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The Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on UK immigration

The pandemic has had an impact on businesses, in many more ways than one.  Here we look at the effects of Covid-19 on UK immigration, visas and travel for overseas nationals, as well as for British citizens returning home.

Government guidance is continually changing.  However, we set out below a summary of the current key points affecting businesses, at this time.

Practical considerations before travelling:

  • The self-isolation period for travellers to the UK has been reduced from 14 days to 10 days.
  • Depending on where the individual has been before travelling to the UK, new arrivals must either quarantine in the place they are staying for 10 days or quarantine in a government approved hotel for 10 days.
  • Travellers to the UK must ensure that they comply with all travel restrictions, including pre-departure testing (in the 3 days before departure to the UK) and must attend to this requirement to undertake 2 tests after arrival in the UK.
  • A Passenger Locator Form is required for all travellers arriving into the UK (whether British citizens or overseas nationals).  This must be completed online before arrival.

Overseas nationals who are currently in the UK:

Overseas nationals who are in the UK are expected to take all reasonable steps to leave the UK before their visa expires, or otherwise to apply to regularise their stay in the UK.  So –

  1. Leaving

People who intend to leave the UK, but have not been able to do so and who have a visa which expires between 1st January 2021 and 28th February 2021 may request additional time to stay to protect their position (called “exceptional assurance”).  It is necessary to submit evidence as to why it is not possible to leave the UK.  Provided the application is successful, it will act as short-term protection.  Any conditions attaching to the applicant’s leave (for example, allowing the individual to work) will continue during the period of exceptional assurance.

2. Staying

Overseas nationals who wish to continue to stay in the UK must apply for the necessary permission to do so.  The application can be submitted from within the UK (even when an application is usually required from the individual’s home country).  The terms of the applicant’s current permission will remain the same until the application is decided.

Overseas nationals applying for a visa from overseas:

Applications are submitted to Visa Application Centres (VACs), though not all of these are currently open, such that it is important to check which VACs are open before submitting an application. 

If an individual’s nearest VAC is closed, the Home Office has confirmed that the application may be submitted at an alternative VAC.  This relaxes the usual restrictions on the location where some types of application can be submitted.  This concession is currently in operation until 31st March 2021.  English language tests are still available in most countries.

Types of Applications

  • Visitor visas:

Applications for visitor visas may be delayed if travelling from a country where travel to the UK is currently suspended.  The visa will be issued when suspension of travel is lifted.  There are separate rules for people needing to travel for urgent compassionate reasons.

  • Applications to work study or join family:

If the individual’s 90 day vignette has expired, it is necessary to apply for a replacement by completing an online form.  The cost of replacement is £154.  The new vignette will be valid for a period of 90 days.  It is advisable not to re-apply until the applicant is confident that s/he can travel to the UK.

  • Applications for indefinite leave to remain:

Some overseas nationals left the UK with valid leave before 17th March 2020 and intended to return and apply for indefinite leave, but have not been able to do so.  Whilst they are overseas, such individuals may complete an online form and submit information which will be considered by a caseworking team.  A Covid Visa Concession Scheme has been set up which is available until 31st March 2021.  There is separate guidance for individuals who have spent more than 2 years outside the UK and unable to return due to travel restrictions.

The above is a summary of key points.  The situation is constantly changing and it is important to take advice before taking action.