On Monday the Home Office published new COVID-19 guidance for Tier 4 sponsors and migrants and for short-term students. It is a 14 page document and provides much greater detail than other guidance published to date, which has so far come in the form of short statements on the gov.uk website, and factsheets circulated to practitioners.
Some of the key concessions detailed in the guidance are:
Validity of CAS
The Home Office ‘will take a pragmatic approach to considering applications to study courses with significantly different start dates to those stated on CAS or expired CAS.’ Where a CAS is not marked as used or expired, changes should be recorded on the CAS as usual. Where a CAS has become invalid because it has expired, or it was marked as used in an application but then the applicant could not travel to the UK due to Covid-19, the Home Office ‘will consider exceptionally accepting that CAS with a new visa application on a case by case basis. The CAS will be accepted if the caseworker is satisfied that the reason the student couldn’t previously use it in an application to travel to the UK was due to COVID19’. Whilst applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis, this last sentence suggests that as long as the individual can satisfy the caseworker that their CAS is invalid because they could not travel due to Covid-19, a new CAS will not be needed. It remains to be seen whether similar guidance will be provided in relation to Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) for sponsored workers under Tier 2.
Where students are required to take a Secure English Language Test (SELT) overseas but cannot do so due to the closure of test centres in the country they are applying from, provision is made for certain institutions to self-assess English language. This is a significant concession, though for many the issue will remain that they are unable to make an application due to the closure of visa application centres.
Extending a Tier 4 visa
The guidance confirms that students whose leave expires between 24 January and 31 May who would otherwise be unable to extend in-country can exceptionally apply for further leave within the UK. Those who are unable to complete their course in their current period of leave due to Covid-19 can apply in-country to complete the course and those who need to repeat a year, retake a module or resit an exam are exempt from demonstrating academic progression as would normally be needed.
Switching into Tier 4
The guidance confirms that switching into Tier 4 from short-term routes including Visit and Short-term Study will be allowed on an exceptional basis. Applicants must still meet the other requirements of the route. This will be allowed until 31 May and the concession will then be reviewed. On the face of it this kind of switch is already covered by the general concession on temporary in-country switching. The confirmation here is welcome, but it would be helpful for the scope of the general concession to be clarified in respect of all relevant routes. It remains to be seen whether this will be done.
Permitted study for short-term students
Short-term students who have been given an exceptional extension of leave in this category as a result of Covid-19 will be permitted to study on a further course other than that which they originally entered the UK to undertake.
The guidance also reiterates and confirms existing concessions in relation to students commencing their studies prior to their application being approved, reporting student absences, and distance learning. It also contains provisions relating to police registration, working hours and volunteering, and educational oversight.
If you have questions about the above or would like advice on your situation, please contact a member of the immigration team.