If you have submitted your immigration application, attended your biometrics appointment, and your passport was given back to you, you might be unsure whether you are allowed to freely travel abroad whilst your application is being processed.
Many people expect their application to be decided faster than it will be, and standard UKVI service times are always subject to various checks and delays which can prolong the waiting time. Other people might be notified that their application is 'not straightforward', which can further complicate things. These delays can cause disruption to important plans you may have made, which may include pre-planned trips to other countries for leisure or business.
In most cases, you cannot leave the UK until your application has been decided. However, there are a couple of exceptions.
If you leave the Common Travel Area (CTA) - which includes the UK, Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man - before a decision has been made on your visa application, your application will be considered withdrawn. Paragraph 34 of the Immigration Rules states:
“Where a decision on an application for permission to stay has not been made and the applicant travels outside the common travel area their application will be treated as withdrawn on the date the applicant left the common travel area.”
If you travel outside the CTA before a decision has been made on your application, and UKVI finds out at a later date, your application will be treated as withdrawn on the date you left the CTA.
What Are The Exceptions?
There are two exceptions to this rule. These apply where the application made is for:
If your leave to remain has expired and prior to this date a new, valid application has been made, then pursuant to Section 3C of the Immigration Rules you will be considered to have lawful valid leave until a decision is made on your application. Where the above exceptions do not apply (i.e., you have made an application on a route other than naturalisation or settled/pre-settled status) and you leave the CTA, your application will be considered withdrawn and the Section 3C protection will also stop. This means you will not have a right of re-entry and must make a new visa application.
If your Section 3C protection ceases to have effect, this may also negatively impact the continuous residence you have built up for the purposes of acquiring Indefinite Leave to Remain. This may be the case as your continuous period of lawful residence in the UK would have been broken, and in this situation you would have to carefully consider your circumstances before making any application for settlement.
Travel vs Visa Application
Where there is a standoff between your travel plans and a pending application, in most circumstances the application wins. Therefore, as a general rule, it is very important that travel should take place either before an application has been made or after a decision has been received for your application.