The coronavirus pandemic has led to a large number of travel restrictions. Closed borders, canceled flights, and suspended visas have greatly limited global movement.
Many people have been stranded in a foreign country, unable to return home. Individuals in this situation may be worried about what happens when their visa expires.
Many governments have put measures in place to allow overseas visitors to remain legally in the country if they are unable to leave. Some have automatically extended visas, while others require the foreign national to apply for an extension.
The novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, was first documented in Wuhan, China at the end of 2019. It quickly spread around the world in the first few months of 2020, with large numbers of cases occurring in the USA, Italy, Spain, the UK, and Iran, among others.
A number of countries closed their borders completely, while other nations chose to allow foreign nationals to enter under certain conditions, such as having a medical certificate verifying that they were free of the virus.
Many passenger flights around the world have been canceled until further notice. This has resulted in many foreign nationals being left in a position where they cannot leave the country they were visiting with a visa that is soon to expire or has expired already.
Because of this, many governments have made provisions to extend visas for foreign nationals already in the country, while suspending visas for foreigners currently outside the sovereign state.
Others have assured stranded travelers that they will not face a penalty for overstaying their visas due to the circumstances.
The COVID-19 pandemic means that worldwide visa information is constantly changing, so it is important to keep up to date.
Can I Extend My Stay in the US After 90 Days?
Under normal circumstances, foreign nationals visiting the United States of America must leave the country before their visa or ESTA expires.
US visas grant a maximum stay of between 1 and 6 months, while the ESTA allows travelers on the visa waiver program to visit visa-free for up to 90 days.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US government recognizes the fact that visitors from overseas may be unexpectedly forced to remain on American soil due to canceled flights or other factors.
Nonimmigrant foreign nationals are advised to apply for an extension of stay (EOS) or change of status (COS) in advance of the expiration date of their US visa. This can be done by contacting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Many of the required forms can be completed online.
If an application for an EOS or COS has been filed before the expiration date, but is still pending when the visa or ESTA expires, this is not usually regarded as unlawful presence in the US for the foreign national.
If the EOS or COS request is filed late due to extraordinary circumstances beyond the applicant’s control, such as cancellation of flights due to COVID-19, USCIS will make allowances at their own discretion.
For foreign nationals in the visa waiver program, the situation is similar. However, if emergencies prevent the visitor from leaving on time, USCIS may allow them a further 30 days. Travelers in this situation should call the USCIS Contact Center.
How to Handle Visa Overstays in the EU
Travelers wondering how to handle visa overstays in the EU and Schengen Area will find that the rules are similar to in the US.
According to Chapter V Article 33 of the EU Visa Code regarding Extensions, extenuating circumstances mean that EU countries are obliged to grant a free Schengen visa extension:
“The period of validity and/or the duration of stay of an issued visa shall be extended where the competent authority of a Member State considers that a visa holder has provided proof of force majeure or humanitarian reasons preventing him from leaving the territory of the Member States before the expiry of the period of validity of or the duration of stay authorised by the visa. Such an extension shall be granted free of charge.”
The coronavirus pandemic falls under the category of “force majeure”, meaning that tourist visas are being extended for foreign nationals stranded in EU countries.
In some member states, such as France and Germany, such visa extensions have been granted automatically, while in others, it is necessary to request an extension by contacting the country’s immigration authorities.
Extensions of stay should also be granted to visitors from countries on the EU’s visa waiver list.
Travelers worried about overstaying are advised to contact the relevant authorities or the nearest embassy of their own country.
Immigration offices have reopened in many EU countries for in-person services, although at a reduced capacity and visa services may not yet be available for some destinations.
How Do I Extend My Visa in the UK?
Foreign nationals currently in the UK should take “all reasonable steps” to leave the country before their visa expires or apply to regularize their stay, according to the government.
Those who are unable to leave the country due to travel restrictions or self-isolation should request “exceptional assurance”. This essentially means additional time to stay in the United Kingdom.
They will have to provide the following information:
- Date of birth
- Home Office, GWF or any other reference number
- Visa type
- Visa expiry date
- Reason for request
- Proof of flight and/or reason the individual cannot leave within the permitted time
Exceptional assurance acts as short-term protection to ensure those who are delayed in leaving are not penalized.
Foreigners who intend to extend their stay must apply for permission. This may be done if the current visa or authorization expires before 1 July 2021. The current terms will automatically be extended until the application is approved or denied.
Alternatively, foreign nationals can change their UK visa to a long-term one. Travelers who would normally have to apply from their home countries will be able to do this from inside the UK.
Applications for these extensions can be completed online. Certain UK Visa and Citizenship Application Centres (UKVCAS) and Service and Support Centres (SSCs) have now reopened after being temporarily closed. However, only a limited number of appointments are available at present and only for existing customers.
