Family Law clients and the Immigration Law issues they face in a COVID-19 climate

We continue our series of hot topics in family law in a COVID-19 climate. Manders Law Managing Partner, Mary-Ann Wright, speaks to Natasha Chell, Partner at Laura Devine Immigration on the pressing questions that clients want answered in relation to immigration law issues commonly faced by family law clients in the current crisis. If you are currently engaged in proceedings, or are contemplating proceedings at this challenging time, the information and practical guidance below will be of relevance to you.

About the Interviewee

Natasha Chell is a Partner at Laura Devine Immigration, recognised by the legal directories as a top tier firm specialising in UK and US immigration.  Natasha has over 19 years’ experience advising high net worth individuals/executives and multi-national businesses on all areas of UK immigration, providing solutions focused advice on navigating the ever-changing UK immigration landscape. 

Question

How can UK immigration permission be affected by the breakdown of a relationship/initiation of divorce proceedings?

Some immigration categories require partners (spouse/civil partner/unmarried partner) to be in a genuine and subsisting relationship with their ‘sponsor’ in the UK. Should such a relationship breakdown, which may be at the point of separation, but certainly when divorce/dissolution proceedings are initiated for spouses/civil partners, the partner should notify the Home Office of this change in circumstances. It is important to be aware that such a breakdown in relationship may also be reported to the Home Office by the sponsor or a third party.

If the Home Office becomes aware that a partner and sponsor are no longer in a genuine and subsisting relationship, it may determine that the partner ceases to meet the immigration requirements for which their permission was granted. This can lead the Home Office to curtail the partner’s immigration permission to 60 days, subject to certain exceptions including where there is an indication of domestic abuse.

Question

What immigration solutions are available if you find yourself in this situation?

Individuals who are at risk of having their permission curtailed should consider applying for new immigration permission, under a category which does not require a genuine and subsisting relationship with their original sponsor. For example, they may qualify for immigration permission based on their relationship with their British child or non-British child (if under the age of 12 and attending an independent school in the UK).  There may also be scope for obtaining alternative immigration permission because they have been a victim of domestic abuse. Specialist advice from an immigration practitioner is vital if you are in this situation.

Applications based on employment or investment may be viable options for some. Whilst such applications would have normally required the individual to apply from overseas, following the COVID-19 pandemic, the Home Office does not currently require eligible individuals, who are in the UK with permission which expires between 24 January and 31 May 2020, to return overseas to apply.

Question

What should individuals do if their marriage/civil partnership ceremony in the UK is cancelled due to COVID-19, but they need to be married/civil partners to qualify for family-based immigration permission?

Marriage and civil partnership ceremonies in the UK have been cancelled until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Individuals with immigration permission granted for the purpose of marrying or entering into a civil partnership with a British citizen, or person present and settled in the UK (also known as ‘fiancée visa’), are normally required to marry or enter the civil partnership within six months or the end date of their immigration permission, whichever is the earliest.

In some circumstances it may be possible for individuals to apply for an extension of their fiancée visa from within the UK, where the marriage or civil partnership did not take place during the prescribed timeframe and where there was a ‘good reason’ supported by evidence that it will take place within the next six months. Whilst the Home Office has not yet published guidance to include the COVID-19 pandemic as a ‘good reason’, we consider it reasonable to consider it as such.

Question

In cases of real urgency where your UK immigration permission has expired, or is due to expire shortly and you are unable to leave the UK due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what options are available to you?

It is important to note that the Home Office has announced that an individual who was in the UK legally and whose immigration permission expired after 24 January 2020, or is due to expire, will not be regarded as an “overstayer” or suffer any detriment in the future, if they cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A subsequent concession has been introduced, whereby an individual’s permission can be extended to 31 May 2020 if they cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to COVID-19, however, a formal request must be submitted to the Home Office using a prescribed application form,

If the individual planned to remain in the UK and to apply to extend their permission when it expired, they should continue to submit their online application and pay the prescribed fee, even though all application centers in the UK are temporarily closed at the moment. Consideration of the application will resume in due course, once the UK lockdown measures are lifted.

Some individuals who are in the UK, and would have normally been required to leave and apply for permission from outside the UK, may take advantage of an additional new concession, which allows them to apply from inside the UK, if their immigration permission expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020.

The Home Office is continuing to review the impact COVID-19 has had on immigration requirements and procedures and is regularly announcing concessions so it is very important to stay up to date with the latest announcements and consider seeking specialist immigration advice.

For an initial FREE consultation on any aspect of family law, call Manders Law on 01245 895 105 or email us here.

Note: the information contained in this blog is accurate at the time of publication on 5 May 2020. This blog is intended to give an overview (rather than comprehensive guidance and advice) on your legal position and is provided for information only.