Information for migrant Tier 4 students affected by Covid-19

We understand that there is a lot of anxiety and uncertainty at present given the current Covid-19 pandemic, and UK based Tier 4 migrant students have concerns regarding their status. In an attempt to provide some guidance, solicitors at Bindmans LLP have worked with Unis Resist Border Control (URBC) to produced the following FAQs and resources to assist those impacted by the virus. The FAQs address both immigration and housing issues being faced by international students.

You will appreciate that the situation is rapidly evolving, as is the guidance being issued by the Home Office. This information is accurate as of 9am on 16 April 2020. We would strongly recommend that anyone reading this guide, also makes reference to the Home Office website for the most up to date guidance. The Home Office guidance or Tier 2, 4 and 5 sponsors can be accessed here

This document is for information only and is not intended to be immigration advice. 

Immigration FAQs:

If I have returned home, but am still enrolled and distance learning, will I have to reapply for my visa before my return to study in the UK?

No, so long as your visa remains valid. The Home Office has confirmed that students are able to continue their studies through distance learning, either in the UK or overseas. Therefore as long as you have not deferred or interrupted your study for a non-coronavirus reason, you will not lose the sponsorship provided by your institution. We would recommend that you maintain close contact with your Sponsor to ensure they are aware of your continued studies. 

I am a tier 4 student and am unable to return/travel to the UK due to travel restrictions? What will happen to my visa? 

Students are permitted to continue their studies through distance learning (see above), whether they are in the UK or another country. The Home Office has confirmed that Sponsors do not need to notify the Home Office when a student has moved to distance learning.

How has the Tier 4 reporting changed for sponsors in light of coronavirus?

Sponsors do not need to report:

  • student absences related to coronavirus. This can include absences due to illness, their need to isolate or inability to travel due to travel restrictions;
  • Students moving to distance learning. 

Sponsors do not need to withdraw sponsorship, if because of coronavirus, a student is unable to attend for more than 60 days. 

If I have officially interrupted my study and travelled away from the UK, will I have to reapply for my visa before my return to study in the UK?

According to the Home Office, if your interruption is coronavirus related then your institutions are not required to withdraw your sponsorship or report you. However, Home Office remains rather unclear in what is meant by coronavirus related and we would advise you consult with your university before making any decision to interrupt your studies, if possible. 

We are also seeking to campaign against any withdrawal of sponsorship in the current situation and allowing interrupting students to retain their tier-4 visa, to facilitate any caring responsibilities, maintain mental wellbeing as much as possible in the current context and easing the pressure to achieve academically in these extremely challenging times. 

I have been assigned a CAS but not yet applied for a visa. Can I still apply for a visa? 

You will still be able to apply for a visa. The start date for the course stated on the CAS may have changed. The Home Office has said that it may accept a CAS if it has become invalid because the student was unable to travel as a result of coronavirus. Applications will be considered on a case by case basis. It is also possible for new international students to start their course overseas by distance learning, which does not require a CAS/visa as the individual will not be entering the UK. 

I am sick/self-isolating/absent from my studies due to coronavirus. Will this affect my immigration status?

No. The Home Office has confirmed that the university does not need to report student absences related to coronavirus. They will not need to withdraw sponsorship if because of coronavirus you are unable to attend for more than 60 days.

I have finished my studies and was planning to leave the UK as my visa is expiring. I now cannot travel. What should I do?

It is possible to apply for an extension of stay in the UK if you are in the UK and your leave is due to expire between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020 and you cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus (COVID-19). The Home Office will extend your leave to 31 May 2020 if you cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus (COVID-19). You must update the Coronavirus Immigration Team by completing an online form

The Home Office has confirmed that, in certain circumstances, you may be able to apply for a long term visa from within the UK on an exceptional basis. This applies if the reason you need to leave the UK is to be able to apply to switch into a different immigration category. The Home Office has announced that up until the 31 May 2020, those visa applicants who must normally leave the UK  in order to apply for a long-term UK visa in a different category, will be able to apply from within the UK if they are unable to leave due to travel restrictions or self-isolation. You will still be expected to meet the requirements for leave in the category you are applying under.

I have applied for a Tier 4 visa but I have not yet had a decision on my application. Can I start my course? 

An individual can start their course or studies before a visa application has been decided if:

  • an individual’s sponsor is a Tier 4 sponsor
  • an individual have been given a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS)
  • the individual submitted an application before their current visa expired and show evidence to their sponsor of this
  • the course they start is the same as the one listed on their CAS
  • the individual have a valid Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate if required

If an individual’s application is eventually refused the individual must stop their course or studies.

What are the rules on accessing NHS treatment, especially as the NHS surcharge is still in place?

