Concession for impacted migrants in the UK
In response to the escalating impact of the coronavirus issue in China and various restrictions on travel to and from the areas impacted by the virus, together with wider safeguarding measures introduced by employers to limit non-essential travel and meetings, the Home Office introduced a temporary concession for Chinese nationals living in the UK. Under the concession, which was introduced on 17 February, the visas of Chinese nationals (and subsequently nationals from other non-EEA countries affected by the virus) will be automatically extended if they are due to expire shortly. The Home Office will also be more flexible in relation to applications to switch their status whilst they are in the UK and in relation to the wider compliance obligations of their employers. The intention of this concession is to remove any ambiguity concerning the status of such individuals during these exceptional times.
Key points to note in relation to the concession:
- Chinese nationals in the UK: Visas ending between, 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020, will be automatically extended to 31 March 2020. This also applies to visitors who are at or close to the normal 180-day limit. No action is required to get the automatic extension and those impacted will not be issued with a new BRP or visa.
- Non-Chinese, non-EEA nationals in the UK who normally reside in China: If you normally reside in China and your visa expires between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020, you should contact the Home Office's coronavirus immigration hotline. Your visa can be extended as long as you are able to prove that you normally reside in China
- Chinese nationals in the UK switching to a Tier 2 category: You can apply to switch from a Tier 2 (ICT) to a Tier 2 General visa from within the UK if your visa end date is between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020 and you are a high earner. This waives the rule preventing in-country switching that would normally apply, although all of the other usual requirements must still be met.
- Licensed Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsors: Reporting absences: The Home Office is aware that some sponsored employees may not be able to attend their usual place of work or to undertake their role as normal. In this respect, whilst sponsors aren't required to report any authorised absences associated with COVID-19, under normal circumstances sponsorship must be withdrawn if an employee is absent from work for more than 4 weeks. The Home Office has indicated that it won't take any compliance action against sponsors whose employees are absent for longer than 4 weeks due to the virus issue.
The Home Office hasn't yet indicated if the above concession will be extended further, although this seems likely. It has also set up a dedicated coronavirus immigration hotline to support any impacted migrants.
As reported in previous bulletins, the virus has led to the closure of some visa centres and reduced staffing levels at other centres. Applicants are normally required to apply for their visa in their home country or a country where they have a right of residence. The closure of these centres will inevitably have an impact on applicants seeking to come to the UK from those jurisdictions. The current position is as follows:
- All UK Visa Application Centres in China are currently closed, although the Visa Application Centre in Hong Kong is still open. This could impact the timing of any upcoming assignments to the UK from that region.
- If applicants currently have an application with one of the Visa Application Centres in China and have paid for a courier service, their passport will be returned where possible. If a courier service was not paid for, applicants should contact the Visa Application Centre directly. However, no guidance has been provided yet for those applicants whose visas have already been issued, but who are unable to travel to the UK during their initial 30 day short validity visa due to the travel restrictions.
- The Visa Application Centre in Tehran is temporarily closed.
There are no other reported closures at present although this could clearly change at any stage. Iranian nationals can under long-standing arrangements still apply for a UK visa from the United Arab Emirates. It is unclear whether UK Visas & Immigration might, given the circumstances, be minded to exercise more discretion and accept applications from any other impacted nationals outside of their normal country of residence.
Current advice on outbound travel and returning travellers
The UK Government has advised against travel to and from the areas affected by the virus. Please find below an up-to-date (as of 9 March) summary of the restrictions. The UK Government advises:
- Against all travel to Hubei province in China and against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China, though critically this does not include Hong Kong or Macao. Many airlines have also suspended flights to and from China.
- All travellers in China to leave if possible and in particular the elderly or those with underlying health conditions.
- Against travel to Daegu, Cheongdo and Gyeongsan in South Korea. These are now designated "special care zones".
- Against all but essential travel to the following lockdown areas in northern Italy: the Lombardy region (which includes the cities of Milan, Bergamo, Como) and the provinces of Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia and Rimini (all in Emilia Romagna); Pesaro e Urbino (in Marche); Alessandria, Asti, Novara, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola and Vercelli (all in Piemonte); Padova. Treviso and Venice (in Veneto).
- Against all but essential travel to Iran and against all travel within 10km of the Iran/Afghanistan border, within 10km of Iran/Iraq border, province of Sistan/Baluchistan and the area from Bam to Jask including Bam.
No other travel restrictions are in place at this current time. It is important to bear in mind that if any of your employees have travelled to China or any of the impacted areas mentioned above in the last 14 days, they may not be allowed to enter/transit some countries or they may be required to go into quarantine.
The UK position is that any returning travellers who have been to the directly affected areas (as confirmed above) are advised to self-isolate (stay indoors and avoid contact with people) for 14 days even if they don't have any symptoms. In addition, travellers coming from the following countries who have any symptoms - even if they are mild - are also advised to self-isolate:
- Mainland China outside of Hubei province
- Italy outside of the lockdown areas
- South Korea outside of the special care zones
- Hong Kong
Any returning travellers in this situation should seek medical advice by calling 111 rather than visiting their GP.