On 11 January 2021, the UK Home Office published guidance on the “Covid Visa Concession Scheme (CVCS).” The scheme applies to individuals who left the United Kingdom before 17 March 2020, with permission to live in the UK, whose visas have since expired whilst they were abroad, and are now unable to return to the UK due to coronavirus travel restrictions. The CVCS allows those individuals to enter the UK to make leave to remain (LTR) or indefinite leave to remain (ILR) applications.
Who is eligible for the CVCS?
The following conditions apply for CVCS eligibility.
- Applicants must have left the UK before 17 March 2020.
- Applicants’ leave (i.e., visa) “expired and they were unable to return to the UK before its expiry due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.”
- Applicants intend to return to the UK once UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) gives confirmation that they are eligible. Applicants should give UKVI at least 21 calendar days’ notice of the planned 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.”
For individuals who left the UK on or after 17 March 2020, applications are being considered in “exceptional circumstances,” such as “serious illness or death of a close relative overseas” or travel for receiving medical treatment overseas. UKVI will assess each application on a case-by-case basis and may grant such permission if an applicant had a good reason for leaving the UK. This concession does not benefit people who had UK visitor visas; such individuals will need to apply for a new visitor visa to enter the UK if their current visa is expired.
An individual eligible under the CVCS will be granted a period of three months of leave to enter, which allows the individual to return to the UK and to submit an application for further leave on his or her relevant immigration route. Please note that individuals who were in the UK as a visitor are not eligible for the CVCS.
How do individuals apply for CVCS?
The UK has a dedicated Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre (CIH) that provides “advice for visa customers and applicants in the UK, visa customers outside of the UK and British nationals overseas who need to apply for a passport affected by travel restrictions associated with coronavirus.” If applicants have previously contacted the CIH regarding their leaves expiring whilst they were outside the UK, UKVI will communicate and outline the next steps for applicants to return to the UK and apply under the CVCS. The CIH has full records of all applicants who have previously contacted the CIH whilst stranded overseas.
For applicants who have not previously contacted the CIH, information about the CVCS has been made available through the GOV.UK website. Applicants must complete a smart form to commence the process, ideally at least 21 calendar days prior to the planned date of travel, and they will not be required to attend a visa application centre overseas as they are not making an application for entry clearance. Once an application has been submitted, the applicant will receive a confirmation email from UKVI and will be required to reply within 48 hours for the application to be considered. A decision should be received within 10 working days.
If an individual indicates that he or she has already made an application for entry clearance, purely to enable him or her to return to the UK, the individual will be issued with leave outside the Immigration Rules (LOTR) for three months, under the same conditions as his or her previous grants of leave. This avoids the need to withdraw the current application and reapply under the CVCS and prevents additional delays.
What happens if the eligibility criteria are met?
Applicants who are eligible for the CVCS will be granted entry clearance to the UK for three months. This time allows applicants to return and make a leave to remain (LTR) or indefinite leave to remain (ILR) application. It is important to note that the CVCS is not a guarantee that any application for LTR or ILR will be successful.
When arranging travel to the UK, it is the responsibility of each applicant to check the exit requirements of the country he or she is currently in, as not all authorities will permit exit without a valid visa being issued by the destination country. In these circumstances, an applicant can apply for entry clearance in the relevant route. Once an applicant’s eligibility is confirmed, he or she will need to give UKVI at least 21 calendar days’ notice of the proposed date of travel. After returning to the UK, the individual must submit an application for LTR or ILR, pay any required fee and any Immigration Health Surcharge, and follow the normal process for submitting an application before the LOTR expires.
If an applicant returns to the UK under the CVCS and applies for permission to stay, under the current guidance, his or her application should not be rejected because the individual has LOTR. UKVI will consider the previous visa held by the applicant and assess whether that visa would have allowed the applicant to apply for LTR or ILR under the UK’s Immigration Rules.
Due to COVID-19, all travellers must complete an online “passenger locator form” within 48 hours prior to their travel to the UK. The form is intended to provide journey and contact details. Individuals who do not complete the form before arriving may be delayed in entering the UK, or may even be refused entry. Border officers could also impose a fine.
All passengers must provide a negative COVID-19 test to travel to the UK. As it stands, the test must be taken in the three days before departure and passengers will need to show the negative test result when they check in to travel or board their plane, ferry, or train. Passengers must also show the results when they arrive in the UK.
It is now mandatory that all passengers arriving from outside the UK are required to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their COVID-19 test results. At this time, it is not known when the requirement to self-isolate will be lifted.
Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor and report on developments with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and will post updates in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar and podcast programs.
Carrie-Ann Hopkins is a paralegal in the London office of Ogletree Deakins.