The Home Office has recently announced that, from 05 November 2018, a new UKVI immigration application process will be introduced for, initially, in-country applications. Carter Thomas founder Nichola Carter explains why this may be good news for some and not such good news for others.
UKVI has explained that a range of new services are being introduced. It’s position is that these will include:
- a streamlined online journey for most application types, with an intuitive form making it easier to apply and the option to purchase additional services;
- a modernised, digital and more secure process to submit key evidence and personal information, with most applicants able to retain their passports and other valuable evidence rather than sending them separately to UKVI;
- fast and convenient self-service with the ability to make applications and upload evidence directly;
- more flexible on-demand, mobile application services accessible at third party premises;
- enhanced support for vulnerable customers through a range of financial support for travel costs and mobile services.
A new in-person appointment process marks the end of the PSC
Currently applicants making an in-country application should have the option to file it in person via a Premium Service Centre (PSC). (In reality, appointments are scarce as demand often exceeds supply.)
The Home Office’s position is that the new UKVI immigration application process will see the end of the PSC. We also expect the Super Premium Service as it currently is to cease to exist and be replaced by a VIP service. The new services will be provided under the umbrella of the UK Visa and Citizenship Application Service (UK VCAS) delivered by Sopra Steria, a new commercial partner.
Most in-country applicants will make an online application via a new application form which the Home Office says will be intuitive. They will then be able to book an appointment at one of 57 new centres across the UK, including a premium service point in central London. These are to be opened in a staged manner.
UKVI has explained at recent meetings we have attended that these centres will be equipped with hi-tech booths, similar to the ePassport gates, and that the biometric enrolment process will be automated. By the time the applicant arrives, they will have already filed their application, paid the application fee and had the opportunity to upload evidence. At the appointment, their passport will be verified automatically and their biometrics will be taken. They will then leave with their passport. It is important for applicants to be aware that this does not mean that they can then travel overseas whilst their application is processed. Doing so would still lead to the withdrawal of the application as under the current system.
The Home Office’s position is that the first centres to cater for the new UKVI immigration application process are due to open for appointments as from 5 November 2018, with all main centres scheduled to be operational by the end of November. Applicants can choose to use the new service or the old one until 29 November 2018. From 29 November onwards, the new service must be used.
At the time of filing their immigration application, applicants will select UKVI’s standard, priority or super priority service. They will then be taken to the commercial partner’s website to book an appointment and pay for any additional services required, for example, a next day appointment, walk in appointment, use of a premium lounge etc. There will also be an on-demand VIP mobile service available meaning the service will come to the applicant.
Applicants who need more help
The Home Office has stated that from January 2019 there will be 7 dedicated Service and Support Centres (SSCs), manned by ‘experienced Home Office staff, to assist applicants using the new UKVI immigration application process who may be vulnerable or need face to face assistance.
The end of paper-based applications
The Home Office has recently announced that original documents will no longer be needed to support an immigration application.
It has also stated that paper application forms will be withdrawn, with the vast majority of applications being processed online.
Is this as good as it sounds for applicants and sponsors?
First of all, it is essential that there is a smooth roll-out of the new system. We have been told by the Home Office that it has been thoroughly tested and we very much hope that there are no significant teething issues.
Providing the new system is as efficient as the Home Office says it will be, for some applications it will be very good news. The Home Office has been streamlining the application process for some time and developing sophisticated verification and assessment tools (see page 18 of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s 2017 report here which looks at this). Many applications, once filed on line, are initially assessed via a digital assessment process and a number of factors are taken into account, such as nationality, travel history, convictions etc. A number of automatic checks, for example with HMRC, NHS (in relation to debts), etc. may be triggered at an early stage of the assessment process.
This means that an application filed by someone from a country regarded by UKVI as low risk, where none of the other triggers are met (i.e. no convictions etc.) is likely to be dealt with extremely quickly and efficiently by this new system. This will be a good thing given the delays many applicants have experienced recently.
On the other hand, in relation to an application filed by someone from a country regarded as high risk who, for example, may not have travelled often or has limited financial means (according to the information included on the new ‘intuitive’ digital application form), the system may flag the application as needing closer scrutiny and enhanced checks. This increases the risk of refusal.
We therefore expect to see an increase in applications that are dealt with efficiently and quickly via the new UKVI immigration application process. Unfortunately we are also expecting to see more in-depth scrutiny of applications that do not pass pre-determined criteria.
In relation to applications under the work and study routes, UKVI is also likely to rely far more on sponsors as part of the new system. Sponsors that UKVI has no concerns about, taking into account factors such as the sector they operate in, the organisation’s previous compliance history, etc. are likely to find that applications by their students and workers are given a far lighter touch than others. UKVI will be rolling out a number of ‘privileges’ for many Tier 4 Higher Education Institutions next year and we would expect this approach of rewarding sponsors that meet certain criteria to continue.
Of course, the introduction of more measures that are designed to make using the immigration system easier is great news for applicants and sponsors that are given a ‘green light’ by UKVI’s caseworkers and/or IT systems. Applicants and sponsors that are, rightly or wrongly, flagged as requiring more in-depth scrutiny are likely to bear the brunt of the Government’s continued strategy to try and reduce net migration.
We are assisting our clients to navigate through the new UKVI immigration application process. If you require legal assistance or need any further information, do contact us or you can make a quick enquiry here.
Updated information released by UKVI
Since publishing this article, UKVI has released further information online which can be accessed here.