Some healthcare workers (both NHS and private) whose visa was due to expire before October 1, 2020 have received an extension of one year for both themselves and their families.
Can I Extend My Stay in Australia Due to Coronavirus?
Foreign nationals currently in Australia with a visitor visa or Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) are advised to return to their home country as soon as they can.
If unable to leave the country and the visa or ETA is set to expire, the visitor must apply for a new one. In accordance with Australian migration law, neither the visitor visa nor the ETA can be extended.
The overseas traveler must apply for the new visa or ETA before the current one expires if possible. If the current visa or ETA has a “no further stay condition”, the visitor must request to have this waived before they can obtain a new one.
If the current visa or ETA expires before the new one is issued, the visitor may be given a bridging visa to make their stay lawful until the new visa or ETA application has been processed.
If the old visa or ETA has already expired, the foreign national should apply for a bridging visa immediately. This may also be granted while the application for the new Visitor visa is pending.
For foreign individuals who have been working in Australia, the Australian Department of Home Affairs announced the introduction of a new type of visa – the COVID-19 pandemic Temporary Activity (subclass 408) visa in the Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream.
This allows eligible holders of temporary visas to extend their stay if unable to leave the country due to COVID-19. It will be available to workers in sectors considered to be of vital importance, such as agriculture, childcare, healthcare, care of the elderly or disabled, and food processing.
Travelers who are unable to return home but do not meet the requirements for a Visitor visa can instead apply for a COVID-19 Pandemic event visa. They must demonstrate why they are unable to obtain other visa types.
Can I Extend My Visa in New Zealand Due to Coronavirus?
Foreign citizens should leave New Zealand before their visa expires if possible. Otherwise, they should apply for a new visa.
There is a special COVID-19 Short-term Visitor Visa for those who are unable to leave due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This can be applied for online.
Holders of a COVID-19 Short-term Visitor Visa cannot work in New Zealand. They may not use it to return to the country if they leave.
The New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) is valid for 2 years. If it is set to expire while in New Zealand and the individual is unable to leave, they too should apply for a COVID-19 Short-term Visitor Visa.
Visitors whose visas have already expired must either leave New Zealand immediately or request a special temporary or resident visa under Section 61 of the Immigration Act.
Foreigners who have previously held or currently hold a Supplementary Seasonal Employment (SSE) Work Visa or Transitioning to Recognised Seasonal Employer visa (TRSE) may apply for one for the 2020/21 season. This will permit them to work in seasonal horticulture and viticulture roles.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) offices have now resumed processing new temporary entry and residence visa applications. However, priority will be given to foreign nationals already in New Zealand.
Canada: How Long Can I Stay After Applying for a Visa Extension?
Foreign nationals in Canada whose visa is due to expire may request an extension of stay.
Visitors to the country who hold a visitor visa or Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) for Canada can apply for a visitor record. This document is not classified as a visa, but allows the foreign national to stay in the country.
After successfully applying for an extension of stay, the traveler can stay until the expiry date specified on the visitor record for Canada.
Foreign workers and students in Canada can extend their work and study permits, respectively, if they fulfill the necessary criteria. However, if the work or studies have come to an end, but they are unable to leave the country due to coronavirus, foreign nationals can apply to change their status to visitor.
If a foreign national’s visa or eTA has already expired, they may apply to restore their visitor, work, or study status as long as it has been less than 90 days since the expiration of their previous authorization.
Canadian authorities have now resumed processing existing visa and ETA applications to reduce the backlog, although even if one of these documents is issued, the holder will still be subject to current travel restrictions and border closures.
How to Extend a Visa for India
India is no longer granting visas for overseas travelers who plan to visit the country and most types of visas that have already been issued have been suspended.
The exception is those foreign nationals who are already in India, whose visas remain valid. These Indian visas can be extended or their status changed by applying online or by contacting the nearest FRRO (Foreigner Regional Registration Office) in India.
The extension will last for 30 days after India lifts its current restrictions on international travel.
What Happens if I Overstay my UAE Visa?
The United Arab Emirates has now resumed charging fees for visa services and allowing new visa applications.
Foreign nationals who are already in the UAE and are unable to leave may request a Long Term Tourist Visa Single Entry. This might apply to those whose tourist visa has expired or those whose resident visa has been canceled.
The visa can be obtained while in the UAE. This means that the individual can avoid any fines or other legal consequences.
Other Countries’ Policies on Extending Visas
Various other countries have adopted similar rules with regards to visa extensions for foreign visitors. It is advisable to consult global visa information to check the requirements for your particular situation.
Many visas can be obtained online, which often provides the easiest option to extend a stay when unable to leave. Examples include the following:
In other cases, such as the Ethiopia eVisa, it is possible to extend the visa by applying in person at the relevant authority.
In some cases, it might still be easier to simply apply for a new visa online, leave the country, and immediately return.