, 2020, will be automatically extended for one year. This also applies to their family members.  The extension will not be subject to state duties and fees on health care. Foreign medical workers will be contacted by the Ministry of Interior to notify about the automatic extension of visas.

In addition, the Ministry of Interior will temporarily lift the restrictions on the number of hours during which a foreign national is entitled to work in an additional (second) job or to volunteer if it is a matter of additional employment with the NHS as a doctor, nurse or paramedic. This applies to Tier 4 General students, employees with Tier 2 visas, short-term visa holders and volunteers.

Foreign nationals who are in the UK on Tier 2 and Tier 5 work visas

If the foreign national has applied for a Tier 2 or Tier 5 visa and is waiting for a decision, according to the new provisional rules, the foreign national may start working before the decision to issue a visa is made. This is possible if the applicant has been issued a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), the foreign national has applied before the expiration of the current visa, and if the work performed matches the one listed in the CoS. If a work visa application is refused, the applicant must stop working in the UK.

The Home Office has temporarily exempted employers from notifying the Home Office if an employee is working from home because of a coronavirus pandemic. Sponsors of Tier 2 and Tier 5 work visas are usually required to notify the Home Office.

It is also stated that the MOI will not take coercive action against sponsors who continue to sponsor students or employees despite their absence from school or employment due to the coronavirus. Sponsors do not need to inform the Ministry of the absence of students or staff due to illness, isolation or travel restrictions. Sponsorship is also not necessary if a student has not attended classes for more than 60 days or if a worker has been absent from work without pay for more than 4 weeks.

One more important point. If sponsors are unable to pay the salaries of sponsored employees because they have reduced or stopped trading and business operations, it is allowed to temporarily reduce the salaries of sponsored employees to 80% of their salary or to £2,500 per month. Any salary reductions must be part of the company's policy to avoid discrimination against individual employees. Salary cuts should be temporary, and the employee's salary should return to the previous level as soon as possible.

Immigration laws related to the pandemic are changed and supplemented daily. We will continue to divide the story by story.

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