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McGill & Co is a Scottish immigration law firm specialising in UK immigration, nationality and refugee law.

Leave in the Time of COVID

20 March 2020 James Ritchie Changes to Immigration

You might have noticed Britain is acting differently, as you work from home trying not to have lunch at 10am. Whether you have succumbed to apocalypse- twitter to the point of ennui, or you prefer to have your crisis in the evenings watching the Judgement day-level Downing Street coverage, you might have noticed Britain is acting differently.

From the raising of new criminal offences to the relaxing of competition law Britain has, in no uncertain terms, changed. One noticeable legislative cratering can be observed in immigration practice, where for perhaps the first time a declaratory immigration status was effected for Chinese nationals.

Whilst the UK press pressed PM Johnson for answers on what this meant for business, the public were advised in a cheerfully clinical tone to go placidly amid the noise and make sure to wash your hands.  For some this means a heavily reduced income, for many this means absolute and indefinite closure. Immigration lawyers are not immune to these parsimonious times, sailing arm-in-arm with everyone who is not Tesco, through the air without a parachute.

Whilst businesses have not been issued a government order to close during the crisis, for insurance purposes or otherwise, the Home Office looks to have been rendered prostrate. Despite the paucity of information disclosed by the Home Office, we now know all substantive asylum interviews have been halted and bail reporting conditions suspended. That is very serious.

The Home Office run the administrative end of their out-of-country processing through commercial partners, private companies VFS and TLSConnect. VFS have all but fully closed and TLS may follow suit, as outlined by our Amna Ashraf earlier this week.

But what does this mean for in-country applications? The administrative end of these UK applications are also run by a commercial partner, namely Sopra Steria. They remain open for the time being but cannot be immune from the Johnson announcement on avoiding public contact.

It is all very well for the public to hunker down for a time, but what of those who have visas to renew in the coming months, weeks, or perhaps days? The advice so far, for non-Chinese nationals, is non-existent. It would be all too easy to frenziedly refresh the government webpage on COVID-19 to the point of uttermost folly. I certainly have done so, spinning my wheels like a modern-day Tantalus, baffled to my core. Whilst learning nothing new from this deeply unpleasant experience it has confirmed my pre-existing feeling that the Home Office should be doing more to keep migrants informed.

And what is the Home Office to do? Head-spinning geometry it is not. As said, a declaratory system has already been implemented for Chinese nationals, removing the need for applicants to do virtually anything. The same can and must be done for those from other affected non-EEA countries. If the government are serious about the pandemic they should consider extending their Chinese national policy to all those with nearing visa expiries. If the government does not act, they may face a sharp declension in legal migrants making Windrush look like a tempest in a teacup.

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