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Immigration in the time of COVID-19

Coronavirus (COVID-19) precautions
20/03/2020
Changing times
10/06/2020
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Immigration in the time of COVID-19

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We have now spent several weeks assisting our clients with their very real concerns and queries regarding Isle of Man immigration in the time of COVID-19, their immigration position, and have put together this guide including answers to some of the most common questions.

The current measures in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are having a profound impact upon many people subject to immigration control in the Isle of Man, and those overseas who have been considering a move to the Isle of Man. Many people are understandably worried about their ability to keep in compliance with the law in these times of uncertainty.

We will update this guide as the situation progresses (LAST UPDATED at 1800 on 16 July 2020).

Applications from within the Isle of Man

The Isle of Man Immigration Service has now resumed most of its services.

Processing of all types of immigration application has been delayed, the important thing is that if your current leave is due to expire, you must in most cases still ensure your application is delivered before your leave expires, to avoid overstaying your visa.

Applications can still be submitted in hard copy to the Immigration Service. Kinley Legal recommends that we be asked to submit clients’ applications so that, if necessary, we can confirm they were delivered on time.

Complications may arise due to the Immigration Service currently wishing to avoid receiving payment by cash or cheque, when often these are the only means of payment people have.

Applications from overseas

British visa application centres (VACs) all over the world are run for the British immigration authorities by private companies VFS Global and TLS Contact. Most have been closed for biometric appointments during the pandemic, although many have now re-opened. In some cases, VACs have closed again: local lockdown rules may require this.

It is still possible to make a new application for leave to enter the Isle of Man, whether as a visitor or in a long-term immigration category. However, because it is not currently possible to book or attend a biometric appointment at some VACs, many new applications cannot currently be progressed.

We expect the VACs to re-open in phases in due course as the virus risk reduces in the relevant country. To date, VACs have re-opened in places including Hong Kong, mainland China, Japan, Vietnam, India, the Middle East, South Africa, Nigeria and the United States.

For applications which have already been submitted and a biometric appointment at the VAC has taken place, these will have been forwarded to the Isle of Man Immigration Service for a decision. Because the office is only offering a partial service at present, this is likely also to mean that application will take rather longer than usual to be processed.

Entry to the Isle of Man

At present the borders of the Isle of Man are largely closed due to Coronavirus restrictions. Normal visitors are currently permitted only where arriving directly from Guernsey.

All people intending to come to the Isle of Man, including those holding Isle of Man visas, are currently subject to restrictions, and only those with Isle of Man Government permission may enter the Isle of Man.

Until recently, only returning current residents of the Isle of Man could typically travel to the Isle of Man. However, there is now limited provision that will allow new residents to move to the Isle of Man while restrictions continue to apply. New regulations which came into force on 26 May 2020 now offer a limited opportunity to new residents to enter the Isle of Man.

We believe these regulations are badly drafted, and we hope they will be replaced soon (they even – strangely and controversally – refer to Ireland as part of the UK). They allow a new resident to apply for permission to enter the Isle of Man, but only if the new resident has a “contractual obligation” arising from having signed an employment contract or a purchase or rental agreement for residential or office accommodation. A person who has been unable yet to contract for employment or accommodation, or who already owns property in the Isle of Man, may potentially not be able to take advantage of this provision.

Care should be taken by new residents also to observe the requirements of the UK as the country of transit. For instance, a person moving from Hong Kong to the Isle of Man after 8 June 2020 is likely to have to self-isolate on arrival in the UK, prior to then travelling to the Isle of Man on a designated sailing, and then to self-isolate in the Isle of Man for a further two-week period. It is not necessary to remain in the UK for the full two weeks if onward travel to the Isle of Man can be arranged within this period.

Extension of long-term visas

The Isle of Man has made provision, which differs from the provision made in the UK. For most long-term categories, if your existing leave is due to expire on or before 15 June 2020, it is deemed to be extended automatically by six months. However, this six-month extension importantly does not apply to Visitors.

In a change to the Immigration Rules on 18 June 2020, the Isle of Man has now introduced a comprehensive right for people with valid leave to apply for further leave to remain in all categories in circumstances where they would normally have to apply for leave to enter from overseas, by returning to their country of residence overseas. The measure applies in circumstances where it is “impossible or impractical” to apply from abroad (of which evidence must be supplied), and is expected to continue for the duration of the Coronavirus emergency.

A number of clients have already contacted Kinley Legal to discuss their unique circumstances in light of these rule changes, and we would be pleased to consider new clients with their own unique circumstances. In particular, we can assist with ensuring that the requirements of the rerules are met, and making representations in the event requirements are impossible to meet, for instance where an English test is required but unavailable in the Isle of Man.

Extension of Visitor visas

If you hold an Isle of Man visitor visa which is due to expire, or if you are unable to leave as required by its conditions, you will need to contact the Isle of Man Immigration Service by e-mail with specified details so that your current visa is deemed to continue until 31 July 2020. For clients of Kinley Legal, please contact us so that we can do this on your behalf.

