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Key Covid-19 changes on UK Immigration

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way the world works and seems to have also transformed the way UK visa applications are submitted and processed. The Home Office consistently updates their Covid-19 policies, making it imperative for UK visa applicants to remain hypervigilant when applying for an initial visa or applying to extend their stay in the UK.

The following is a summary of some of the developments in Covid-19 immigration policy guidance which may be unknown to UK visa holders already in the UK or those looking to immigrate to the UK. Please note that each individual’s circumstances are different and we recommend obtaining specialised legal advice before making any decisions which may impact your immigration status in the UK.

Start-up Visas

Start-up visas are granted to those migrants who have demonstrated that they can set up a business in the UK which is new, innovative and is commercially viable. To be eligible, endorsement is required from an approved body such as a UK university or business organisation with a credible history of supporting UK entrepreneurs.

The Start-up visa is granted for two years, and it may be possible to switch to an Innovator visa if during those two years the start-up business has been active, trading, and sustainable and the endorsing body gives its seal of approval.

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on start-ups and UK businesses, and so the Home Office has implemented a concession permitting Start-up visa holders to apply for a 12-month extension if it can be evidenced that Covid-19 has disrupted the business to the point that an additional year is required to continue developing the business as outlined in the original Start-up visa application.

To be granted with a 12-month extension, the endorsing body must also provide a letter consenting to the extension, which requires an assessment of the business where they will determine whether reasonable progress has been made considering the disruption caused by the pandemic. The endorsing body must be satisfied that the business remains feasible.

Overseas UK Visa Application Centres (VAC’s)

When applying for a UK visa overseas, standard procedure is to submit an online application and then attend a biometric appointment to provide your fingerprints, a photograph, your passport and any other documents in support of the application. UK Visas & Immigration will not process overseas visa applications until biometric appointments have been attended.

Normally, applicants must attend a biometric appointment at a UK VAC in the country they reside (for all visa applications other than visit visas). Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, UK VACs across the world have temporarily or permanently closed due to Covid-19 related reasons, leaving UK visa applicants in limbo as they are unable to finalise their applications.

In the early days of the pandemic, the Home Office put a concession in place temporarily permitting UK visa applicants to book and attend biometric appointments in any country if there are no UK VACs open in the country they live in, on the proviso that they have immigration permission to enter the country where they have booked their biometric appointment.

The Home Office has recently announced that this concession will be extended to 31 March 2022.

It is important to note that the first step when drafting an online visa application is to select the country where you will attend your biometric appointment. If after submitting and paying for the application, all UK VACs close in the country stated on the application, a new application must be submitted (and paid for) in order to attend a biometric appointment in a country where there is a UK VAC open, and the applicant may request a refund for the earlier application fee.

‘Exceptional Assurance’

Certain foreign nationals with UK visas and who are currently in the UK may be unable to return to their home country due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, for example where the borders are closed or where quarantine facilities are temporarily at full capacity.

For these individuals who hold a UK visa expiring before 31 January 2022, they are permitted to request a discretionary extension of their stay in the UK called ‘Exceptional Assurance.’ With the request, evidence must be provided demonstrating why it is not possible to leave the UK and return to your home country e.g., official government-issued documents showing travel is prohibited to the home country or documents showing it is not possible to book quarantine accommodation in the home country.

If granted with ‘Exceptional Assurance,’ the terms and conditions of your expired visa will continue until it expires, and the Home Office expects those with granted with this discretionary extension to leave the UK as soon as it is possible to do so.

Monica Atwal

Managing Partner

View profile

+44 118 960 4605

The Home Office consistently updates their Covid-19 policies, making it imperative for UK visa applicants to remain hypervigilant when applying for an initial visa or applying to extend their stay in the UK.

UK Visas & Immigration has shown a greater degree of flexibility during the Covid-19 pandemic than ever before, adapting processes with the view to completely digitise visa applications so as to avoid being reliant on physical documents and face-to-face interactions, since temporary lockdowns are becoming the norm around the world.

The Home Office is also taking steps to completely scrap in-person biometric appointments for visa applications made within the UK and are introducing eVisas to replace biometric residence permits and biometric residence cards.

About this article

This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

Monica Atwal

Managing Partner

View profile

+44 118 960 4605

About this article

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