Worried cancer patient with UK visa told to return to Ukraine

Sanwar Ali comment:

Fortunately, since this report initially came out, UK visa policy has changed and now all foreign nationals whose visa expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020 and who are unable to return home, can stay longer until 31 May 2020.  The previous policy only covered Chinese nationals.  

However, the information on the UK Government website initially published on 24 March 2020 is confusing and incomplete.  We very much hope that more detailed guidance will be available soon for migrants who are affected by travel restrictions caused by coronavirus (COVID-19).  In interesting developments recently, both the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock have tested positive for coronavirus. 

Contact the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) if your visa has expired or is expiring by 31 May 2020:

COVERS ALL NATIONALITIES NOW

You should provide:

  • your full name (include any middle names)
  • date of birth (dd/mm/yyyy)
  • nationality
  • your previous visa reference number
  • why you can’t go back to your home country, for example if the border has closed

email: CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk

An 80-year-old cancer patient had previously been ordered to return to the Ukraine by the Home Office, despite a ban on all air traffic entering her homeland because of the coronavirus. This was before the latest changes of 24 March 2020. The 80-year-old Ukrainian national, who has lung cancer, was in the country visiting family. Her UK visa was due to expire on 19 March 2020.

The woman had planned to leave the UK prior to her previous visa expiring, but could not due to travel restrictions amid the coronavirus epidemic. Alex Piletska, the lawyer representing the 80-year-old woman talking to the Independent, said she contacted the newly created coronavirus immigration helpline setup by the Home Office.

Ms Piletska was told that her 80-year-old client could return to the Ukraine by car. When asked how her elderly client could possibly travel the estimated 35-hour journey by car, a Home Office civil servant said: “We would expect foreign nationals to make every effort to return home.”  Fortunately, UK visas and Immigration have recently updated its coronavirus immigration guidelines to enable all foreign nationals stranded in the UK by travel restrictions to stay in the UK.

Coronavirus government guidelines and UK visa situation

When Ms Piletska pointed out that government guidelines instruct people over 70 to self-isolate during the coronavirus epidemic, the Home Office civil servant replied: “The government guidelines apply to UK nationals only.”

Before the latest changes, the case of the 80-year-old Ukrainian national being ordered to return home prompted calls from immigrant advocates for the government to update UK immigration guidance amid the coronavirus

The elderly Ukrainian national has visited the UK frequently over the past 20 years, never once overstaying her visa. She spent an additional £2,000 to try and extend her stay in Britain. 

On 17 February, the Home Office had announced that Chinese nationals would have their UK visa extended automatically, without them needing to do anything and provided they met certain conditions. Fortunately, recent changes have been made so that all nationals with visas due to expire by 31 May 2020 can stay longer.

80-year-old cancer patient left stressed

Commenting on her client’s current state, Ms Piletska in an interview to the Independent said:

“She’s very stressed. She’s terrified of the coronavirus in itself. The idea that she would then make this long journey across Europe is absurd. It would be absurd even without the pandemic and if the countries she’d have to travel through hadn’t closed their borders. She’s now also worried that her application will be refused on top of everything else.“

Many foreign nationals in the UK are likely to find themselves in a similar situation amid the coronavirus pandemic. The majority will not be able to leave the UK for some time, even after their visa expires, because of travel restrictions and the need to self-isolate.

New immigration policy put into place on 24 March 2020

Fortunately, on 24 March 2020, the UK government updated its immigration policy to cover all foreign nationals affected by the coronavirus protocols currently in place.

Before the changes of 24 March 2020, The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA) released a series of recommendations for the Home Office to follow, including a ‘flexible and pragmatic’ approach to anyone affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The ILPA urged the Home Office to automatically extend leave to remain to at least September 2020 for any non-UK national currently in Britain.

The association also called on the Home Office to notify third parties, including employers, landlords and the NHS that the residence of foreign nationals in the UK remains lawful to prevent them from falling foul of the UK’s hostile environment policy.

An excerpt from the ILPA’s recommendations reads: “International measures reducing the impact of COVID-19 are affecting foreign nationals who either wish to enter for example to take up a job or are currently in the UK and are unable to leave or apply to extend their stay. It is also having an impact on businesses who rely on them.”

“An urgent comprehensive policy update is needed now as individuals are already facing situations which compromise their UK immigration position”, the briefing said.

Legal director at the ILPA, Sonia Lenegan, had previously told The Independent: “It’s difficult to understand why the Home Office has not yet updated its UK immigration guidance. “Its failure to do so is no doubt contributing to the confusion of those advising on the helpline.”

“There is no justification for prioritising immigration controls over the public health. These are unprecedented times, and the response from the Home Office must match this, and quickly,” Lenegan added.

UK immigration support for foreign nationals affected by coronavirus

The Home Office has implemented some changes to support foreign nationals whose UK immigration status has been affected.

A spokesperson for the under fire government agency, which was recently slammed by a report on the Windrush scandal, said: “An initial phase of visa extensions for Chinese nationals who are unable to return has already been announced and we will shortly be setting out arrangements for other foreign nationals. In line with the arrangements already announced, we will continue to take a compassionate and pragmatic approach.”

“To keep people informed and to provide support, a dedicated helpline has been established for those who want to discuss their individual circumstances,” the spokesperson added.

Coronavirus death toll in UK continues to rise

According to the most recent government data, 78,340 people in the UK have been tested for coronavirus, 5,683 were confirmed positive and 281 people have died.

Outside London, Wolverhampton has the highest coronavirus contraction rate, with 11 cases per 100,000 people.

Prime Minster Boris Johnson who has tested positive for the coronavirus himself, has recently ordered all pubs and restaurants in the UK to stay closed, while putting 1.5 million vulnerable people on lockdown to protect them from the virus.

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