London: Britain's Indian-origin Home Secretary Priti Patel has issued an over two-month extension on visas to foreign nationals who were stranded in the UK due to COVID-19 related travel bans imposed by several countries, including India.
The announcement, made on Tuesday, came as a relief for Indian nationals, including tourists, professionals and students, who were inundating the social media channels of the Indian High Commission in London with queries about their expired or soon to be expiring visas.
Like many foreign nationals, the Indian citizens also found themselves unable to return home amid the coronavirus pandemic due to flight cancellations and border restrictions.
Giving them a grace period until May 31, Patel said she wanted to give people peace of mind that no enforcement action will be taken against anyone caught up due to the current stringent travel restrictions.
"The UK continues to put the health and wellbeing of people first and nobody will be punished for circumstances outside of their control. By extending people's visas, we are giving people peace of mind and also ensuring that those in vital services can continue their work," the senior UK Cabinet minister said.
The extension will apply to anyone whose leave expired after the January 24 and who cannot leave the country because of travel restrictions or self-isolation. It will last until May 31 in the first instance but will be kept under regular review in case further extensions are needed, the Home Office said.
"Those who contact the Home Office for these visa extensions will be expected to return to their home countries as soon as possible once flight and border restrictions are lifted. No immigration enforcement action will be undertaken during this time for those who email the Home Office as outlined above," it noted.
To help those who want to apply for visas to stay in the UK long-term, the Home Office said it is temporarily expanding the in-country switching provisions, which means people can apply to switch routes, such as from Tier 4 (student) to Tier 2 (General Worker), whilst remaining in the UK.
"The extension has been put in place to give these individuals peace of mind that they will not be penalised for overstaying their visa when the situation is out of their control due to COVID-19," the Home Office said.
Another relief for Indian students and professionals would be the Home Office confirmation that in light of the current advice on self-isolation and social distancing, a waiver of number of requirements on visa sponsors on allowing non-EU nationals under work or study routes to undertake their work or study from home.
The UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) department said it will continue to process applications as quickly as possible, however some applications may take longer than usual due to COVID-19 related operational pressures.
A dedicated COVID-19 immigration team has been set up within the UKVI to make the process as "straightforward" as possible, it said, calling on anyone in this situation to email address CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk to let them know their visa has expired and they will be issued with an extension.