Treatment and testing for coronavirus has been added to the list of conditions for which no charge will be implemented – even if the test comes back negative. No other changes have been made to the NHS surcharge rules, but a reminder that the services that you should always be able to access free of charge are:

  • accident and emergency (A&E) services (whether provided at an A&E department or similar e.g. urgent care centre, walk-in centre or minor injuries unit) but not including services provided after the overseas visitor is accepted as an inpatient or at a follow-up outpatient appointment. So, where emergency treatment is given after admission to the hospital, e.g. intensive care or coronary care, it is chargeable to a non-exempt overseas visitor. Note that some walk-in centres provide primary care services rather than A&E-type services and overseas visitors cannot be charged for such services either because primary care services are not within the scope of the regulations; 
  • family planning services, which means services that supply contraceptive products and devices to prevent pregnancy (termination of an established pregnancy is not a method of contraception or family planning); 
  • the diagnosis and treatment, including routine screening and routine vaccinations, of the conditions specified in Schedule 1 to the Charging Regulations which is necessary to protect the wider public health. This exemption from charge will apply to the diagnosis of the condition, even if the outcome is a negative result. It will also apply to any treatment provided for a suspected specified condition, up to the point that it is negatively diagnosed. It does not apply to any secondary illness that may be present even if treatment is necessary in order to successfully treat the condition;

Coronavirus treatment itself has been added to a list of other infectious diseases for which the treatment is always free, link here.

I have been contacting student services at my institution (international office, postgraduate office, student welfare etc.) but have not found them to be forthcoming, responsive, helpful or compassionate.

If you feel that your sponsor is not responding in an appropriate manner to your requests and/or not offering adequate support during the Covid-19 pandemic, please get in touch with Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC) immediately. We will do what we can to support you but are also gathering any information on university bodies failing in their duty of care. You can email URBC at: UnisResistBorderControls@gmail.com


Housing FAQs:

Do I have to leave my current home if my landlord tells me to?

This depends on the circumstances in which you live. 

The key question is whether your landlord has to obtain a court order before they can make you leave. The government has recently announced a freeze of all court possession proceedings for at least 90 days, and so your landlord will not be able to take steps to obtain a court order until at least 25 June 2020. 

If your landlord does not need a court order then unfortunately these changes do not apply.

Whether your landlord requires a court order will depend largely on whether you have exclusive possession of your living space.  If this is the case then you are considered a tenant and have much stronger protection from eviction. If you do not have exclusive possession then it is likely you are a licensee, and have much less protection. Further information about the distinction between a tenancy and licensee can be found on Shelter’s website here: 

https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/downloads_and_tools/tenancy_rights_checker

For practical purposes, almost all students will fall into one of three groups:

  1. Tenants (who have exclusive possession of the areas of a property in which they live).
  2. Students who live in university owned halls of residence.
  3. Lodgers or licensees (who do not have exclusive possession over their living space).

What is my situation if I am a tenant?

If you live in a rented flat or house, with or without other tenants, you are likely to have a tenancy.  You are also likely to have a tenancy if you live in a student hall of residence that is owned and run by a private housing provider.

If you are a tenant, your landlord cannot force you to leave your property without first getting a possession order from court.

The government has announced that no new possession claims can be issued until 25 June 2020 and that all existing possession claims have been suspended until the same date.  Other temporary changes have also been introduced to extend the length of notice that must be given by landlords to tenants before they begin taking steps to end a tenancy.

The effect of these changes is that tenants cannot currently be made to leave their homes by landlords.  If landlords attempt to evict tenants without a court order they are potentially committing an offence under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

What if I live in university halls of residence?

If you live in a hall of residence that is owned and maintained by the university at which you are studying then you are probably a licensee, but the Protection from Eviction Act is also likely to apply. 

Your landlord will therefore require a court order to force you to leave, and so the effect of the current suspension in possession proceedings is that you cannot be made to leave if you are not able to do so.

If you are in this situation and you are being put under pressure to leave when you cannot, then you should seek further legal advice.

What is my situation if I rent a room in somebody else’s house?

If you rent a room in somebody else’s house and you share facilities such as a bathroom or kitchen then you are likely to be a licensee.  Unfortunately, if this is the case then you have a lot less protection.

Your landlord must give you reasonable notice before asking you to leave the property, but they do not need to obtain a court order to do so.

Do I have to continue to pay my rent?

Yes

Unless you reach an agreement with your landlord, or you have brought your tenancy to an end, you should continue paying your rent regardless of whether you are actually present in the property.  You will almost certainly have a contractual obligation to do this under your tenancy agreement. If you do not pay then your landlord can recover the money from you as a debt, and will likely be able to keep your deposit as payment towards the money that you owe. 

If you owe money to your university then you may be prevented from graduating until any debts are settled.

Useful Resources

The Home Office has set up a Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre (CIH). The CIH can be contacted by email (CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk) or telephone (0800 678 1767). Anyone concerned about their immigration status in light of coronavirus should contact the help centre. We would recommend emailing in the instance so that there is a record of your attempts to seek advice from the Home Office, should you need to rely on it in the future.

Home office information page for advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents, last updated 14 April: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-uk-visa-applicants-and-temporary-uk-residents

UKCISA information page on coronavirus last updated 17th April: https://www.ukcisa.org.uk/Information–Advice/Studying–living-in-the-UK/Coronavirus-Covid-19-info-for-international-students

Contact Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC) if you are having any issues with your immigration status and/or if you are experiencing any problems at your university.

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