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Coronavirus and the UK immigration system
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Coronavirus and the UK immigration system

Measures taken to combat the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19 disease have changed almost every aspect of society both here in the UK and around the world. The immigration system is no exception. This post gathers together various updates on changes to immigration law and practice caused by coronavirus.

For now, in contrast with our normal practice, we’ll be keeping this post continually up to date rather than covering new coronavirus developments as separate blog posts that may become rapidly out of date. Use the page contents to navigate. Material that has been added or updated from one version of this post to the next is labelled NEW or UPDATED.

For lawyers overwhelmed by the number of new guidance documents, Lucy Reed’s take over on Pink Tape may provide some light relief.

Visa extensions and other concessions

General policy (UPDATED 3 April)

Particularly pressing is the situation for people who are in the UK on an expiring visa and unable to leave because of travel restrictions. Government guidance on this initially focused on Chinese citizens and residents of China stuck in the UK, as they were most affected at the time that guidance was first published, in mid-February 2020.

The guidance was updated on 24 March to cover other nationalities. It leaves many questions unanswered but the top line is as follows:

If you’re in the UK and your leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020

Your visa will be extended to 31 May 2020 if you cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus (COVID-19).

The guidance continues:

You must contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) to update your records if your visa is expiring and you were not planning to stay in the UK.

You should provide:

  • your full name (include any middle names)
  • date of birth (dd/mm/yyyy)
  • nationality
  • your previous visa reference number
  • why you can’t go back to your home country, for example if the border has closed

The email must be in English.

We aim to reply to your email within 5 working days.

Replies to successful extension requests are worded as follows:

Your leave has been extended under existing conditions until 31 May 2020. You will not be regarded as an overstayer or suffer any detriment in any future applications. However, you must make plans to leave as soon as you are able to do so. This will only apply where you hold an existing valid visa which has already expired or is due to do between 24 January and 31 May.

This guidance overrides a previous version at the same webpage. The older version unilaterally conferred leave to remain until 31 March to Chinese citizens whose visas had or were due to expire between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020. It also allowed non-Chinese, non-EEA nationals in the UK who are normally resident in China to get an extension of leave on application to the coronavirus hotline, in a similar process to the one now in force for all nationalities.

The Immigration Law Practitioners Association has been provided with an additional Coronavirus (COVID-19) factsheet: visa holders and short-term residents in the UK. This does not seem to be publicly available but can be downloaded here (pdf).

The fact sheet is not a great advance on the public guidance, but adds that “individuals will be advised that UKVI have noted their details; they will not be subject to enforcement action; and this period will not be held against them in future applications”.

The legal basis for all this is unclear, to put it mildly.

A note of caution

Please take a cautious approach to the new coronavirus extension policy. If your client has time to give it a try or their leave has already expired, there’s probably no downside, but if your client’s leave is about to expire it is important to note that providing the details requested by the Home Office does not extend leave under section 3C of the Immigration Act 1971 according to the information we currently have. If your client’s reasons are not accepted, they will become an overstayer. If there is a way to protect 3C leave, and that will be a potentially complex matter to decide, that may be the best route.

Also note that this route isn’t likely to help people who need to make an application for longer-term leave if they do not already meet the requirements. For example, Tier 4 to Tier 2 where you are waiting for a sponsor licence to be approved may not benefit from this route as there is no Certificate of Sponsorship, so the requirements cannot be met. Proceed with caution.

– Nichola Carter

There does not appear to be any concession for people in the reverse position: those with a 30-day visa giving permission to enter the UK but who are unable to do so before it expires.

Switching

The guidance also includes information on switching visas. It allows people to “apply from the UK to switch to a long-term UK visa until 31 May 2020. This includes applications where you would usually need to apply for a visa from your home country”.

NHS workers

As we’ve established, most people who need their leave extended must contact the coronavirus helpline to ask for the extension. NHS workers and their families, however, are to get a one-year extension automatically.

The Home Office announced on 31 March that around 2,800 doctors, nurses and paramedics with leave due to expire by 1 October would get a free one-year extension. Family members are included and there are no fees involved.

The department has also “lifted the restriction on the amount of hours student nurses and doctors can work in the NHS”.

The legal basis for this is particularly unclear.

Tier 1 Entrepreneur (NEW 3 April)

The latest version of the guidance says that people on a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur visa) whose business has been disrupted “no longer need to employ at least 2 people for 12 consecutive months each”. Multiple employees across the 12 months will do, although time on furlough will not count.

