Pandemic sees UK immigration grind to a halt

The extent to which the Coronavirus outbreak has dramatically restricted immigration to the UK this spring was illustrated by a Home Office report on Thursday. Unsurprisingly arrivals by air to the UK were 99% lower in April 2020 than in 2019. What is the current UK visa situation?

UK visa application with union jack

April 2020: 250 UK visa applications and fewer than 100 decisions

Although the process of handling immigration applications has ground to a halt over the past two months, there is light at the end of the tunnel with the announcement that visa offices in both the UK and abroad scheduled to restart operations at the beginning of June.The report said the total number of visa applications began to fall in March with about 129,000 applications recorded, less than half the number a year earlier.However, the report pointed out that falls in applications from Chinese nationals - primarily students - began at the start of the year following the virus outbreak in Wuhan. In January and February, Chinese nationals accounted for only 8% of all visa applications, compared to 18% in the first two months of 2019."All other nationalities saw significant falls from March 2020, with only around 250 applications recorded in April," said the report."The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the UK immigration system, both in terms of restricting migrant movements to and from the UK and the impact on operational capacity."With visa office operations across the world being shut down by the start of last month, it was perhaps not surprising that decisions on visa applications fell from 145,000 in March (itself 42% fewer than those made in March last year) to fewer than 100 in April.Looking at arrivals by air, the report said the 7.1 million in January had fallen to 3.8 million in March. The UK lockdown was announced on March 23 resulting in air arrivals falling to 112,300 in April, 99% lower than in April 2019.Those arrivals comprised 58% British nationals returning to the country with the remainder mainly foreign nationals and their dependants resident in the UK.

Coronavirus and the EU Settlement Scheme

The report also pointed out that the pandemic was having an effect on the EU Settlement Scheme, which allows EU nationals living in the UK for more than five years to remain permanently in the UK when freedom of movement ends on December 31.In April, the number of applications under the scheme was 46% lower than in March, although the Home Office said "this continues a downward trend since the UK left the European Union at the end of January 2020".The Home Office has announced that some UK Visa and Citizenship Application Centres (UKVCAS) will reopen for existing customers on June 1, although initially only to applicants who have already booked an appointment, which was postponed because of the pandemic.Additionally, some Visa Application Centres abroad will also resume services where local restrictions allow. Again, though, this will only be for existing applicants, initially.Applicants hoping to apply for a UK visa are advised to check the websites of TLS contact (for Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East) or VFS global for all other countries for status updates in a particular country.From June 8, most people arriving in the UK from abroad will be required to spend two weeks in quarantine.

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Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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