On 11 January 2021 the Home Office published the COVID Visa Concession Scheme for visa holders whose leave expires while they are overseas and unable to return to the UK due to COVID 19.
This guidance only applies to individuals who left the UK before 17 March 2020 when FCO travel guidance changed and who had or are seeking to apply for leave on an eligible route.
Visitors are not eligible for this concession.
All other eligible routes are those where, if the person were in the UK with their previous leave, they would be able to apply for leave to remain in the route they now want to apply for: by extending their leave, switching into a different route, applying for indefinite leave to remain (ILR).
The concession has been introduced to ensure individuals with excess absences related to the pandemic are not disadvantaged or penalised by not being able to qualify for ILR or face a longer qualifying period if they were unable to return to the UK before the expiry of their visa. Appendix Continuous Residence also states that absences from the UK as a result of COVID-19, will not be considered a break in the person’s continuous residence.
To be eligible a person must meet the following requirements:
- They left the UK before 17 March 2020
- Their leave expired and they were unable to return to the UK before its expiry due to COVID-19 travel restrictions
- They intend to return to the UK once confirmation they are eligible is given by UKVI, not less than 21 calendar days’ notice of their date of travel, unless either:
- They cannot travel because travel restrictions remain in place
- They choose not to travel due to a COVID-19 risk to themselves or their family, for example showing symptoms, a requirement to self-isolate or being high-risk and unable to travel.
Provided the eligibility criteria are met, authority for the passenger to travel without a visa will be processed by Border Force to allow travel under the concession scheme. After the Border Force Officer is satisfied the criteria are met (following the completion of identity and security checks) people will be granted leave outside of the Immigration Rules for 3 months with the same conditions as their previous grant of leave. People will not be able to leave and re-enter the UK under the same concession.
It is the responsibility of the person concerned to check the exit requirements of the country they are currently in, as not all authorities will permit exit without a valid visa being issued by the destination country. In these circumstances, the person should apply for entry clearance in the relevant route or if there is no relevant overseas route apply for Leave Outside the Immigration Rules.
After return to the UK, the person must submit their application for leave to remain or indefinite leave to remain before the expiry of their Leave Outside the Immigration Rules.
The guidance also mentions certain exceptional circumstances that may justify consideration under the scheme even if the eligibility criteria are not met. These apply where the person left the UK after FCO travel advice changed on 17 March 2020 due to compelling or compassionate reasons including but not limited to:
- Serious illness or death of a close relative overseas
- Travel for the purpose of receiving medical treatment.
UKVI will communicate with all those who have contacted the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre (CIH) regarding their leave expiring while they were outside the UK and outline the next steps for returning to the UK to make their leave to remain application.