As international travel remains disrupted, the Home Office has confirmed people planning to live and work in the UK can request a replacement visa with extended validity dates. But does this change leave more questions than answers? Chetal Patel looks at some areas of confusion.
Many of us will remember the Prime Minister’s address to the nation on 23 March during which he announced the lockdown measures for the UK. He gave us all a simple five word instruction: “You must stay at home”. This was history in the making. It was a signal that the world as we knew it was going to change in all forms: from the international mobility of workers, care for children and elderly parents, through to supporting our neighbours, nothing would be the same again.
This appears to be an exceptionally lengthy timeframe compared with other deadlines set by the Home Office. Why is there such a protracted date? Does this suggest that we can expect a longer lockdown?”
For many UK immigration practitioners, this wasn’t the first time we were alerted to Covid-19 related immigration issues. In fact, queries were raised with the Home Office after Christmas 2019, and the first official Home Office guidance was published on 17 February (this focused on individuals being unable to return to China from the UK). Since then, things have moved on rapidly.
Due to the fast-paced nature of the coronavirus pandemic, Home Office announcements in relation to Covid-19 have been released in dribs and drabs. Its dedicated Coronavirus (Covid-19): immigration and borders webpage went live on 1 April and this has been the main authority for many immigration practitioners when advising clients.
For many of my clients, trips to the UK had been planned months in advance, as part of a normal Tier 2 recruitment drive, for instance. But travel has been disrupted and for some individuals, start dates in the UK have been delayed, which in turn has had a snowball effect on businesses.
With most international commercial flights cancelled and the general appetite for travel remaining low, concerns have been raised as to what happens when an individual’s UK entry clearance vignette has expired, or is due to expire as the 30-day window to travel to the UK is fast approaching. In most cases, individuals can apply for a UK visa no earlier than three months before their intended travel date to the UK.
The Home Office has now confirmed that individuals can request a replacement visa with amended validity dates at no cost until the end of this year. However, there still remain many unanswered questions, which sadly seems to be the case with most recent Home Office policy announcements.
- Does an individual need to know their revised travel dates? I query how can one be expected to know these dates at this stage when the majority of the world is still on lockdown and we don’t have a crystal ball to gaze into?
- How long will it be until the local visa application centers re-open to endorse passports again? One can expect different timeframes will exist for different jurisdictions based on local government advice and capacity to turn around requests.
- How many times can an individual request a replacement visa? Undoubtedly, plans will continue to change as we return to a new business as usual phase.
It’s interesting that the Home Office decided to state that this process will be in place until the end of the year. This appears to be an exceptionally lengthy timeframe compared with other deadlines set by the Home Office. Why is there such a protracted date? Does this suggest that we can expect a longer lockdown?
While it appears that this request can be made over the telephone, I’d recommend that individuals who want a replacement visa email the CIH team (the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre team at CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk) so that there’s a physical record of the correspondence.
Specific information needs to be contained in the email including the individual’s name, date of birth, nationality and GWF reference number (this is a number found on the submitted visa application). The subject line needs to state: “Replacement 30 day visa”. In some cases, individuals may have already contacted the CIH team about this and if they have, they should state this in their email.
Replacement visas will be endorsed in passports when the visa application centres re-open and the Home Office will confirm this at the appropriate time. My concern here is that some individuals could be waiting for a long time to get their new replacement visas so it will be interesting to see if arrangements are made for the endorsement process to be managed in other way.
Going hand in hand with this replacement visa is confirmation from the Home Office that concessions apply to the collection of Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs) and that individuals won’t be penalised for not collecting their BRPs while the coronavirus measures are in place.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for concessions being made; however, I’m left asking myself whether or not we have any more clarity than previously? Does this latest set of policy announcements really give the necessary information to allow businesses and individuals to plan for the next phase of someone’s journey to the UK? We will have to watch this space.