30 Jul 2020

UK grants last-minute visa extension for stranded foreigners

7:37 am on 30 July 2020

The United Kingdom has announced a further visa extension for foreigners stuck there because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It has proved very difficult for many New Zealanders to leave the UK with flights hard to come by since the beginning of lockdown.

The third extension for visa-holders stranded in the UK is until 31 August. Photo: AFP

Border closures, travel restrictions, and frequent flight cancellations have made it difficult for many people wanting to return to their home countries - including New Zealand - to do so.

To prevent people from overstaying through no fault of their own, the UK government has twice previously extended all temporary visas that were due to expire from late January.

The latest extension was to last until 31 July but as the problems getting home persist it has granted another month's grace, until 31 August.

The UK Home Office instruction is still that those who benefit from the visa extension "are expected to take all reasonable steps to leave the UK before this date where it is possible to do so".

That has proven difficult for many New Zealanders, with flights difficult to come by since the beginning of the lockdown. When they did find one - and when it was within their price range - they have often been cancelled.

Last week National Party foreign affairs spokesperson Simon Bridges called for Foreign Minister Winston Peters to intervene and talk to his counterparts in the UK government, or risk appearing to abandon New Zealanders in the UK.

Those who do manage to return are unlikely to face co-payments for mandatory 14-day isolation, unless they are planning to stay temporarily.

The government expects to pass legislation under urgency in the coming days allowing it to charge people some of the costs of managed isolation, but it is not clear when the regulations would come into force. The law must be enacted before the House rises next Thursday pending the election.

New Zealander Ximena Smith, whose visa has expired, has had three flights cancelled but hopes she will be able to leave London on Sunday.

"I just couldn't physically get back before the end of July so finding out the announcement today is just a big relief.

"At this stage it looks like [the flight] is going ahead... I will definitely be very relieved once I get on that flight."

During the grace period granted in the UK, visa-holders can continue to work, study or rent accommodation if they are already allowed to under their existing conditions, the Home Office said.

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