Updates from UKCISA (The UK Council For International Student Affairs)

Are you an international student at Goldsmiths? If so, we thought we’d include the below information from UKCISA (The UK Council For International Student Affairs) regarding Covid-19 and your rights…

**Please note, this is an evolving situation and UKCISA continues to work with the UK government and local public health authorities to distribute appropriate guidance to UK international students**

HOW PERIODS OF OVERSTAY WILL BE REGARDED:

Usually, if you stay in the UK without immigration permission when you are required to hold it, you will encounter many problems. These include: not being allowed to study, work, rent private property, open and hold a bank account, drive, have access to free NHS treatment and having future immigration applications refused automatically.

On 24th March 2020, the Home Office updated its Coronavirus guidance and made provision for free extensions of your immigration permission until 31st May 2020, if it expired or will expire between 24th January and 31st May - it’s very important that you use this provision if you cannot make a full immigration application in the UK.

Home Office guidance states that: ‘No individual of any nationality whose leave has expired or is due to expire between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020, and who cannot leave the UK because of COVID-19, will be regarded as an overstayer or suffer any detriment in the future.’ 

Make sure that you also keep any evidence for yourself, for example, screenshots or other notifications of cancelled flights, and information about entry restrictions for the country you need to travel to. This is particularly important if you need to make an immigration application in the future, when you would usually have to declare any periods of overstay and may need evidence of what caused it.

Free extension if your immigration permission expires between 24 January and 31 May (updated 1 May)

If your immigration permission expired, or will expire, between 24 January and 31 May 2020 the Home Office will extend it for you up to 31 May 2020 without your having to make an immigration application or pay a fee. However, you must submit a form to its Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre. Until 6 April, you had to send an email including specified information.

For full details, see the Home Office's advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents,

The form asks for different reference numbers. 'GWF' stands for Global Web Form and is the number you receive when you first make an immigration application outside the UK. It will be on emails or letters from the Home Office. The VAF reference number is on your entry clearance (visa) sticker, if you have one. You have a Home Office reference number if you applied for immigration permission in the UK and it will be on emails or letters  you received. Alternatively, you could use the number on your stamp if you entered the UK as a short-term student without entry clearance (visa). If you cannot find any of these numbers, that should not be a problem because the form says "(if known)" - just make sure you provide answers to as many questions as possible so that you can submit the form./

A Home Office factsheet states that "Individuals do not need to do anything else once they have submitted the online e-form and their status in the UK is secure from the point they have submitted”. Although the form states that you should receive an answer within five working days, we have heard that it usually takes a couple of weeks, so do not worry if you have not had a response within the stated timeframe.

We understand that the Home Office will send you an email confirming that it has extended your immigration permission, using words similar to the following:

Your leave has been extended under existing conditions until 31 May 2020. You will not be regarded as an overstayer or suffer any detriment in any future applications. However, you must make plans to leave as soon as you are able to do so. This will only apply where you hold an existing valid visa which has already expired or is due to do between 24 January and 31 May.

You will not be sent a letter or an updated biometric residence permit but you can request evidence of your extended immigration permission from the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre. If you have additional questions, we suggest that you do that in a separate email sent to the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre. Extra questions might delay a response to your request for an extension.

This provision is for people who are unable to leave the UK. It is not for people who have already left the UK - you will need to make a new application if you intend and are able to travel to the UK.

Alternatively, it is still possible to make a full immigration application in the UK, if you meet all relevant requirements, even though the service points (where you would normally give your biometrics) are currently closed.

It is extremely likely that the UK Government will extend this free extension scheme, or put an alternative provision in place, if it remains very difficult or impossible for you to leave the UK by 31 May. We will update this information as soon as the Home Office publishes any news.

STAYING IN THE UK: 

If you are unable to leave the UK as planned, your contract for accommodation will probably come to an end too soon. The Government has issued guidance stating that students living in a hall of residence should be allowed to remain, if possible, or that your accommodation provider should work with its local authority and letting agents to help you find alternative accommodation. It states that no students should be made homeless and makes special reference to international students (see 'For those with no alternative residence').

Accommodation provided by education providers is exempt from immigration checks. From 30 March, other landlords can check your 'right to rent' using scanned, rather than original, documents - see Coronavirus (COVID-19): landlord right to rent checks. However, landlords are still required to carry out checks - see Coronavirus (COVID-19): Tier 4 sponsors, migrants and short-term students.

You might be staying in private accommodation. If they want you to leave a property, landlords are now required to give you at least three months' notice, six months in Scotland. You should continue to pay your rent if possible but, if you can no longer pay it, you must talk to your landlord. The Government has made arrangements to support landlords - see Government support available for landlords and renters reflecting the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and Aid for private rental landlords (Scotland).

The Welsh government has detailed guidance for private renters. Information in Scotland is aimed at private landlords and letting agents. Housing Advice Northern Ireland has helpful advice for students in all forms of accommodation (note that information about benefits is unlikely to apply to you).

Get in touch with your education provider as a matter of urgency if you are worried about becoming homeless. Although you may not be able to see or speak to someone, because many staff are working at home, universities, colleges and schools all have email and webform contacts you should use to let them know about your situation. Remember that they are dealing with a lot of people, so get in touch as early as possible if you are in danger of losing your accommodation. 

You may be able to find alternative accommodation in the private sector, and friends might be able to help, though social distancing makes this less likely. Your local authority might be able to provide information but if you are subject to the condition No recourse to public funds, you cannot usually take local authority accommodation. Although the UK Government has instructed authorities to relax this restriction (see detailed information provided by the No Recourse to Public Funds Network), many people will be trying to access local authority support, so you should start by asking your education provider for help.

If you are worried about being ill or living with others who have Coronavirus symptoms, see General support for international students.

ENDING A TENANCY EARLY: 

You might want to end your tenancy early or cancel it. Shelter England, Shelter Scotland and Housing Advice Northern Ireland provide information about how to deal with this situation. Debt advisers at your university or college may also be able to offer help with negotiations with landlords, including discussions about storing belongings that you might have had to leave in your accommodation. Some providers of student accommodation are offering to let you end your contract early without penalty, as long as you let them know by their deadline. For details of which education providers and accommodation providers are helping their students in this way, see regularly updated information provided for housing suppliers by the ANUK/Unipol National Codes.

The National Union of Students has written to Universities UK, which represents higher education providers, to the British Property Federation and to the National Residential Landlords Association, asking them to take action to support students. 

Universities UK has put together a series of frequently asked questions, with answers, about accommodation matters. The Office for Students has published a briefing note on student accommodation, including examples of good practice, advice and links to relevant information.

For more info, click here. 

For additional support and specific queries, we would suggest contacting the below agencies who will be best placed to support you:

Goldsmiths Immigration Department: immigration@gold.ac.uk

You could also seek help via the UKCISA Student Helpline.

And the Home Office International Helpline for Covid-19 enquiries is here.