World

UK offers stranded Aussies visa extensions

By AAP Newswire

Australian expatriates and travellers stranded in the UK due to global coronavirus lockdowns will be able to apply for visa extensions.

Thousands of Australians had been left in limbo by border closures, flight cancellations and now a British government-imposed lockdown to stem the spread of the deadly pandemic.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that all foreign nationals stuck in the country will be able to apply for special visa extensions lasting until May 31.

"Many foreign nationals have found themselves unable to return home since the outbreak of COVID-19 due to flight cancellations and border restrictions," a Home Office statement said on Tuesday.

"The extension has been put in place to give these individuals peace of mind that they will not be penalised for overstaying their visa when the situation is out of their control due to COVID-19."

"Those who contact the Home Office for these visa extensions will be expected to return to their home countries as soon as possible once flight and border restrictions are lifted.

"No immigration enforcement action will be undertaken during this time for those who email the Home Office as outlined above."

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will also allow Australians and other foreigners to switch their work visas from within the UK, where they previously had to return to their home countries to apply.

People will be allowed to switch between UK student and work visas and between different work visas.

"UKVI will continue to process applications as quickly as possible, however some applications may take longer than usual due to COVID-19 related operational pressures," the statement said.

Australian Dominique Mills, who has been trapped in limbo in Scotland after her flight back was cancelled, was relieved not to have to travel to Brisbane to switch her UK work visa.

"It's like a massive weight has been lifted off my shoulders," she told AAP.

"A little bit of breathing space."

She said her family and friends were relieved she wouldn't need to travel through crowded airports given her history of bouts with life-threatening pneumonia.

"Though to be honest, it's been such a roller coaster my trust is a little burned... won't believe it until I get through to someone on the (UK) immigration line tomorrow," Ms Mills said.

"The amount of times I've called over the last week and they've said they can't help me has me skeptical.

"But it's nice to finally have a urgent need recognised and legislated for."