The world of international travel has changed in the last month, and it’s clear that many more changes will follow in the coming days. Whilst we are all, quite correctly, focusing on following guidance to minimise the spread of the disease, preserve resources (no stockpiling) and keep our loved ones safe, there are many for whom immigration issues add an extra layer of worries. The Home Office response to the coronavirus impact on immigration issues has been limited to date but gives an indication of the changes that we are likely to see in the near future.
The Home Office immigration pronouncement on coronavirus was first published on 17 February and updated on 27 February. At that time China was most severely affected by the virus and so the policies announced focus primarily on Chinese nationals. The Home Office have stated that they will update the policies shortly and it is very much hoped that these updates will expand the policy to citizens of other countries currently stranded in the UK.
Automatic Visa Extensions
Any Chinese national in the UK on a UK immigration visa which has an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020 will get an extension (on the same conditions as the existing visa) until 31 March 2020 if they have been compliant with the conditions of that visa.
The extension is automatic and there is no need to make an immigration application. Those who benefit will not receive a new visa or Biometric Residence Permit card but the new expiry date will be added to UK Visas and Immigration systems
The policy is remarkable in that it is both automatic (with no changes to the appropriate legislation) and back-dated (the announcement was made on 17 February but covers people whose permission to be in the UK expired as early as 24 January) with the very positive effect of forgiving any overstay in this time-frame even if it was not related to the coronavirus.
In addition, Chinese nationals in the UK on a long-term standard visitor visa that lasts 2, 5 or 10 years and who reach the maximum stay of 180 days between 24 January and 30 March 2020 will also have their permission to stay automatically extended.
Any Chinese nationals who have already applied to extend their visas do not need to do take any additional action. Any Chinese national who was planning to make an immigration extension application from within the UK should continue to do so – this will not usually be appropriate for visitors but would cover, for example, Chinese nationals with Tier 2 sponsored status.
The above policies are extended to non-Chinese nationals who can demonstrate to the Home Office that they are normally resident in China. For this group it is necessary to contact the Home Office to make the necessary arrangements as extensions will not be automatic.
Using the NHS
Overseas visitors to the UK must pay for any NHS care they receive – this requirement does not apply to long term visa holders (who will normally have paid the Immigration Health Surcharge) and those with indefinite leave to remain.
However, some infectious diseases are exempt from the requirements for payment. On 29 January coronavirus was added to that list.
This means that overseas visitors will not be charged for a diagnostic test for coronavirus even if the test result is negative. In addition, there will be no charge made for any treatment for coronavirus if the test is positive or, for suspected coronavirus, up to the point of any negative test result.
These changes apply to all nationalities and are an important step in ensuring that overseas visitors are not deterred from seeking diagnosis or treatment for coronavirus.
More to Follow
Whilst the above changes are limited in nature, it is anticipated that we will see an expansion of such policy announcements to cover other nationalities and immigration status. I’ll be providing further information here and regular updates.