The U.K. Home Office has issued guidance for foreign nationals currently in the U.K. who cannot return to China because of the coronavirus outbreak. The guidance covers extensions for expiring visas, status letters, government helplines, as well as absences for sponsored students/employees and British nationals in China.

Key Points:

  • Chinese nationals whose visa has an expiration date of between Jan. 24, 2020 and March 30, 2020 will receive an automatic visa extension until March 31, 2020 that will be added to the UK Visas and Immigration system. There is no requirement for the Chinese national to do anything to get this extension. The extended visa will be subject to the same conditions as the previous visa. If a status letter or Biometric Residence Permit with an updated expiration date is required, visa holders should contact the coronavirus immigration helpline. For Chinese nationals who have already applied to extend their visa there is no requirement for them to take any additional steps, and if they intend to apply to extend leave in the U.K. before March 31 they should continue to do so.
  • The following individuals should contact the coronavirus immigration helpline to discuss their situation and request a visa extension if necessary: non-Chinese/non-EEA nationals who normally reside in China, Chinese nationals whose visa was granted by Irish authorities in accordance with the British Irish Visa Scheme, and Chinese nationals whose visa was granted by a Crown Dependency, and who are in the U.K. with a visa with an expiration date between Jan. 24 and March 30, 2020. UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will be able to extend visas to March 31, 2020 for individuals who demonstrate that they are normally resident in China.
  • Chinese nationals currently in the U.K. on a Tier 2 ICT visa who wish to switch to a Tier 2 General visa (provided they meet the usual criteria) can apply for the switch in the U.K. (normally they would have to return to China), if their visa has an expiration date between Jan. 24, 2020 and March 30, 2020.
  • British nationals whose passport is at a Visa Application Centre (VAC) in China can apply for an emergency travel document if they need to travel urgently.
  • Chinese or third-country nationals whose passport is at a VAC in China should contact Chinese authorities or their consulate to obtain an alternative travel document if they need to travel urgently.
  • Sponsors do not have to report absences they have authorized because of quarantine, etc., for Tier 4 students or Tier 2 or 5 employees, nor do they have to withdraw sponsorship for extended absences resulting from coronavirus-related circumstances. Decisions on whether to withdraw a student from their studies or terminate an employment are for sponsors to make. The Home Office recognizes the current situation is exceptional and will not take any compliance action against students or employees who are unable to attend to their studies/work due to the coronavirus outbreak, or against sponsors which authorize absences and continue to sponsor students or employees despite absences for this reason.

Analysis & Comments: The guidance indicates the U.K. government’s flexibility regarding Chinese and other foreign nationals whose ability to return to China is affected by coronavirus-related delays and restrictions. Employers and sponsors are urged to review guidance updates from Public Health England and must be prepared to be flexible with employee schedules and start dates for employees who are affected by travel restrictions and quarantines. Please contact your Deloitte professional if you would like to discuss any specific cases that may be impacted by coronavirus.

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