Applying for a visa to come to the UK during the coronavirus epidemic

At present, UK Visas & Immigration case working and compliance teams are still functioning and pending applications are being processed, albeit standard processing times are likely to be impacted.

Although global travel is mostly on hiatus it is still technically possible to apply for visa online and some visa application centres are still operational, depending on the local situation.

Commercial flights to the UK are likely to heavily restricted or suspended in the coming days.

Visa holders currently in the UK

The Home Office has released coronavirus immigration guidance relating to Chinese nationals and non-Chinese nationals ordinarily resident in China who are in the UK and are unable to return to China:

  • If you are a Chinese national in the UK and have been compliant with the conditions of your visa prior to the coronavirus outbreak, your visa will be automatically extended to 31 March 2020 if your visa has an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020.
  • You’ll also get an automatic extension if you’re in the UK on a long-term standard visitor visa that lasts 2, 5 or 10 years and you have reached the maximum stay of 180 days between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020.
  • You don’t need to do anything to get this extension.
  • You will remain subject to the same immigration conditions attached to your visa during the extension period.
  • You will not automatically receive a new visa or Biometric Residence Permit card.
  • Your new expiry date (31 March 2020) will be added to UK Visas and Immigration’s systems.
  • If you need a status letter confirming this extension, or a new Biometric Residence Permit with a revised expiry date, you should contact the coronavirus immigration helpline.
  • If you have already applied to extend your visa you don’t need to do anything.
  • If you are intending to apply to extend your stay in the UK before 31 March 2020 you should continue to do so.

Those granted automatic leave until 31 March 2020 will need to monitor the situation as it develops.

The guidance was last updated on 27th February, so it is likely that further provisions will need to be made for other nationalities as travel becomes increasingly restricted.

Sopra Steria, the third-party contractor responsible for processing in country applications, is still technically open but has stated that on its website that if you have Coronavirus or are displaying symptoms, you must not attend your appointment. Applicants are advised to email to say that they cannot attend.

Sponsored workers and students

Where Tier 4 students and Tier 2 workers are absent, due to self-isolation, illness or the need to serve a quarantine period, Sponsors do not need to report absences 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

The Home Office recognises the current situation is exceptional and the general position is they will not take any compliance action against visa holders or sponsors where non-compliance occurs due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Where employers are looking to reduce pay of sponsored workers, they must ensure that the minimum threshold for the job role continues to be met. If salary is altered, it should be reported on the SMS within 10 working days.

If sponsors have to terminate employment of a sponsored worker, this should be reported on the SMS within 10 days of termination. The workers leave will ordinarily be curtailed to 60 days, but as discussed above, this is likely to cause an issue if they cannot leave the UK and this leave may have to be extended.