Will my Spouse Visa Extension be affected by the coronavirus?
Last month, the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic.
The result has seen a rollout of unprecedented measures by governments all around the world. And although many may complain about the restrictions imposed to civil liberties, some are understandably concerned that they will fall foul of the law through no fault of their own – particularly in light of the UK’s stringent immigration rules.
A nationwide lockdown in the UK has seen cancellations across the board: graduations, exams, birthday celebrations, holidays abroad and weddings have been axed. Even funerals are no longer going ahead to limit the spread of the disease.
However, where does this leave Spouses and Fiances of British nationals in the UK whose leave is due to expire?
Automatic Visa Extensions
Fortunately, the Government has relaxed certain visa rules for the first time in history.
On the 24 March, the Home Office announced that anyone whose leave had already expired after 24 January and subsequently can’t leave the country, whether due to self-isolation or due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, will have their visa extended until 31 May.
Unlike most other countries that are automatically rolling out visa extensions for all, foreign nationals in the UK still need to notify the Government of their circumstance. There is a dedicated Coronavirus Immigration Team set up to handle these queries.
The Married Partner Visa and Fiance Visa immigration rules are still firmly in place. This means that hopeful applicants must still ensure they meet the requirements in order to be eligible.
So, what does this mean for Fiance Visa holders whose leave expires after May but whose marriage has been cancelled? Where does this leave Spouse Visa holders who have lost their job and who may struggle to meet the income requirement for a visa renewal?
Under normal circumstances, couples intending to be wed must marry in the UK within a period of six months. However, we are living in quite an abnormal era – and it is most likely that the wedding won’t be going ahead anytime soon.
If your wedding has been cancelled and thus rendered your Fiance Visa invalid, the Government may consider the merits of your case and extend your visa for another six months. However, this is no guarantee and it is best to speak to a legal professional to see what is your best next step forward. In addition, you may need to apply and pay the visa fee all over again.
Yet there is some relief for applicants in terms of extending their visa or submitting a fresh application. Due to travel restrictions, it is now not possible for migrants in the UK to return to their home country to apply for their visa. As a result, the Home Office is now granting applicants the opportunity to make their application while they are in the UK.
On the 24 March, the Home Office announced that anyone whose leave had already expired after 24 January and subsequently can’t leave the country, whether due to self-isolation or due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, will have their visa extended until 31 May.
Concerns for the Minimum Income Requirement
Job losses are sadly becoming the norm in the UK due to Covid-19. For foreign nationals in the UK, this factor is particularly pertinent when it comes to extending a visa or making a fresh application. If either the British partner or their non-EEA spouse loses their job or need to take time off work to look after their children, they may struggle to meet the Minimum Income Requirement (MIR) of the Spouse Visa rules. The MIR dictates the sponsor must earn at least £18,600 – or that the couple have considerable savings in their bank account in the last 6 months.
For the time being, it is still unclear what the rules are around applicants who would otherwise meet the financial requirement had it not been for coronavirus impacting their income and livelihood. It could jeopardise thousands of applicants who are seeking a Spouse Visa extension or who are switching onto Indefinite Leave to Remain.
It is still unclear what the rules are around applicants who would otherwise meet the financial requirement had it not been for coronavirus impacting their income and livelihood
However, although foreign nationals in the UK cannot seek Universal Credit or public funds, they are still eligible for Statutory Sick Pay. Migrants who are employed in the UK are also eligible for financial support under the newly unveiled Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This scheme helps employers pay 80% of their staff’s wages – and even self-employed people can claim 80% back of their average income.
Concerns Around Overstaying
It is still imperative that foreign nationals and their sponsors continue to meet the requirements of the immigration rules. Failure to do so may leave you in a legal limbo where you are unable to return home and, by default, become an “overstayer”.
Through the eyes of UKVI, overstaying is considered a fraudulent/deceptive offence. This usually impinges on most other subsequent visa applications made to the UK, including ILR and British Citizenship.
However, Home Office guidance does note some exceptions. If overstaying a visa was genuinely not your fault, you shouldn’t be penalised for it. Although it is normally rare to argue this case, COVID-19 presents itself as an exceptionally fitting reason for warranting such a waiver.
The Government has solidified this stance since individuals who notify UKVI of their circumstances “should not be subject to enforcement action” and that this “period will not be held against them in future applications.”
If overstaying a visa was genuinely not your fault, you shouldn’t be penalised for it. Although it is normally rare to argue this case, COVID-19 presents itself as an exceptionally fitting reason for warranting such a waiver.
Immigration Lawyers Exercise Precaution
The visa extension policy is said to be reviewed again closer to the 31 May. In the meantime, immigration lawyers are keeping a close eye on the updates to the rules and can advise you on your best options while processes are being ironed out.
If you are concerned about how COVID-19 might jeopardise or negatively affect your immigration status, get in touch with the Immigration Advice Service on 0333 305 9375 to see how our team of dedicated and expert immigration lawyers can help you.
We have expanded our capacity for appointments during this difficult time by giving clients the option to arrange an Advice Session on the phone, in person or via Skype. We have also extended our opening hours to 7:30 am to 22:00 pm, seven days a week, during this time of crisis.
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