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How the Coronavirus Outbreak is Impacting UK Spouse Visas

The COVID-19 pandemic presented a public health crisis unlike any other the UK has experienced in recent history. While the outbreak has impacted many aspects of life for people living in the UK, it created unique challenges and raises concerns regarding immigration for non-citizens applying for spouse visas, as well as the various government agencies that regulate immigration and hence slowing down the UK immigration operations and processes in several ways. This has impacted the government’s response which has been experienced by citizens and non-citizens alike.

The administration has used the COVID-19 outbreak to pursue policy changes that it has sought to implement for many years in order to lessen the problems for those applying for a spouse visa, either at the entry clearance stage (from abroad), or at the extension or ILR stage (from within the UK).

Concerns for the Financial Requirement

Job losses are sadly becoming the norm in the UK due to Covid-19. For foreign nationals in the UK, this factor is particularly important when it comes to making a new application for a spouse visa or extending a visa after completion of the first 2.5 years. If either the British partner or their non-EEA spouse loses their job or gets a cut in their salary, they may struggle to meet the Minimum Income Requirement (MIR) of the Spouse Visa rules which states that the sponsor must have an income of at least £18,600 per annum or are able to supplement a lower income with substantial savings. This could jeopardize a number of applicants who are applying for a Spouse Visa, extension or those applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain, as many couples will be relying upon specific periods of income and employment for the purposes of meeting the MIR, and the loss of that income may prevent a successful application under the route.

However, the government of UK has announced financial support for its foreign nationals under the newly Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which helps employers pay 80% of their staff’s wages and even those who self-employed can claim 80% of their average income. Additionally, foreign nationals who have been furloughed are also eligible for Statutory Sick Pay.

On 9 June 2020 the Home Office made the following announcement in relation to consideration of the MIR for those affected during lockdown:

  • If you have experienced a loss of income due to coronavirus, we will consider employment income for the period immediately before the loss of income due to coronavirus, provided the requirement was met for at least 6 months up to March 2020.

  • If your salary has reduced because you’re furloughed, we will take account of your income as though you’re earning 100% of your salary.

  • If you’re self-employed, a loss of annual income due to coronavirus between 1 March 2020 and 31 July 2020 will generally be disregarded, along with the impact on employment income from the same period for future applications.

Delays in Acquiring Documents for the Spouse Visa Application

Even where couples have survived the job cuts, or are otherwise still eligible, applicants may not be in a position to physically make their entry clearance application. In relation to extension applications from within the UK, Visa Application Centers have been closed. It is hoped that these centers will be reopening soon.

However, the Home Office for those in the UK looking to extend their leave as a spouse are to make the online application as one would normally do and then wait until the Visa Application Centers reopen in order to make the biometrics appointment and complete the application process.

Applicants must meet an English language requirement in order to apply to enter the UK as a spouse visa or when extending the same visa after first 2.5 years which are held in Secure English Language Test (SELT) centers. As of now, many SELT centers are closed which are preventing applicants from taking the test.

Following are the guide lines provided by the Home Office regarding above concern:

Changes to the English language requirement

If you’re asked to take an English language test as part of your application, you can apply for an exemption if the test center was closed or you couldn’t travel to it due to corona-virus when you applied.

Previously it has been understood that the Home Office allows individuals to take a test after the online submission but before a decision was made. However, based on the latest guide lines by the Home Office which refers to an exemption, it is not clear whether this is still accepted.

Extension in your Spouse Visa

The government of UK has provided a great relaxation in the extension of Spouse visa. However, this relaxation in extension of the visa is not automatic; an individual must fill an E-form to receive the benefits offered. Below are the points reflecting the changes made by the Home office to support immigrants:

  • No individual who is in the UK legally and whose visa expired after 24 January 2020, or is due to expire, will be regarded as an over stayer or suffer any detriment in the future if they cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions related to COVID-19.

  • A visa will be extended to 31 July 2020 if an individual cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus (COVID19).

  • Individuals must update their records with the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) if their visa is expiring and were not planning to stay in the UK. The Coronavirus Immigration Team will aim to reply to an individual’s application within 5 working days.
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