Immigration - new visa application centres to open in October 2018
In person visa appointments - work and study visas, settlement and citizenship applications
The government confirmed that Sopra Steria has secured a contract to provide in-person visa appointments within the UK for work and study visas, as well as settlement and citizenship applications, across 60 UK locations – a significant increase to the eight centres currently spread out across the UK.
Sopra Steria will commence the service in October 2018. The vast majority of the new visa application centres will be situated in local libraries. These centres will enable applicants to submit their biometric data (photographs, fingerprints and signatures) as well as lodging their supporting documentation with the Home Office in one visit. Currently there are only eight “premium service centres” across the UK which provide this service, but at an additional cost of £610 on top of the visa application fee in order to obtain same-day processing of the visa application. It is not clear whether applicants will be able to upgrade their appointments in the new locations to use the same day service, or whether those who want fast processing will have to continue to attend the premium service centres (one in Northern Ireland, two in Scotland and five in England).
The launch of the new contract will also see the Home Office begin to digitise the visa application process from within the UK. For example, there will be an option to upload digital files to a portal in advance of the visa appointment. In the last year or so we have seen the overseas visa application centres in many countries increasingly move to digitisation, with most documents being scanned to the relevant decision-making centre. This has meant that the visa applicant only has to hand over their original passport, retaining all other original documents, to enable the new temporary visa vignette to be endorsed within the passport. The new UK regime promises to go one further than this. UK Visas and Immigration has confirmed that applicants will not even be required to hand over their original passports whilst they wait for their applications to be processed, presumably because all ‘in-country’ visas are issued in the form of Biometric Residence Permits. However, this could cause problems later down the line if applicants choose to travel whilst their applications is being processed. The hope is that those individuals will be warned that they should not travel until they have secured their new visa status.
At least for now, the eight premium service centres will remain open for business when the new system launches in October 2018. These appointments will be available for anyone who “needs a face to face interview with a caseworker”.
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