The guidance adds that “if [you] have not been able to employ staff for 12 months in total by the time your visa expires, you will be allowed to temporarily extend your stay to give you time to meet the requirement.”.

There is now Home Office coronavirus guidance for organisations which sponsor overseas workers or students under Tiers 2, 4 and 5 of the Points Based System. It promises:

We will not take enforcement action against sponsors who continue to sponsor students or employees despite absences due to coronavirus.

Sponsors are not currently required to report any absences from students or employees sponsored under Tier 2, Tier 4, or Tier 5, where those absences have been the result of the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak. 

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Sponsors will also not be required to withdraw sponsorship for affected students who have been unable to attend for more than 60 days or for employees who have exceeded four weeks of absence without pay.

Tier 4 students can now do distance learning, although if they quit the course altogether this must be reported as usual.

Similarly, Tier 2 and 5 sponsors do not need update the Home Office if workers are now working from home provided that the switch to home working is because of the pandemic.

In an update to the guidance on 3 April, the Home Office added that employers temporarily can cut the pay of sponsored employees to 80% of salary or £2,500 a month (whichever is lower). Although it is not spelled out, the implication is that if the salary drops below the minimum, sponsorship will not have to be withdrawn as it usually would be.

There is also a short section on what happens if a sponsor has issued a certificate of sponsorship (CoS) or confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS) and the person sponsored hasn’t used it to apply for a visa yet. It says, in full:

The employee or student will still be able to apply for a visa.

The start date for the course or employment stated on the CoS or CAS may have changed. We will not automatically refuse such cases.

For example, we may accept a CoS or CAS if they have become invalid because the employee or student was unable to travel as a result of coronavirus. We will consider this on a case by case basis.

This guidance is reiterated in another Home Office factsheet with coronavirus guidance for sponsors (pdf).

There is coronavirus advice for Tier 2 and Tier 4 sponsors on the Carter Thomas website. Lewis Silkin has some advice for Tier 2 sponsors, as well as a page on the immigration implications of the government’s crisis employment policies.

Special hotline

As mentioned above, the Home Office has set up a coronavirus helpline:

Email: CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk. Your email must be in English.

We’ll reply to your email within 5 working days.

You can also call the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre. If you’ve emailed the help centre already, please do not contact them by phone.

Telephone: 0800 678 1767 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)

This seems to be intended for queries specifically about the concessions discussed above. The Home Office emphasises that “if your query doesn’t relate to immigration provisions associated with coronavirus (COVID-19) please contact the general immigration helpline on 0300 123 2241″.

UK visa application centres

Within the UK 

All visa application centres within the UK are closed as of 27 March.

Sopra Steria, which runs the network of Visa and Citizenship Application Centres on behalf of the Home Office, has the following message on its website:

The UKVCAS service is currently suspended

The worldwide response to COVID-19 continues to affect the UK’s Visa and Immigration Service. As a result, the UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS), led by Sopra Steria on behalf of UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), has suspended all services to help protect the health and wellbeing of our customers and staff.

This will remain under review with UKVI as the situation evolves.

Those with appointments will have them automatically rescheduled or get a refund.

Service and Support Centres are also closed.

Anyone with an expiring visa is referred to the visa extension guidance outlined above. To reiterate: someone stuck in the UK on an expiring visa should contact the coronavirus helpline to get an extension.

Outside the UK (UPDATED 3 April)

All UK visa application centres overseas are closed.

A third Home Office fact sheet (pdf) says that those with appointments at a closed visa centre should be contacted. Those awaiting a decision and who want their passport back should contact the company which runs the visa centre in question (either TLScontact or VFS Global). But “if applicants are concerned about their passport, they can contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team at CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk”.

There does not appear to be any special provision for people granted entry clearance who cannot now enter the UK before the visa expires. There is however a glimmer of hope for applicants with an endorsement in the Global Talent, Start-up and Innovator categories. Such people “may still be eligible for a visa” even if the endorsement has expired. They are encouraged to apply as planned and the Home Office will “consider all applications on a case by case basis”.

