Changes to the Immigration Application Process for Individuals in the UK
On 2 November 2018, the Home Office continued its overhaul of the immigration application process by rolling out its new UK Visa and Citizenship Application Service (UKVCAS) with corporate partner Sopra Steria. The new service is for non-EEA nationals in the UK applying to extend their leave to remain in the UK, for settlement (also known as “indefinite leave to remain”) or for British citizenship.
What is the background to these changes to the Immigration Application Process?
This is all part of the Home Office’s move to digitise its application processes, which has also seen the Home Office gradually withdrawing hard copy application forms so that most immigration applications made from within the UK now have to be made via the online application process.
Before the UKVCAS was introduced, applicants would generally have to submit their application form, attend an appointment to have their biometrics (i.e. their fingerprints and photograph) taken and send their supporting documents (including their passport) to the Home Office by post to be processed. If they were keen to retain their documents and/or have their application processed quickly, they could pay extra for an appointment at a Premium Service Centre (“PSC”), where their biometrics would be taken and their documents processed, with the outcome of the application often being received within 24/48 hours of the appointment.
What are the main points of the new Immigration Application process?
The new process recognises that many applicants will have access to a scanner or digital camera (for example, on their phone) and so allows them to “self-upload” digital copies of the supporting documents for their application via Sopra Steria’s website. Once they have uploaded digital copies of their documents (including their passport), they can attend a biometrics appointment at one of the new “Core Centres” or “Enhanced Service Points” and then just wait for their application to be processed.
Applicants who can’t or don’t want to “self-upload” their supporting documents will be able to take their original hard copy documents to their “Core Centre” or “Enhanced Service Point” appointment to have them scanned and then bring their documents home with them. The Home Office has indicated that there will be an additional charge for using this service (unless the individual is paying to have an appointment at an “Enhanced Service Point”, in which case this service will be included in the cost of the appointment).
What are the benefits of the new Immigration Application process?
A key benefit of the new system is that applicants won’t have to send off their original documents (including their passport) and so won’t run the risk of their documents being misplaced by the Home Office or lost in the postal system. However, applicants should not use their passport to travel outside the Common Travel Area (the UK, Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man) while their application is being processed, as the Home Office has stated that their application will be treated as withdrawn if they do
UK while their application is being processed, as there is a risk this will lead to the Home Office treating the application as withdrawn.
Where can applicants attend appointments under the new system?
Under the new process, most applicants will attend an appointment at one of the “Core Centres” (which are in Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast and Croydon) or at one of the 50 new “Enhanced Service Points” (which will be in central locations across the UK, in venues such as local libraries, and so will be easier for many people to get to than one of the “Core Centres”). The Home Office has indicated that there will be an additional fee for using one of the “Enhanced Service Points”. For applicants that want a more “VIP” experience, there will be the option of attending an appointment at the “Premium Lounge” in London. The Core Centres, Enhanced Service Points and London Premium Lounge should all be open and start accepting appointments by the end of the week commencing 26 November 2018.
The Home Office has also said that applicants will be able to pay extra for optional “add-ons”, such as a next-day appointment, a walk-in appointment or for an “On-demand” mobile application service.
Who does the new Immigration Application process apply to?
Currently, the new process applies to individuals who are applying:
- To extend their leave to remain in the UK under the Points-Based System i.e. with Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 4 or Tier 5 leave;
- As the partner or child of someone with leave to remain under the Points-Based System;
- As a member of the Armed Forces or their dependants;
- To extend their leave as a Turkish Businessperson or Worker or as their dependant partner or child;
- To settle in the UK in certain categories (including on the basis of long residence in the UK or as the child/partner of someone settled in the UK);
- For British citizenship by naturalisation;
- To register for British citizenship (including as a child under 18);
- To update, replace or transfer a biometric residence permit; or
- For a Home Office travel document.
The Home Office has stated that individuals applying under other immigration routes will continue to use the old system until January 2019. If everything goes according to plan, these applications will also switch over to the new UKVCAS process from January 2019.
Are there any causes for concern?
We foresee initial teething problems with the new system as it is rolled out across the UK over the next few months. One key area of concern is if documents are accidently not scanned properly – either by the individual or by Sopra Steria. This could result in a refusal of the individual’s application as the Home Office will process it based on the documents they receive.
If your business has any concerns or requires any assistance with the new digitisation process, please do not hesitate to contact our dedicated Business Immigration team.
The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.