News alert: Lockdown and other immigration updates

8 January 2021

Further to our last alert of 10 December, we have an update in relation to new travel restrictions announced today, visa applications, changes to the coronavirus guidance and on EU citizens relying on a permanent residence document to naturalise as British citizens.  

New pre-travel COVID-19 testing requirements for passengers arriving in England from next week

The UK Government today announced that all travellers arriving in England “from next week” will be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test result issued up to 72 hours before leaving the country they are in.  

The restriction will apply to all passengers arriving in England by plane train or boat, including British Nationals. 

Passengers will need to show their negative test results before boarding and transport operators have been requested to deny boarding to those without the test. 

Failure to have a valid test on arrival may lead to a £500 fine. All passengers are still required to complete the Passenger Locator Form and may also face a fine for failure to complete this.

Passengers arriving from countries not on the UK travel corridor list will still need to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival.  

There will be exemption for hauliers, children under 11, crews and for those travelling from countries without the infrastructure to deliver the tests. 

The UK has been one of the few countries which had not yet introduced pre-travel testing and was widely criticised for this. In announcing the new measures, today’s Government announcement stated:

“Today’s (8 January 2021) decisive action is in response to the changes seen in the transmission of the virus both domestically and across the globe. Pre-departure testing will protect travel and will provide an additional layer of safety from imported cases of coronavirus on top of the mandatory 10 day self-isolation for arrivals, helping identify people who may currently be infectious and preventing them from travelling to England.”

The exact date for the start of the new regime has not been announced, so all travellers should check before they plan any travel or seek to return to the UK. It is likely that these new measures will also be approved for the UK’s devolved nations (Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) in due course. 

Visa applications submitted in the UK can continue during lockdown 

  • Visa applications in the UK. As at today, these application are continuing as normal and applicants are able to attend appointments at Sopra Steria Service Points in person in the UK during the lockdown. Sopra Steria has been designated as providing an “essential service” and applications can therefore continue. Visa and passport services are also listed in government advice and in the relevant legislation as an example public service which can continue during the lockdown. Given the on-going situation this could change and individual centres may close.   
  • Visa applications outside the UK. For visa applications submitted outside the UK, the majority of visa application centres remain open and applications can proceed.

Coronavirus - changes to visa rules for applications submitted in the UK 

The Home Office coronavirus guidance changes regularly and the latest update on 23 December 2020 includes the following changes:

  • Starting a new job. An applicant who has submitted a Skilled or Temporary Worker application in the UK to start work at a new employer, can now only start working for the new employer before the application is approved if the certificate of sponsorship was assigned before 1 January 2021 (or they already have permission to do the work in question).  
  • Switching immigration status. In a continuation of previous policy, it is possible to submit an immigration application from within the UK where ordinarily it would need to be submitted outside. To rely on this rule, the applicant must show their application is “urgent” because for example they are starting a new job. 

Our coronavirus FAQs contain further information on how the pandemic is affecting the UK immigration system. We will update clients if centres are closed. 

Life in the UK tests

For present purposes, Life in the UK tests (for indefinite leave to remain and British citizenship applications) are still available and applicants are able to continue attending the tests. 

EU citizens relying on permanent residence for naturalisation

Separate from the lockdown and coronavirus rules, our last update on 10 December mentioned rules related to EU citizens applying to naturalise as British citizens. In particular, that where an EU citizen has both a permanent residence document and settled status, from 1 January they would not be able to rely on the permanent residence document and would instead be required to wait until they have held settled status for 12 months. 

As mentioned, we queried that policy with the Home Office as it appears to be unfair for a number of reasons. We are pleased to say the latest guidance has now been updated to include that where the applicant has a permanent residence document and settled status, they can combine time spent with permanent residence and settled status. Equally, if permanent residence has been acquired (but not a permanent residence document), applicants can apply for settled status before the naturalisation application and still rely on the permanent residence so long as they show they were legally (such as by working) in the UK during the residence period.

We will continue to keep you updated on developments. If you have any queries in relation to the above change or any other immigration matter, please contact a member of the immigration team.

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