On 22 October 2020 the Government laid out 500 pages of new Immigration Rules, which will form the basis of our new Points Based Immigration System. Most of the changes will apply to non-EU nationals from 1 December 2020 and to EU citizens arriving in the UK from 1 January 2021. This article forms part of a series taken from our October edition of Employment and Immigration Law Update covering the latest changes to the rules. In this article the Immigration Team looks at the impact of the changes on visitors to the UK, with the overarching changes to the system covered here.
There will be a number of important changes to the visitor route from 1 December 2020.
Permitted activities for visitors is an extensive topic, although nuances and discrepancies on certain topics have been a staple of the category for many years. This doesn’t disappear within the new list which comes under the heading Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities. The list is broadly in line with the existing rules, but there are a few changes that merit note, particularly around providing more flexibility for people to study.
From 1 December 2020, study may be the main purpose of the visit. In addition, the provisions allowing people to visit for up to 30 days for a short course at an accredited institution are being extended, permitting study as a visitor for up to six months.
People aged 16 or over who are enrolled on a course of study overseas may also now visit the UK to undertake research or have “research tuition” at a UK institution for up to six months.
Their research or research tuition must be relevant to their course of study overseas. Under the existing route, in a few limited cases, academics could apply to visit the UK for up to 12 months. This will now be widened to include academic visitors taking part in formal exchange arrangements or who are eminent senior doctors or dentists taking part in research, teaching or clinical practice.
Volunteering for up to 30 days can now be the main purpose of a visit and will no longer be required to be incidental to the visit.
The revised visit provisions also clarify that drivers on an international route collecting goods or passengers will fall within the visitor provisions. Currently this only applies to those delivering goods or passengers from abroad to the UK.
Finally, the “prospective entrepreneur” provision has been removed. This allows visitors who intend to apply under the Start-up or Innovator routes to enter the UK for “discussions to secure funding” to set up a business here. Such activities would invariably fall within the business visitor route with attendance at meetings and so forth in any event.
Visit visa applicants have always been required to show they have sufficient funds to cover the costs of their visit. From December 2020, any funds relied upon for the application must be held in permitted institutions under the new Appendix Finance.
This Appendix excludes reliance on funds in financial institutions where satisfactory verification checks cannot be made, where the institution is not appropriately regulated or where the institution does not use electronic record keeping.
Currently, the visitor rules allow an applicant to be in possession of a valid passport or travel document. This is being changed to a requirement for the applicant to provide a “passport or other document which satisfactorily establishes their identity and nationality”.
We are concerned whether this provides more ambiguity than clarity, particularly around the use of National Identity cards and whether they will be acceptable. Obviously we would always suggest that a passport is carried whenever it is possible to do so.
The existing visitor rules make rather hefty work of ‘suitability requirements’ which set out reasons why an application may be refused, for example due to an adverse immigration history or criminal convictions. This is replaced in the new rules to a single line “The applicant must not fall for refusal under Part 9: grounds for refusal”.
In effect, the General Grounds of refusal have always applied to visit visa applications, but it is worth noting that there are more discretionary grounds for refusal, for example for failure to provide certain documents or provide biometrics and also some flexibility on previous overstaying due to COVID-19, although there remains no mention of the Exceptional Assurance policy which was available in September and October 2020.
There are however stricter rules regarding previous criminal convictions and in general a change in tone from a perspective that an application ‘may’ be refused to ‘must’ be refused in cases where criminality is involved. This is also shown in the provisions where deception has been used in an application, whereby an application must be refused where the visa officer can prove that it is more likely than not the applicant used deception in the application. The level of proof required is still open to discussion.
Generally the policy has been towards a simplification of the rules, but with many of the permitted activities simply carried across, it is debateable to what extent that there has been any genuine clarification. Nevertheless there are tones of a stricter line to be taken in previous behaviours and in funding options and this is likely to remain the focus of travel in the next few years.
This article is from the October 2020 issue of Employment and Immigration Law Update, our monthly newsletter for HR professionals. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. For more details regarding any of the matters covered in this update, please contact Janice Leggett in our Immigration Team.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at October 2020.