Employment Law Update - New in-country visa application system

27 November 2018

The visa application process from within the UK is changing from 30 November 2018, following the Home Office’s decision to enter into a contract with a new commercial partner, Sopra Steria. The aim is to provide a more streamlined application process, however, the implementation phase (with old and new systems operating in tandem) has not gone smoothly.

Under the new UK Visa and Citizenship Application Service (UKVCAS) process, applicants submit and pay for their application online and are then re-directed to Sopra Steria’s website to book an appointment to attend one of their centres to enrol biometric information. This replaces biometric enrolment at a local post office. If the main applicant has dependants applying with them, the whole family must attend an appointment at the same time.

There are six free core service centres in Croydon, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast. Appointments are also meant to be available for a fee ‘starting at £60’, at one of 50 local centres, most of which are located in local libraries. There will be centres in Cambridge, Norwich, Ipswich, Peterborough and Bedford and different parts of London.  However, during the transition phase, we have become aware of delays in opening these local centres. There will also be one premium lounge in London.

Applicants are meant to be able to book an appointment and attend the UKVCAS centres within five days of submitting their application. However, our experience has seen that the appointments are not currently available as promised.

Applicants can chose to upload copies of their supporting documents to Sopra Steria’s website, or take them to their appointment and pay a fee of £35 for them to be scanned and uploaded. In both cases, applicants will retain their original documents. This is because the Immigration Rules have been relaxed, so that copy documents can be provided, rather than originals. This is by far the biggest change and should make the process easier for many applicants. However, applicants should note that even though they still have their passport, they must not travel outside the UK, as if they do their application will automatically be treated as withdrawn.

Applicants will also have a choice to purchase additional services such as walk-in appointments, out of hours appointments and document translation. There will also be an on-demand VIP mobile service available which can come to the applicant at their home or work.

The new system has led to some changes in processing times. It will no longer be possible to attend an appointment and get a decision on the same day. Instead, the premium service will provide a decision on the next working day. However, the priority service is being expanded and should be available for more types of application than before. This currently provides for decisions to be made within ten working days, with a plan to improve this to five working days from December 2018.

It should be noted that certain more unusual types of applications will not be able to use the new service and should continue to use the old system. For more information please see the Government guidance.

For further information please contact Clare Hedges or Janice Leggett in our Immigration Team.

This article is from the November 2018 issue of Employment Law Update, our monthly newsletter on employment legislation and regulation. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. Law covered as at November 2018.

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