Covid-19: immigration and nationality applications

As with every area of our lives, the restrictions put in place to combat Covid-19 are having a dramatic effect on the ability of migrants to apply for immigration permission to enter and remain in the UK.

What is the issue?

For individuals looking to submit their UK immigration or nationality applications in the UK, it is still possible to submit the appropriate online application form. However, in order to complete the application process, they must attend an appointment at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Service (UKVCAS) centre. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, as of 27 March 2020, all UKVCAS centres are closed until 30 April 2020. It is also possible that this date may be extended depending on how things progress.

Individuals looking to submit their UK immigration applications from outside of the UK are faced with similar issues. All visa application centres run by VFS (one of the two commercial partners), as of 1 April 2020, are also closed until further notice. All the other visa application centres, which are run by TLScontact, are also facing temporary closure.

What can be done?

Individuals in the UK

  • UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) has released guidance stating that individuals whose immigration permission expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020, will have their visas extended until 31 May 2020 if they cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or they are self-isolating due to Covid-19. These individuals must contact the dedicated Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) to update their immigration records.
  • For individuals who can submit an application to extend their UK immigration permission or switch into another UK immigration category (the Home Office has confirmed that it will now permit switches in situations where individuals would normally be required to leave the UK to submit their immigration application), we would recommend that they proceed in doing so before their immigration permission expires, even in light of UKVCAS centre closures. As an in-time application is deemed to have been made if the online application form is submitted and application fee paid before an individual’s immigration permission expires, the individual will continue to have valid immigration permission to remain in the UK even if their permission expires before a decision is made on the application. Unfortunately, since individuals are not able to book a UKVCAS appointment this does means that migrants in this situation are effectively prevented from leaving the UK for what could be an indeterminate period.

Individuals outside of the UK

  • Individuals outside of the UK should consider waiting to submit their online applications until they are able to book a visa appointment. For those individuals with current UK immigration permission which is about to expire it is possible, in certain circumstances, to extend their immigration permission from outside of the UK. For example, Tier 1 (Investor) migrants and Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) migrants can extend their visas from overseas. In those circumstances only, in order to ensure that the extension applications are submitted before the expiry of their current visas, we would recommend submitting online application forms at this stage.  However, it is important to note that the Home Office has yet to confirm whether doing so will preserve the continuity of the individual’s immigration permission for the purposes of a future indefinite leave to remain (also known as settlement or permanent residence) application.

It is also important to point out that individuals who wish to apply for indefinite leave to remain or British citizenship in the future will need to continue to meet the residence requirements. For our view on how excess absences caused by Covid-19 will be viewed by the Home Office when it is considering these residence requirements, please see our separate note.

As this is a fast-evolving area, we are continuing to monitor the impact of Covid-19 on UK immigration and nationality applications and will post further updates as further guidance is released.