Obviously, nobody knows how long there will continue to be a threat to health from the Coronavirus. In the meantime, the Home Office continue to expect persons to make applications for extensions of leave (further stay) and settlement.
At the time of writing this blog 20/04/2020 UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) lead by Sopra Steria on behalf of UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) – the Home Office for in country applications, have suspended all services: This means that you cannot enrol your biometric and submit supporting documents at an appointment.
UKVCAS have cancelled all existing appointments and state they will be automatically rescheduled for six weeks ahead of the original appointment. They say Applicants will be notified of the new date. The Home Office says on Gov.uk that immigration status in the UK will not change as a result of being unable to attend an appointment.
If your leave is expiring you still need to make an application:
The earliest you can apply for an extension is 28 days prior to your visa expiring. An application for settlement can be made at any time once you meet the qualifying time period requirement i.e. You have acquired 60 months in the UK as a partner but leave expires in 2 months time. You can apply for a visa 28 days prior to acquiring the 5 years.
The Home Secretary has not announced any relaxation in the strict financial requirements of some of the immigration rules but with the catastrophic effect upon the UK economy by COVID 19, losing your job or being laid off is likely to affect many Applicants.
Take the following example: You are proposing to make an application for extension of stay to remain as a partner. You were in employment, have been made redundant, are unable to find another job, or cannot rely upon the 12 months income rule so will not be able to meet the financial requirements to apply for further leave to remain as a partner prior to the expiry of your current visa. The immigration rules stipulate that the date of an immigration application is the date you pay the application fee and the immigration health surcharge. The final part of your financial evidence (i.e. payslips and bank statements) must be within 28 days of the date of your application.
Your options will be:
Consider making an application under form FLR (FP) – family life as a parent or partner. The fee for this application is £1,033 plus £1,000 immigration health surcharge plus £19.20 for a biometric appointment (which will not take place in the short term).
Application under Home Office Form FLR (FP) – Family Life as a Partner or Parent.
You can also consider this where you are eligible to apply for settlement but cannot meet the financial requirements. There will be a saving of fees because the application for settlement is £2,389 plus £19.20 biometric appointment costs. There are good chances of getting stay on a FLR (FP) application if you have children. Harder to get if you are reliant upon your family life with your partner. Form FLR (FP) has no strict financial tests and no English language requirement for an extension application. If you are successful in the application you will obtain two and half years leave to remain on a ten year route to settlement. You will not be able to add the permission to remain you had as a partner towards the ten years to achieve settlement under this immigration category but prior leave to remain will count towards ten years continuous and lawful residence – long residence rules.
You can decide to switch back to the 5 years Partner route after obtaining stay on the 10 years route, you will have to complete 5 years on the 5 years partner route. Where an Applicant is coming up to 5 years as a partner they will currently not be able to sit English and Life in the UK test. Our advice is that if you are confident in passing these tests, apply for settlement in the hope that testing will resume and give the Applicant an opportunity to pass the tests prior to the Home Office deciding the application.
If you are unable to afford fees for an application for an extension, you should consider applying for a fee waiver. The criteria for a fee waiver are very strict and Home Office guidance is to apply these rules very restrictively. The application requires a lot of preparatory work. Applicants need to complete an online application form for a fee waiver. The criteria for qualifying for a fee waiver is an applicant has demonstrated by way of evidence, that they are destitute. Destitution is defined as not having adequate accommodation or any means of obtaining it. Or having adequate accommodation or the means of obtaining it, but cannot meet other essential living needs. There is a route for those who are not destitute at the time of application, have adequate accommodation and can meet their other essential living needs, but have no disposable income. Also, the Home Office states a fee waiver can be granted where there are exceptional circumstances. This blog is not going into greater detail of the fee waiver but bringing it to the attention of the Reader. Any applicant should read Home Office guidance on fee waivers on their website. A fee waiver is not available for an application for settlement and there are restrictions on what type of applications are eligible for a fee waiver.
Current Home Office advice.
If you are not eligible for a fee waiver/cannot afford to fund an application for further leave to remain/settlement then as a last resort you may wish to consider Home Office Coronavirus (COVID-19): Advice for UK Visa Applicants. If you are in the UK and your leave expires between 24th of January 2020 and 31st of May 2020 and you cannot return to your home country, for example, the border has closed, in situations where the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised UK nationals that it is not safe to travel to that country – the same should apply to non UK nationals – it is physically impossible to return there because there are no flights or there will be severe detriment to your health and other persons health because you have a severe illness and travelling to your home country would endanger your life/health then an applicant must fill in an online form available on www.gov.smartwebportal.co.uk/homeoffice/public/webform. The Coronavirus Immigration Helpline say they will respond within 5 working days but our experience so far is that it will take longer than this.
The relevant Home Office form states that if you are planning to extend your leave when it expires, do not complete the form. So completing this form will be taken as an individual not wanting to extend their leave/settle in the UK but actively planning to leave the UK once the coronavirus situation subsides. An Applicant may wish to consider this option where they have no realistic option of extending/settling in the UK but want to return to the UK in the future.
The Home Office have stated that where this form is received, applicants will not be subject to enforcement action and this period will not be held against applicants in future applications. Hopefully, this period will be treated as legal residence, prevent applicants from becoming overstayers and permit persons who had the legal right to work prior to their visa expiring to continue to have the right to work but at this stage, this is not clear.
Switch to long term visa.
The Home Office are currently permitting people to switch immigration categories from within the UK where they normally have to apply for entry clearance from overseas. So for example, a visitor in the UK can switch to a partner visa or adult Dependent Relative in UK. The Applicant will need to meet the relevant immigration rules pertaining to that immigration category except the requirement, obtain entry clearance from overseas.
Another example would be a Tier 4 Migrant switching to a Tier 2 General Migrant Visa where previously they could not because they fall into the category of students who could not switch. This is useful where persons are close to achieving 10 years continuous and lawful residence so can make an application under the 10 years long residence rules, or where a child was born in the UK and is close to being in the UK for 10 years – a citizenship application or 7 years – application under the child and 7 years residence private life rules. We are currently consider making an application for a Tier 4 Migrant or their dependent partner to switch to a Representative of an Overseas Business.
The Home Office has setup a Coronavirus helpline for enquiries relating to immigration provisions associated with COVID-19. Email: CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk Telephone: 0800 6781767 (Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm). You can complete and submit online form, the Home Office state that they will reply by email within 5 working days.
The form is available at:- www.gov.smartwebportal.co.uk
Out of country/ Entry Clearance Applications
All UK Visa Application Centres managed by Home Office Partners, TLSContact and VFS global are closed so you cannot attend biometric appointment overseas so an application cannot be processed to a decision. English test centres overseas are also closed.
We will attempt a visa application next week and report if the application is accepted. Applicants may need to consider this action where for example, they meet financial requirement of the immigration rules now but will not do so in a couple of months. If the application is accepted even if it is not processed, the applicant will meet the financial requirement of the immigration rules at the date of application.
If you have an appeal hearing before the First-tier/Upper Tribunal
The First-tier Tribunal has suspended oral (face to face) hearings other than in exceptional circumstances until further notice. The intention is that appeal hearings will be conducted by way of a paper hearing (written appeals not requiring any personal attendance at the hearing venue) or if a hearing is considered necessary, it will be conducted remotely via telephone/Skype. Parties should receive directions from the Tribunal and cases that were listed will be converted to what is known as case management hearings where the future conduct of the appeal will be determined.
One Immigration 20/04/2020