If you hold a UK visitor visa but are in the Isle of Man, you should nevertheless follow the UK procedure for extending UK visitor visas. You should consider whether you need to update your records with the UK Home Office to take advantage of the UK’s extension to 31 July 2020.

In addition, if you are from a country for whose citizen which the UK does not require visitor visas (such as the USA, Australia or Singapore) and you were granted leave to enter upon arrival at a UK airport by an automatic gate or a UK Immigration Officer, you hold UK, rather than Isle of Man, visitor status and should extend your leave using the UK system.

Common questions and answers

Q. I am concerned about my immigration position, should I contact the Immigration Service directly for advice?

A. No. The Immigration Service does not give advice. To ensure our clients benefit from legal advice and to ensure nothing you say can be taken out of context, Kinley Legal always recommends that its clients only contact the Immigration Service through us, never directly.

Q. I am in the Isle of Man and am due to apply for further leave to remain. I need to pass a specified English test and/or the Life in the UK and Islands Test before I do so. All tests in the Island are suspended – what should I do?

A. Kinley Legal clients should contact Kinley Legal in the first instance so we can make representations on your behalf to demonstrate why you could not meet the requirements.

Q. I am in the Isle of Man as a Worker and my employer has submitted an application to the Immigration Service for my next Confirmation of Employment. We are still waiting. I don’t need to do anything, do I?

A. Under the Immigration Rules, you are not necessarily protected by your employer having submitted a Confirmation of Employment application, and (subject to the six-month extension described above) if you let your current leave to remain expire, you will overstay your visa. Speak to Kinley Legal so that we can ensure your position is protected.

Q. I’m concerned that the virus precautions mean that I will not be able to meet the requirements of my current visa. For instance, I am on a Worker visa but have lost my job. Or, I am on a self-sponsored Worker (former Tier 2) visa and I can no longer afford to pay myself as much as GBP155,300. Or, I am on a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa but have had to lay off my staff. Or, I can no longer afford the immigration application fees for my extension or ILR application. What can I do?

A. The Isle of Man has unfortunately only made limited provision due to the virus. The key provision is that long-term visas expiring on or before 15 May 2020 are automatically extended by six months, with the intent that this should be sufficient time to resolve any issues that arise. It is also possible for Workers (other than those in the Intra-Company Transfer route) to change employment as a temporary measure, meaning that if you lose your current job, you can take other work for the time being, where normally this would require special permission.

The most important thing is to discuss your circumstances with us as soon as possible. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to switch to a different route, and there may be a cheaper alternative application you can make for the time being – get in touch with Kinley Legal so we can assess what options you have.

Kinley Legal, both directly and through our professional associations, is lobbying the Isle of Man Government to make fuller provision, similar to the UK. This should include appropriate concessions in the immigration system for everyone – regardless of whether you are a family member of a Manx resident or someone who has invested in the Isle of Man and created jobs for others.

The new Manx Earnings Replacement Allowance (MERA) can be claimed by people within the immigration system who are subject to a “no public funds” condition. Unlike normal unemployment benefits, MERA does not fall within the definition of “public funds” in the Immigration Rules. Other public benefits may also be claimed for a limited period until October 2020.

Q. I am overseas, and I have already made an application to move to the Isle of Man, but I haven’t received my decision. What can I do?

A. You may need to wait longer than usual. The Isle of Man Immigration Service is still processing applications and making decisions, but more slowly. VACs in certain countries are still able to return passports, but in other countries this is not allowed under local virus precautions. If you are concerned your application has got lost completely, we recommend you talk to us so we can take appropriate steps on your behalf.

Q. I am overseas, and my application and supporting documents are ready. Should I submit my application now?

A. You will not be able to get a biometric appointment at the VAC in your country until it re-opens, meaning that your online application will not be considered in the interim. We recommend making sure your application and supporting documents are completely ready, but not formally filing the application or paying the fee until the VAC in your country re-opens.

Q. I am overseas and have made an application, but I can’t get a biometric appointment at the VAC. I don’t want to wait – can I get my application fee back?

A. Yes, you can withdraw your application and get your money back. You can then re-submit your application in future once the situation is clearer.

However, please note that if you submitted your application for the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa, you should not withdraw your application. This is because it is not possible to re-submit applications in this category after 6 April 2020.

Q. I am overseas, and thinking of making an application to move to the Isle of Man. Should I wait until the VACs in my country re-open before I do anything?

A. No. Many visa categories take many weeks of work in preparation, before you can apply. As a result, we don’t recommend you wait until the VACs re-open to get started. Working together, we can get everything ready for when they re-open. The VACs are likely to be very busy dealing with a huge backlog of applications once they do re-open, so if your application and supporting documents are ready to submit when the time comes, you will have a head start.