Coronavirus. Whether it is the nightmare epidemic that world health specialists have been warning us about for years, or media-induced hysteria, COVID-19 (as it is officially called) is causing major international disruption.
- Is the UK a safe destination, and
- Will I be allowed to enter the country?
As at the time of writing, here is what you need to know.
Is Coronavirus in the UK?
There are 23 reported cases of Coronavirus in the UK. There have been no deaths. The government is publishing contingency plans this week regarding how it will manage if more cases are confirmed.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Health Minister, Matt Hancock said there were four phases to the plan:
- Containment – caring for any infected people and identifying their close contacts
- Delay – deciding what actions to take to slow down the spread
- Mitigate – damage limitation if the virus spreads widely
- Research – constant and ongoing work to inform the three other phases
Currently, the UK is in the “containment” phase – which health leaders say may still be sufficient. However, Mr Hancock confirmed the delay phase could see broader “social distancing” measures.
Are people allowed to enter the UK?
The UK borders are open and running as normal. However, people who have travelled from the below regions have been told to stay indoors and avoid contact with other people:
- Hubei province in China in the last 14 days, even if you do not have symptoms
- Iran, lockdown areas in northern Italy or special care zones in South Korea since 19 February, even if you do not have symptoms
- Other parts of mainland China or South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan or Thailand in the last 14 days and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath (even if your symptoms are mild)
- Other parts of northern Italy (anywhere north of Pisa, Florence and Rimini), Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar or Vietnam since 19 February and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath (even if your symptoms are mild)
What if I have come to the UK and feel unwell with symptoms associated with Coronavirus?
If you are feeling unwell, you are advised to contact the NHS helpline on 111. Do not go to your GP or hospital because:
- You will spread the infection and it is especially dangerous to the elderly and those who have a compromised immune system, and
- The health system will quickly become overwhelmed.
Have there been any changes to visas for Chinese nationals living in the UK?
The UK government has made unprecedented changes to visas held by Chinese nationals.
Below is the information from the official government website:
“If you are a Chinese national in the UK and have been compliant with the conditions of your visa prior to the coronavirus outbreak, your visa will be automatically extended to 31 March 2020 if your visa has an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020.
You’ll also get an automatic extension if you’re in the UK on a long-term standard visitor visa that lasts 2, 5 or 10 years and you have reached the maximum stay of 180 days between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020.
You don’t need to do anything to get this extension.
You will remain subject to the same immigration conditions attached to your visa during the extension period.
You will not automatically receive a new visa or Biometric Residence Permit card.
Your new expiry date (31 March 2020) will be added to UK Visas and Immigration’s systems.”
This policy applies retrospectively, so will absolve any overstayers who accidentally forgot that their visa was about to expire.
Furthermore, if you are a non-Chinese or non-EEA national in the UK but normally reside in China and your visa in the UK has an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020 you should contact the Coronavirus immigration helpline (0800 678 1767 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)).
If you can demonstrate you are normally resident in China, your visa will be extended to 31 March 2020.
Below is further information taken from the government’s temporary policy change in response to the Coronavirus.
Switching from Tier 2 (Intra-Company) Visa to a Tier 2 (General) Visa
The policy statement on the government’s website states:
“If you are a Chinese national in the UK on a Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer visa and want to switch to a Tier 2 General visa you normally need to return to China to make your application.
You can exceptionally apply to switch from a Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer to a Tier 2 General visa from within the UK if your visa has an expiry date between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020.
You will still need to pay the relevant fee and meet all the requirements of a Tier 2 General visa, other than the requirement that you usually have to apply in China.”
This is an extraordinary announcement and one that should be taken advantage of because, unlike the Tier 2 (Intra-Company) Visa route, the Tier 2 (General) Visa provides a path to Settlement.
Sponsor Licence holders and work absences
If you are a Sponsor Licence holder, you will not be required to report any absences from students or employees sponsored under Tier 2, Tier 4, or Tier 5, where those absences are because of the outbreak.
UK visa application centres in China remain closed
All visa application centres in China remain shut. If you need to travel to China and require documentation, you need to contact the Chinese authorities or the embassy.
The Coronavirus situation is unprecedented in terms of the challenge it presents to governments. Not only is the virus deadly to certain sections of the population, but it also requires a multi-disciplinary approach to containing its spread.
We will keep you updated if any further immigration law changes occur as a result of COVID-19.
A Y & J Solicitors are specialists in immigration law based in central London. If you would like more information on UK Visas, Settlement, or Sponsor Licences, please contact us at [email protected] or call +44 20 7404 7933.
Disclaimer: No material/information provided on this website should be construed as legal advice. Readers should seek an appropriate professional advice for their immigration matters.
Please be informed that at the time of writing this blog, the data was factually correct. The situation is highly changeable, and so the advice the government is giving will also change.