UK: significant pandemic-era changes to immigration rules

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Laura Devine
Laura Devine Immigration, London

Josh Hopkins
Laura Devine Immigration, London

Temporary changes

Short-term permission/protection

Global travel restrictions have resulted in many migrants with temporary immigration permission being unable to leave the UK. Normally, individuals who remain in the UK beyond the expiry date of their permission risk becoming an ‘overstayer’, which may have a detrimental effect on their future UK immigration options. To counter this, the Home Office favourably introduced a concession that enabled those affected to request short-term extensions. The ‘exceptional assurance’ concession offers short-term protection from danger of becoming an overstayer. Whilst this status does not constitute extended immigration permission, it maintains the conditions of the individual's previous permission (for example, to work). As the concession confuses caseworkers and practitioners, it is in danger of being terminated by the Home Office by the end of March.


Last year, those arriving in the UK were required to provide travel and contact information, and to self­isolate for 14 days. These measures were then relaxed with: a travel corridor list exempting specified passengers; the Test to Release scheme enabled certain individuals to end isolation early; and the isolation period was reduced to ten days. However, with the third wave of Covid-19, a stricter approach was reinstated. Travel bans have been imposed, mandatory Covid-19 tests must be taken and certain passengers must self-isolate in a designated quarantine hotel. The government is keen to remove all of these measures once it is safe to do so.

Permanent changes

Reporting duties

The Home Office has temporarily relaxed sponsors’ reporting duties to facilitate sponsored migrants’ ability to work from home. This relaxation may be permanent since working from home will undoubtedly become customary.

Reuse of biometric data

The Home Office has successfully trialled the reuse of historic biometric data (fingerprints and photograph of the face) which removes the need for applicants to attend in-person appointments. It is expected that the reuse of biometrics will become standard.

Digital documentation

The Home Office now accepts digital documents for most applications, albeit on a discretionary basis. Recent changes to the Immigration Rules indicate that this may become permanent.

Residence requirements

Many migrants have been trapped outside the UK due to travel restrictions, compromising their ability to meet UK residence requirements. New permanent rules state that absences caused by travel disruption due to a pandemic will not be counted as absences, for many routes.

Vaccination passports

Rumours of ‘vaccination passports’ have so far been dismissed by government ministers.

Personal data

A guarantee that data obtained during the vaccination rollout will not be used for any enforcement action against migrants would be welcome.

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