Immigration tribunal hearings

Overview

HM Courts and Tribunals Service is now issuing a daily operational update. The latest version usefully summarises the position with First-tier and Upper Tribunal immigration and asylum cases:

The [First-tier] tribunal has suspended face to face hearings (other than in exceptional circumstances) until further notice. A notice containing instructions on the next steps in your case will be sent to you. We are working through the listed cases in priority and date order and you should wait until we contact you. Please do not call us unless your enquiry is urgent. Bail applications will be prioritised and where a hearing is required, will be listed to take place by telephone or video. Users are advised to contact the relevant hearing centre on the email addresses below until further notice.

For the Upper Tribunal:

There may be some delays in processing non-urgent work. Please see below different ways in which we are dealing with appeals and judicial reviews.

Appeals and Permission to Appeal applications to UTIAC:

  • Appeals that were listed for hearing have been postponed. All appeals to UTIAC are being judicially case managed. There is also limited monitoring of the appeals email inbox currently taking place.

Judicial Reviews in UTIAC:

The basic idea is for hearings to be conducted remotely during the pandemic. Some tribunal hearing centres will remain open, but only for “hearings that cannot be heard by video or telephone and which cannot be delayed”.

Sir Ernest Ryder, the Senior President of Tribunal, has written to his judges saying that “The normal arrangement in all tribunals is now remote hearings and decision making online or by telephone conferencing, video or Skype”.

Remote hearings

The Senior President issued an emergency practice direction on 19 March. It covers all chambers of the Upper and First-tier Tribunals (i.e. including immigration).

The practice direction says that:

Where it is reasonably practicable and in accordance with the overriding objective to hear the case remotely (that is in any way that is not face-to-face, but which complies with the definition of ‘hearing’ in the relevant Chamber’s procedure rules), it should be heard remotely.

Judges will make allowances for the pandemic when considering applications for extensions of time and postponement of hearings.

The practice direction also allows for:

  • Decisions to be made on the papers without a hearing where possible
  • Chamber Presidents to “triage” cases
  • Hearings to go ahead in a party’s absence, so long as this can be done in accordance with the overriding objective to deal with cases fairly and justly

This has been supplemented by more detailed arrangements for each of the First-tier and Upper immigration tribunals, outlined below.

Remote hearings: First-tier Tribunal

On 21 March, President of the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration & Asylum Chamber) Michael Clements wrote to the Immigration Law Practitioners Association to say that hearings are to go remote:

From Wednesday, 25th March onwards, there will be no face to face hearings listed in any centre. Applications for bail and emergency work will continue to be given priority but, save in exceptional circumstance, applications and hearings will be conducted remotely.

Notices circulated by individual tribunal hearing centres state that hearings scheduled from 25 March onward have been converted to case management hearings instead. The version of the notice issued by the resident judge at Newport on 24 March states:

In view of the rapidly changing circumstances created by the Covid-19 pandemic, the President of the First-tier Tribunal (IAC) has directed that all appeals will proceed by way of a Case Management Hearing (CMR) via telephone or Skype which will take place on a date to be notified in a time slot to be allocated. All current scheduled hearings are vacated.

Details of the remote process to be followed may vary between tribunal hearing centres. Immigration barristers from 21 chambers have written to President Clements to complain about a “lack of clarity as to the applicable Practice Directions” and asking for “a definitive Practice Direction from you which applies to all hearing centres”. They also describe the overall arrangements for remote hearings as “unworkable”.

In a response dated 1 April, the President says as follows:

You refer to the Notice and Directions that has been sent out to all parties in all listed cases that have been adjourned. The Directions require bundles and skeleton arguments to be filed electronically so that meaningful triaging and active case management can take place, essential steps if we are to maintain access to justice and the proper functioning of the tribunal. It is intended that the same process will apply at each hearing centre…  Where a hearing is necessary, it will proceed by remote means, in accordance with what the [Lord Chief Justice] and the [Senior President of Tribunals] have described as the “default position”.   

On the issues with remote hearing, President Clements comments:

HMCTS is working hard to provide the environment in which we can meet this challenge but you are right to observe that much more needs to be done.  This is why I took the decision to vacate lists, take stock, establish a sound footing for case management to meet the impact of the pandemic, triage cases where we can and then list those cases to be decided by means of a remote hearing with those not suitable being adjourned to a time when face to face hearings again become possible.

The President has also issued Practice Statement Note No 1 2020: Arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic. It commands a shift to lodging appeals online:

(1) With the exception of HR/EEA appeals, all appeals to the First-tier Tribunal must be commenced using the online procedure unless it is not possible to do so.

