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With an increasing number of travel restrictions being put in place due to the coronavirus, the Home Office has issued guidance to those individuals facing uncertainty in relation to the expiry date of their current visa or leave to remain in the United Kingdom.

The government announcement confirms all Chinese nationals currently in the UK whose visa expiry falls between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020 will have their leave automatically extended to 31 March 2020 as long as they have been compliant with the conditions of their visa prior to the outbreak. 

The new period of awarded leave will be subject to the same immigration conditions and applied automatically to the UK Visa Immigration’s systems. Individuals are therefore not required to formally apply to the Home Office for the visa extension.

Equally, the Home office has no intention to issue documentary evidence of this grant of leave. Therefore, if a status letter or new Biometric Residence Permit is required, the Home Office is advising Chinese nationals to contact the coronavirus immigration helpline.

If any Chinese national has already applied to extend their visa, they do not need to do anything further. Likewise, those intending to extend their UK stay before 31 March 2020 should continue with their application submission in the normal way. 

If you are a Chinese national in the UK with a visa that was granted by the Irish authorities (or by the Crown Dependencies) and has an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020 you are advised to contact the coronavirus immigration helpline to discuss your circumstances.

Are you a non-Chinese, non-EEA national normally resident in China?

If you are a non-Chinese or non-EEA national in the UK but are normally resident in China and your visa in the UK has an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020 you should also contact the coronavirus immigration helpline.

The Home Office announcement confirms its intention to extend such leave, subject to the same immigration conditions, until 31 March 2020 if the individual can demonstrate they are normally resident in China.

Switching to a Tier 2 category in the UK

To avoid the need for Chinese nationals to return to China in order to switch their current Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer visa to a Tier 2 General visa, the government has also announced a temporary change to the ‘switching’ rules.

Given the current travel constraints and the ongoing closure of the UK Visa Application Centres in China, Chinese nationals have been granted permission to exceptionally switch into Tier 2 General from within the UK if their visa has an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020. 

Sponsorship Compliance:

In light of the ongoing exceptional circumstances, the Home Office has also relaxed the reporting responsibilities placed on sponsors.

It acknowledges that some Tier 4 students or Tier 2/5 employees will be prevented from attending their studies or employment due to either illness or the inability to travel due to travel restrictions caused by coronavirus.

In such instances, the Home Office has lifted the need for sponsors to:

  • report student or employee absences related to coronavirus which they have authorised; or
  • withdraw sponsorship due to absenteeism if they consider there are exceptional circumstances.

The Home Office has confirmed it will not take any compliance action against students or employees who are unable to attend their studies/work due to the coronavirus outbreak, or against sponsors which authorise absences and continue to sponsor students or employees despite absences for this reason. 

The Home Office will update these temporary measures again in due course. Therefore, it is important for all sponsors to monitor this developing situation closely.

Smith Stone Walters – we are here to help

If you would like more information in relation to managing your expat population, please contact Smith Stone Walters. We are experts in immigration law.

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