As the UK Government released their much-awaited guidance for migrants still in the UK, there is a need for caution amid confusion as to the impact the government guidance will have on the ability of UK visa holders to remain in Britain lawfully during the coronavirus crisis.

This comes as the UK Home Office released guidance aimed at migrants already in the UK whose visas are due to expire during the current lockdown.

The guidance says that anyone whose visa is due to expire between 24 January and 31 May 2020, will have their visa extended to 31 May 2020 if they make contact with a new coronavirus Immigration Team to update their records.

Whilst this seems straightforward, extending a visa in this way is fraught with difficulty. The process is not automatic and therefore caution is required. This type of ‘application’ does not keep a visa holder legally in the UK, in the way that all other visa applications will. That creates confusion on appeal rights and leaves a question over their continued right to work in the UK.

Although it is exceptional times, people need to understand the difficulties with disregarding rules without clear official guidance and people would do well to take advice before doing anything on the visa front.

It is not yet clear how many people are affected by these changes, but with flights cancelled and much of the world shutting down because of the coronavirus, the numbers are expected to be in the thousands.

There is also confusion for employers who sponsor highly skilled migrants and how they deal with extending visas of existing staff. To date, the Home Office have only released guidance relaxing reporting requirements for coronavirus related absences but have not yet commented on reductions in salary or furlough leave for sponsored migrants.

We are seeing some advisors suggest that employers ignore the usual visa rules on sponsorship and minimum salaries for existing staff in the hope that the Home Office later overlook serious breaches of sponsorship duties. This is an extremely high-risk strategy and not one that should be encouraged.

In the absence of any clear guidance from the Home Office, employers acting as visa sponsors should endeavour to continue meeting their sponsor obligations, otherwise they may find themselves facing the consequences later.

The government had previously issued visa guidance aimed predominantly at Chinese nationals. The updated guidance applies to all foreign nationalities currently in the UK and considers the position of those abroad currently applying for visas to come into the UK. With visa application centres around the world closing, it has become much more difficult to obtain a UK visa and widespread backlogs are expected when the visa applications centres re-open.