(2) If an appellant contends that it is not possible to commence an appeal by using the online procedure, the appellant may commence an appeal without using the online procedure but must at the same time state why it is not possible to do so.

(3) The Tribunal shall consider any reasons provided in support of appeals commenced in accordance with paragraph [2] above and may give such directions as it thinks fit, having regard to the overriding objective, including directing that the appeal must continue using the online procedure, be stayed, be determined by a means to be directed having regard to those reasons or be determined without a hearing.

Remote hearings: Upper Tribunal

The Operations Manager at the Upper Tribunal (Immigration & Asylum Chamber) circulated the following note by email on 20 March:

A decision has been taken to cancel all listed UTIAC cases, these now include JR, Age Assessments, appeals and regional cases with the odd exception due to alternative arrangements having already been made.  All parties in all cases will be formally notified.

This was followed on 23 March by a presidential guidance note on Arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic. This puts flesh on the bones of the emergency practice direction so far as the Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the Upper Tribunal is concerned. The bottom line is:

If a hearing is necessary, the “default” option during the pandemic is, therefore, that the hearing should be conducted remotely.

The guidance note outlines processes for:

  • Making certain appeal decisions without a hearing
  • Conducting remote hearings
  • Arranging interpreters
  • Filing urgent judicial reviews (ie those “using or including form T 483 or T 484”). More on this issue in a separate note (pdf).

The note concludes: “it needs to be appreciated that unfolding events during the pandemic may affect the extent to which UTIAC can operate by reference to this Guidance. In any event, the need to adopt new ways of working may well lead to challenges on the ground, which will need to be approached sympathetically by parties and the UTIAC alike”.

SIAC

A notice from the Chairman of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, Mrs Justice Elizabeth Laing, says that there are no court staff in the Field House office but emails are being answered. It adds that “appellants must continue to comply with the relevant time limits for lodging an appeal. Appeals must be lodged by email until further notice”.

Other resources

The immigration team at Lamb Building has put together a briefing on the coronavirus situation covering both the immigration tribunals and the higher courts. If you have a question not covered in this section, it may be answered there.

All coronavirus guidance documents, practice directions etc from the judiciary are on the Judicial Office website.

Asylum

Interviews

The Home Office has decided to “pause face to face substantive asylum interviews for now”, according to correspondence from the Asylum Operations team. All interviews scheduled from 19 March onward are cancelled.

Some initial screening interviews are also being cancelled, according to Right to Remain, although the Law Centre NI reports that they are continuing in Northern Ireland.

Further submissions

As of 18 March, asylum seekers who wish to put in further submissions with a view to have their case considered as a fresh claim no longer need to turn up in person. The following email is from the Assistant Director of Further Submissions and Further Leave Casework at UK Visa and Immigration:

With effect from Wednesday 18th March, until further notice the Home Office has temporarily suspended the requirement for Further Submissions to be lodged in person in Liverpool. The Home Office is also cancelling all existing appointments. Applicants wishing to lodge a Further Submission in support of a fresh claim for asylum will be able to submit this via e-mail to a dedicated in-box or through the pre-existing postal route. The in-box for Further Submissions to be e-mailed to is : CSUEC@homeoffice.gov.uk.

Asylum support and accommodation

Asylum seekers and refugees will not be asked to leave government accommodation until the end of June 2020, the government has announced.

Junior Home Office minister Chris Philp wrote to the British Red Cross on 27 March:

… I have taken the decision that, for the next three months, we will not be requiring people to leave our accommodation because their asylum claim or appeal has been finally decided (as would normally be the case). This decision will be reviewed ahead of the end of June 2020.

The practical outcome is that those who would ordinarily have their support stopped because their asylum claim or appeal has been rejected, will remain accommodated. All those who would ordinarily be required to make their own support arrangements because they have been granted refugee status and can therefore access mainstream services, including local authority housing assistance, will similarly be able to remain in their current accommodation.

The Red Cross adds that “people’s financial support will also continue during this time”.

There is more information on this subject in an Asylum Support Appeals Project briefing on Covid-19 and asylum support (pdf).

