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How is COVID-19 Affecting International Students in the UK?

Visa and passport closeup

If you are a sponsored international student or employee in the UK, you might be wondering how the UK is implementing solutions to help with the disruption the coronavirus has caused to the UK immigration system.

Although there has been no new legislation passed and no new Immigration Rules announced, the Government has made a policy announcement regarding the coronavirus situation.

Visa Extensions

The Home Office issued guidance on 24 March 2020, which covers immigration matters for those affected by coronavirus, regardless of their nationality or country of residence.

If you’re currently in the UK and you are affected by any travel restrictions or you are self-isolating for reasons related to coronavirus, your visa will automatically be extended up to 31 May 2020. This applies where your visa has expired, or will expire between 24 January and 31 May 2020. You are not required to pay or make an application for the extension, but you must request this by contacting the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre by email or phone.

Visa Applications in the UK

Where you are normally required to leave the UK to apply for a visa extension or a new visa but are unable to do so because of travel restrictions, you will be able to apply in the UK until 31 May 2020. The usual online application procedure still applies and payment method remains the same.

Applicants who are affected by certain site closures of Sopra Steria for attending their biometrics appointments, the organisation will automatically rebook appointments at the same location in 6 weeks’ time. The Home Office will also be automatically notified of any affected customers in this situation.

Tier 2, 4 and 5 Sponsors’ Duties

Unlike before, sponsors are not required to report absences of their international students or employees if the reason for such absences is due to coronavirus, which includes illness, isolation and travel restrictions.

Similarly, sponsors will not have to withdraw sponsorships if students have been unable to attend for more than 60 days, or employees have been absent from work for more than four weeks without pay. However, this is subject to review.

Students Who are Distance Learning

Existing students who are distance learning can also continue their studies, except where the student has decided to permanently withdraw or defer their studies, sponsors must make a report of it. Sponsors are also not required to notify the Home Office if students have moved to distance learning.

Sponsorships may also continue for new students who have been granted a Tier 4 visa but are distance learning because of travel restrictions related to coronavirus.

However, if anyone would like to begin a new course via distance learning but have not yet applied for a visa, you will not need sponsorship under Tier 4 because you do not have to travel to the UK.

Review for the current arrangements will apply until 31 May 2020.

Employees Working From Home

There is no need to notify the Home Office if sponsored employees are currently working from home due to coronavirus, except for any other changes made to their working arrangements as usual.

General Support for International Students

UKCISA (UK Council for International Student Affairs) Student Advice Line on +44 207 7889 214 will be able to help international students who need further clarification or support. They have also produced a list of FAQs and questions they cannot answer yet on their website.

Other forms of help and support include Student Minds, Every Mind Matters and Young Minds for anyone who is feeling stressed, National Health Service, Public Health Wales, Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland) and Health Protection Scotland for the latest health advice.

Students who are living in university or college halls of residence can look at guidance by the Department for Education on GOV.UK. You should also keep in touch with your university, college or employer for advice and support.

Words: Wing Shuen Ng

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