The Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced that foreign nationals trapped in the UK by the COVID-19 pandemic will be able to extend their visas to May 31.
The extension applies to anyone whose visa expired after January 24 who is unable to leave the country due to self-isolation or limits on travel.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The UK continues to put the health and wellbeing of people first and nobody will be punished for circumstances outside of their control.
“By extending people’s visas, we are giving people peace of mind and also ensuring that those in vital services can continue their work.”
A lot of foreign nationals resident in the UK have found themselves unable to return home due to travel restrictions being introduced as measures against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Home Office has confirmed that no enforcement action will be taken during this time against those who contact them to confirm their extension.
A dedicated COVID-19 team has also been set up to issue extensions where visas have expired.
The new rule will also permit individuals already in the UK to change the purpose of their visa, for example from a student visa to a workers visa, without having to leave the UK.
Among students and professionals working in the UK, the move has brought some small peace of mind in troubling times.
When asked how it made them feel one person, a recently qualified health professional, said: “Relieved, more than anything else. This is such a good move.
“I don’t have to worry about my visa switching process getting delayed, and I don’t have to jeopardise my health by travelling in this situation.”
The announcement has been welcomed by many who were uncertain about their futures, others have expressed doubt about what appears to be a U-turn by Patel on a divisive issue.
Few things more grotesque than seeing Priti Patel falling over herself to deny that we have ever disparaged ‘low-skilled migrants’ when we have been doing exactly that shamelessly for years and years.
— Matt Carr (@MattCarr55) March 24, 2020
Anyone who contacts the Home Office to extend their visa in this way has also been told that they are expected to return to their home country as soon as they can after controls on borders and travel are relaxed.
As of March 23, the UK government announced that people should not leave their homes, unless it is to purchase food or medicine, exercise once a day, to go to work if they are a key worker, or provide support to a vulnerable person.
In light of this, many people in the UK whose visas were due to expire may be unable to comply with the legal necessity to leave the country.
Moreover, travel restrictions put in place by other countries, such as the US and India, will make it risky to attempt to return home.
Although the US is still accepting its own citizens, the backlog at airports is exacerbating the risk of COVID-19 spreading as people wait to re-enter the country.
In addition to providing relief to what could be an uncertain future for many foreign nationals in the UK, the move by the Home Office could also help to reduce the spread of the virus internationally.