Travel documents

The Home Office team that deals with refugee travel document applications says that coronavirus restrictions are slowing down its work, and has set up a process for urgent applications:

If any customer is in a particularly difficult situation and needs their application to be considered as a matter of priority, we would ask that this request, along with scanned recent, acceptable evidence of the circumstances and confirmation that the customer is able to travel i.e. confirmation from the airline or ferry company, is sent to traveldocumentenquiries@homeoffice.gov.uk.

Following this, if it is agreed that the case meets the criteria for being expedited and an application has not yet been submitted online, then the customer will need to complete an online application.  If an application has already been submitted then the customer should not apply again as this is likely to cause confusion and may delay their application.

This should be done “only in the most urgent of cases”.

Other asylum resources

The Refugee Council and Refugee Action are keeping detailed tabs on coronavirus-induced changes to the asylum system. If you have a question not covered in this section, it may be answered there. If you prefer video, Right to Remain has put its update on YouTube.

Enforcement

Immigration detention

The Home Office has already released around 350 people from immigration detention. But a senior official told the Home Affairs committee of MPs on 18 March:

there is no plan to have a wholesale systematic release from our immigration removal centres.

An urgent legal challenge by the charity Detention Action aimed at securing the release of all immigration detainees was rejected by the High Court on 25 March. The charity says that the Home Office has made various commitments to safeguard the wellbeing of detainees:

  • Enhanced screening, identification and monitoring of those at risk or showing symptoms of Covid-19, particularly for this with underlying health conditions.
  • Ensuring that persons at increased risk from Covid-19, and persons who are symptomatic, are provided with facilities to self-isolate in single-occupancy rooms and are provided with individualised care plans
  • A review of cleaning practices within detention centres to ensure compliance with Public Health England guidance
  • Provision of anti-bacterial cleaning materials to detainees, upon request
  • The introduction of social spacing measures in communal areas
  • The production of specific guidance to explain in clear terms how to reduce the risk of an outbreak of Covid-19

Detention Action’s director, Bella Sankey, adds that the department has given “an undertaking to proactively review the detention of all those held under immigration powers according to updated guidance and with a view to further significant releases”. There is also a “very strong presumption against any new detentions for people facing removal to around 50 countries”, including Jamaica, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Albania.

The Home Office says that “the vast majority of detainees still in immigration removal centres are foreign national offenders”.

With many countries closing their borders and flights unavailable, immigration judges may be receptive to the argument that removal is no longer imminent and grant bail accordingly.

As of 26 March, visits to immigration removal centres were no longer possible.

Bail reporting suspended

The Home Office website now says:

Following Public Health England’s advice on coronavirus (COVID-19), the Home Office has decided that reporting as a condition of immigration bail should be temporarily deferred while it reviews how frequently people should report. You will receive an SMS text message soon with details of your next reporting date.

This follows widespread reports of those on bail receiving texts about the suspension of reporting requirements. Those can now be taken as officially confirmed.

Voluntary removals

The Voluntary Returns Service Communications and Engagement Team circulated an update on its operations on 20 March:

…we are currently experiencing difficulties that mean that we cannot currently support assisted returns for people who require a level of assistance upon return from the United Kingdom. We are experiencing infrastructure and other issues that make it difficult to impossible to offer that level of support at this time.

We have therefore made a very difficult decision to cease offering assisted returns at this time.

We will continue to register an interest from people who wish to return, and to offer other levels of support to help as many people as we possibly can. Where we can arrange flights, get travel documents etc we will continue to do this, and we are very happy to talk to people to see what help we can offer on an individual basis.

The widespread cancellation of flights has obvious ramifications for enforced returns as well, but at time of writing we have no information about whether there will be any general suspension of removals.

Hostile environment

Right to work checks

As the labour market collapses under the weight of pandemic restrictions, the Home Office emphasises that employers must still carry out checks on the immigration status of employees to see if they have the legal right to work in the UK.

But those checks can now be carried out remotely. Guidance published on 30 March says that employees can submit a copy of their passport or ID rather than the original, and verify it by showing the employer the original on a video call.

An accompanying press release says that the changes are “effective immediately”.

The process for conducting a right to work check during the pandemic is as follows:

  • Ask the worker to submit a scanned copy or a photo of their original documents via email or using a mobile app
  • Arrange a video call with the worker – ask them to hold up the original documents to the camera and check them against the digital copy of the documents
  • Record the date you made the check and mark it as “adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19”
  • If the worker has a current Biometric Residence Permit or Biometric Residence Card or status under the EU Settlement Scheme you can use the online right to work checking service while doing a video call – the applicant must give you permission to view their details.

