The COVID-19 epidemic continues to have a negative effect on immigration around the world. Despite increasingly successful vaccination campaigns, global travel rates continue to be low (in comparison to pre-pandemic statistics). Today’s blog will therefore examine the impact of COVID-19 on the UK immigration system. Like many countries, the UK has experienced a general decline in immigration as a result of the pandemic. This is reflected in the reduced rates of visa application and issuance rates for even popular visa categories, including the UK Start-up and Innovator visas as well as the UK Student visa (rates for all three categories have been in decline since 2019). Since the pandemic began, would-be immigrants abroad looking to enter England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, or Wales on even a temporary basis have faced quarantine and testing, as well as other barriers to travel to the UK generally. At the same time, the pandemic has prevented some travelers who did not intend to stay in the UK from returning home, due to travel bans and other restrictions. These people stuck in the UK have tended to face immigration tribunal hearings resulting in visa extensions and other concessions granted in light of the unprecedented situation, which is fundamentally out of their control. Read on for more insight into coronavirus and the UK immigration system, and to discover how patterns of immigration and other forms of travel to the UK have changed as a result of the pandemic. 

Coronavirus and the UK immigration system: Overview

  • In response to COVID-19, the UK imposed the first in a series of domestic lockdowns in the Spring of 2020. As a parallel measure to reduce the spread of the virus, the government imposed a number of restrictions on arrivals to the UK. Some of these restrictions imposed at the start of the crisis have been reduced or eliminated in light of rising global vaccination rates, while others remain in place.
  • Current restrictions include the following:
    • Submission of pre-flight COVID-19 form.
    • Pre-flight COVID-19 testing.
    • Immediate post-arrival COVID-19 testing.
    • Self-isolations.
    • Quarantines.
    • Travel bans on people arriving from certain countries/territories.
  • In general, travelers face some or all of the above restrictions depending on what country they are arriving from (or have recently spent time in). The UK continues to impose a color system, which assigns foreign countries to one of three lists: “Green” “Orange” and “Red.” Green countries are those identified as posing the lowest threat (in terms of COVID transmission), while “Red” states are considered to pose the highest (with “Orange” states in the middle). Therefore, arrivals from Red states continue to be subject to the most restrictions/bans on UK entry.
  • The UK color lists are not static; they continue to reflect ongoing developments to country-specific COVID-19 infection rates. As a result, if you are considering entering the UK, either for immigration or simply for a temporary visit, you should be aware of what quarantine and testing procedures will apply to you. Finally, please keep in mind that the restrictions may vary depending on what UK country you are attempting to enter (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland).
  • For help figuring out how to navigate the UK immigration system in light of the ongoing pandemic, please contact us here.

The impact of COVID-19 on the UK immigration system

  • The cumulative effect of the above anti-COVID-19 restrictions has been to reduce UK immigration and general travel to the country. However, the virus has also impacted immigration and travel rates less directly, as a result of the UK’s various national lockdowns. 
  • During successive lockdowns, the UK experienced the closure of all non-essential business (including indoor dining, bars, and museums) bans on large gatherings, social distancing, mask mandates, and occupancy restrictions. These restrictions, while applied domestically, also served to reduce the rate of travel and immigration to the UK, as would be tourists and immigrants and other types of travelers put off trips to a country that was, in effect, closed for both business and tourism. 
  • In general, the UK welcomed significantly fewer arrivals and issued significantly fewer visas during the pandemic period 2020—2021 than in 2019 (this is understandable, given the ongoing bans on the entry of travelers from certain countries for all but non-essential reasons and other restrictions). While more visas have been issued in 2021 than in 2020, rates have yet to rise to pre-pandemic levels. 
  • Fewer work visas issued has also correlated with fewer foreigners working in the country and fewer foreign residents living in the UK. 
  • However, certain visa categories continue to experience more growth than others (albeit not to pre pandemic levels) in 2021 in comparison to 2020. For example, the UK Start-Up and Innovator visas rates grew (the number of UK Student visas issued also grew in that period). 

Other effects of COVID-19

  • In addition to entry and other restrictions, COVID-19 has also created other barriers to immigration by complicating or interrupting the traditional visa application process. This has led the government to introduce visa extensions and other concessions for would-be immigrants. For example, applicants for UK visas traditionally submit their biometrics at visa application centers located in their country of residence. However, COVID-19 has resulted in the closure of many centers in many countries. As a result, the UK introduced a concession whereby applicants could apply through a center located in another country. This is just one of many examples of how the UK immigration system was forced to evolve in response to ongoing disruptions to immigration processes and travel guidelines. 
  • While COVID-19 caused many people to remain outside the UK, it also resulted in the opposite scenario, forcing foreigners to remain in the country. 
  • Particularly at the height of the pandemic, some people who travelled to England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland for temporary reasons (i.e. those who did not intend to stay in the UK) ended up stuck in the UK due to entry restrictions and other barriers to global movement. For the most part, these people have been granted visa extensions and other concessions in the aftermath of immigration tribunal hearings, allowing them to remain legally in country until they are able to return to their homes outside of it.  
  • Similarly, the UK government introduced the Covid Visa Concession Scheme for UK visa holders whose visas allowing them to reside in the country became invalid while they were trapped outside of it as a result of the pandemic. For these people (i.e. those who would otherwise have been able to re-enter to the country prior to the expiration of their respective visas), the CVCS therefore provides a legal pathway for eligible applicants to travel to the UK and apply for either Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or Leave to Remain (LTR). 
  •  Please note that the Covid Visa Concession Scheme for UK visa holders is only eligible for those who exited the country prior to March 17th, 2020. 

For more information about how COVID-19 has impacted travel to the UK, or for help launching an appeal to remain in the UK via immigration tribunal hearings or other methods, please contact us here.

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