Covid-19 has triggered unprecedented response from the UK Home Office in the sense that it has provided immigrants who has valid leaves, including those living in the UK with visit visas, with an option to have their leaves extended until 31 May 2020 if they “cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus (Covid-19)”. This widens the ambit of previous guidance that allowed an extension until 31 March 2020 for certain immigrants. The question is, how could this be assessed or how can one avail themselves of these provisions?
Extension due to Covid-19
Home Office’s ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19) factsheet: visa holders and short-term residents in the UK’ (published on 02 April 2020) provides –
“No individual who is in the UK legally, but whose visa is due to, or has already expired, and who cannot leave because of travel restrictions related to COVID-19, will be regarded as an overstayer, or suffer any detriment in the future.”
This appears to be the guiding principle adopted by the Home Office. It, however, advises that those who cannot leave the UK due to Covid-19, but having their leaves expired in between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020, must inform the Coronavirus Immigration Team (“CIT”) about it. So far we could identify two prescribed ways for this – (i) emailing CIT to CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk with some key information (i.e. the affected immigrant’s full name, DOB, nationality, existing visa details and reason that has required him/her to extend the stay), and (ii) filling up and submit a form electronically that can be found at https://gov.smartwebportal.co.uk/homeoffice/public/webform.asp?id=199&id2=5C97E7.
The CIT would then update the immigrant’s (hereinafter: the Applicant) relevant details on UKVI databases and the Applicant would be advised that UKVI have noted his/her details, he/she will not be subject to enforcement action, and this period will not be held against him/her in future applications. The Home Office aims to provide this response within 5 working days of sending the email or submitting the form. However, given the hardship placed upon them as a result of Covid-19, in many cases the Home Office may not be able to adhere to this timeframe. One should not worry if that happens, since the Home Office guidance also provides – “Individuals do not need to do anything else once they have emailed and their status in the UK is secure from the point they have emailed.”
The same rule should apply when the information is provided by way of submitting the electronic form. Soon after the form is submitted, the Applicant should receive an email asking him/her to confirm his/her email address. Once that is done, the affected individual does not need to take any further option.
What if you want to stay in the UK for longer period?
If your visa is expiring or have expired in between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020 and she/he wants to stay in the UK beyond 31 May 2020, that individual should consider making an application for further leave to remain in one of the existing visa routes. Of course, the requirements for such visa route need to be met in order to succeed in that application.
If, however, you do not meet the requirements of existing visa routes, but envisage that you might have to stay in the UK beyond 31 May 2020 due to coronavirus, then there could be two options. The first of those is to simply wait until the penultimate week of May 2020, to see if the current timeframe for extending visas automatically due to Covid-19 is extended beyond 31 May 2020. There is a good chance that this might be done, since the world is still in lockdown and it does not seem that the restrictions would ease substantially before 31 May 2020. The other option is making an FLR(HRO) application on discretionary grounds, explaining, with suitable evidence, why the Applicant cannot leave the UK at this moment due to Covid-19.
 See: Home Office’s ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19) factsheet: visa holders and short-term residents in the UK’ (published on 02 April 2020) page 1, as well as, https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-uk-visa-applicants-and-temporary-uk-residents.
 See the Coronavirus Factsheet, page 2.