UK visa ‘grace’ period for Tier 4 visa international students

Comments by Sanwar Ali:

Recently there have been changes to the coronavirus COVID-19 Government UK visa advice.  There is a new concession that benefits Tier 4 visa students and other visa holders as well.  Everyone whose visa expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 can stay until 31 August 2020.

If your leave expires by 31 August 2020, and you are unable to leave by this date, you should contact the coronavirus immigration team (CIT) and ask for an “exceptional indemnity”: mailto:CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk

There are now fewer travel restrictions around the World and so the Government UK visa guidance is a bit less generous than before.  If your visa expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020, you are expected to leave the UK by 31 August 2020 or ask for an "exceptional indemnity, or apply to remain in the UK on a longer term basis.   The good news is that there is still a concession so that you can apply from within the UK for a longer term visa, where you would normally need to apply from overseas.

International students currently in the UK on a Tier 4 visa that expired on 31 July have been granted a one-month grace period in order to arrange travel out of the country. Following the spread of coronavirus in the UK, emergency visa and immigration measures were put in place, enabling those stranded in Britain to extend their visas.

For visa holders whose stay in the UK was set to end between 24 January and 31 July 2020, the Home Office allowed people to extend their time in Britain if they were unable to return home.

However, with travel restrictions lifting worldwide, automatic UK visa extensions are no longer available. Those whose visas expired on 31 July must now leave the UK or apply for settled status.

International students can stay until 31 August 2020

The Home Office recently announced that international students whose visa expires by 31 July 2020 will be given more time, granting a one-month extension – until 31 August – to make any travel arrangements prior to leaving the UK.

CEO of Study Group, Emma Lancaster, said: “We very much welcome the more pragmatic and supportive approach towards international students coming from the UK government at this challenging time. This is good news for students, universities and all those who benefit from the tremendous benefits to society of international education.”

“It is clear they [the government] are listening to the voices of international students and alumni as well as the education sector which welcomes its focus on a more welcoming International Education Strategy,” Lancaster added.

Grace period

Throughout the grace period, the conditions of stay for a Tier 4 student visa holder will remain unchanged. According to government guidance: “If conditions allow an international student to work, study or rent accommodation they may continue to do so during August 2020 ahead of their departure.”

Despite the grace period, concerns remain over the details of the new guidance and how it will affect international students.

A statement issued by the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) specified that how an individual’s immigration status during the grace period, and where it will be recorded, remains unclear.

The statement said: “It is not clear whether or how this could affect future immigration applications. “Additionally, it is not clear how people will be able to prove, without documentation, that they are in this grace period and therefore have the same conditions of stay in the UK.”

“This could be particularly challenging for people who need to demonstrate this to employers, educational institutions or landlords,” the statement added.

Uncertainties remain over grace period

The UKCISA claims that the government guidance doesn’t specify a grace period of any kind for those whose UK visas expire after 31 July.

UKCISA said: “We understand this is a concern to many students whose leave is expiring soon after 31 July 2020 and who may still not yet be able to leave the UK, or make any plans to, because of coronavirus travel restrictions.”

It’s understood that if an international student intends to leave the country, but is unable to secure their exit from the UK before the grace period ends, then they are allowed to ask for additional time as part of an ‘exceptional indemnity’ policy.

Government guidance states: “The indemnity does not grant you leave but will act as short-term protection against any adverse action or consequences after your leave has expired. “The Coronavirus Immigration Team will provide you with further advice on what you need to do to request an indemnity.”

“This will include providing details of the reason why you are unable to leave the UK and supporting evidence, for example, a confirmed flight ticket with a date after 31 August or confirmation of a positive coronavirus test result,” the guidance says.

For international students intending to stay in the UK, they will need to apply for the necessary leave to remain.

Under current visa rules, applicants can apply for leave to remain while in the UK, where normally they would have to leave the country.

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