If the above is not possible, use the Home Office Employer Checking Service.

When the emergency is over, employers will have to re-check people hired under the temporary procedure.

Right to rent checks

Much the same procedure applies for landlords checking the immigration status of new tenants:

Ask the tenant to submit a scanned copy or a photo of their original documents via email or using a mobile app.

Arrange a video call with the tenant – ask them to hold up the original documents to the camera and check them against the digital copy of the documents.

Record the date you made the check and mark it as “an adjusted check has been undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19”.

Chai Patel of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants says that “this will probably increase further the racial discrimination faced by ethnic minority Brits and migrants under right to rent. Landlords are iffy enough about non-British passports in person, likely to be even more cautious on Skype”. The Home Office says that employers should “take extra care to ensure no-one is discriminated against”.

No charge for NHS coronavirus testing

Regulations have been passed adding “Wuhan novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)” to the list of diseases for which no charge is to be made for NHS treatment, regardless of the patient’s immigration status. This change will have most significance for short term visitors and for migrants without lawful status, who normally have to pay for NHS care. Those lawfully resident are already entitled to use the NHS.

There are separate regulations for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, since healthcare is a devolved matter.

Government guidance makes clear that a coronavirus test that comes back negative is still free under this exemption:

This exemption from charge will apply to the diagnosis of the condition, even if the outcome is a negative result. It will also apply to any treatment provided for a suspected specified condition, up to the point that it is negatively diagnosed.

This guidance covers the NHS in England, but it would be surprising if the position in the other jurisdictions were any different. 

Other

Legal aid

The legal aid system is changing in response to coronavirus, with emergency guidance in force until at least 30 June 2020. 

On cashflow, the guidance says:

We recognise the current situation will have cashflow implications for firms, and as a priority we are processing bills and other payments as rapidly as possible. We are working with Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and provider representative bodies to investigate what other immediate actions we can take to support firms. 

Time limits for delegated function applications, substantive amendments and appeals against Legal Aid Agency decisions have been suspended. Admin requirements are being reduced: 

Routine contract manager visits to provider offices will not take place at this time and we will not be undertaking new contract audit or peer review work unless exceptionally needed.

Similarly, the Legal Aid Agency says that “we understand the current context may mean you are unable to meet the office and supervisory requirements set out in your contract and that reasonable actions will be needed to follow wider Government advice and to maintain the well being of your staff and clients. We will not take any action in this situation”.

The guidance also says that digital client signatures are just as valid as handwritten signatures  for Legal Aid Agency contract purposes.

EU Settlement Scheme

The telephone helpline for EU settled status enquiries is closed, but emails to the Settlement Resolution Centre are still being answered.

Documents are no longer being accepted by post, and the Home Office is advising that there will be delays in decision-making.

A Home Office fact sheet, EU Settlement Scheme: Impact of coronavirus, exists but says nothing in particular.

Citizenship ceremonies

Local authorities are, perhaps unsurprisingly, calling off citizenship ceremonies. See for example announcements by Kingston Council and Westminster Council. The Home Office has also stopped issuing naturalisation and registration certificates, at least according to Hackney Council.

As of 31 March, the Home Office website says that would-be citizens now have six months to book their citizenship ceremony instead of the usual three. It adds that “any delays caused by COVID-19 will not affect decisions around your application”.

The process of becoming a British citizen is not legally complete until the person has attended a citizenship ceremony: section 42 of the British Nationality Act 1981.

Subject Access Requests

The Subject Access Request Unit has told ILPA that it is only processing requests made online, and only providing data held electronically, until further notice. The unit can be contacted at subjectaccessrequest@homeoffice.gov.uk.

OISC

The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner has cancelled the Level 1 competence exams scheduled for 31 March and 30 April.

The next set of exams on the slate are on 26 May in Manchester and 29 May in London. The OISC says that these are under review: “an update on assessments due to take place in May 2020 will be published in the coming weeks”.

There is also a Q&A for OISC advisers.

The OISC office itself is closed as of 24 March. All correspondence should be by email rather than post.

This article was originally published on 20 February 2020 and is being continually updated with the latest information.

Free Movement

The Free Movement blog was founded in 2007 by Colin Yeo, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers specialising in immigration law. The blog provides updates and commentary on immigration and asylum law by a variety of authors.

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