Last week, the UKVI has implemented changes to how in-country immigration applications are made. The system, hailed by its designers as easier and more intuitive, is set to be expanded to out of country applications as well.
Presumably the intention behind this new scheme is to simplify the application process for visas and leave to remain.
What are the changes?
The main change relates to digitalisation of the application process. This means that the immigration applications are now predominantly being made online. There is a transitional period in which the applicant will decide whether to use the old paper form or the new online form. This transitional period will last until 29th November 2018. After this date, all specified applications will have to be submitted online.
The Home Office is hoping that digitalisation will make the immigration application process run smoother. The online applications are devised in a way that seeks to provide with guidance on the points that can potentially be confusing. The claim is that these online forms are more user-friendly and easier to use. Moreover, the new system will allow the applicants to upload their documents to the system themselves and make the fee payment online. Following the online application process, the applicant will then need to book an appointment and attend a relevant centre to submit their biometric information.
There will be a total of 57 appointment services across the country. However, not all the appointment centres will provide the same services.
Thus, only 6 appointment centres will be providing free appointments. There will be a further 50 application centres that provide paid appointments. There will also be one Premium Lounge.
The Home office has also set-up digital assistance services that will help applicants who need guidance on how to fill in the online applications. It must be said that the digital assistance service is not an immigration service and they are unable to provide immigration advice. Their role is solely to assist those who are lacking the technical knowledge of using an online application form.
Contact us if you require expert immigration advice with completing your online immigration application.
The positive aspects of the new system
The positives so far with the new immigration application system are the fact that the online forms look to be less voluminous, as the application system is designed in an intuitive way so that it generates questions only for the circumstances specific to the applicant. This cuts down on lengthy application forms and makes the process more user-friendly for the applicants.
Furthermore, it seems that this digitalisation process has finally prompted the Home Office to abandon the requirement of having the ‘original’ documents submitted with an application. Now, with the applicants uploading their own documents on the system, the requirement of submitting the ‘originals’ has been dropped. This is a welcome changed.
It is also noted that the passports and other identification documents are also going to be returned to the applicant upon submission of their biometric information at the application centre. The applicant will need to take all the relevant passports to the application centre, however the documents will be scanned and returned. This is a positive development, however there are certain caveats. For one, the Home Office has the power to decide when to not return the identity documents and our experienced immigration lawyers are inclined to believe that this power will be used to continue to retain the passports in most of the cases.
Another positive aspect with the new system is that the date of submission of applications will be the date when the application was submitted online. This means that the appointment to submit the biometrics can take place at a later date and should the person’s leave expire by then, they will remain protected by the provisions of section 3(c) of Immigration Act 1971, which ensures a person who has submitted an on-time application does not become an overstayer.
Possible issues with the new system
We have looked at the positive aspects of the new system, however, in the opinion of our experienced immigration lawyers, there are numerous issues that can potentially create problems for the applicants.
Firstly, while the application forms have been simplified, there are many who will struggle with having to fill in the application forms online. The digital assistance service provided by the Home Office is welcomed but are potentially not enough and be financially burdensome on some types of applicants. For instance, those who are requiring assistance at home.
A second issue is related to the number of application centres. Or rather application centres which provide free appointments. With only 6 application centres over the country offering free appointments, there is great cause for worry that the appointments will be quickly booked, and many will be forced to use the paid appointment services in order to secure their appointment in a reasonable time. It is yet to be seen how well these 6 appointment centres can cope with the number of applicants.
A further issue, related to the number of application centres that offer free appointments is related to the fact that many vulnerable people, especially people with mobility issues will now potentially have to overcome serious hurdles and travel great distances to attend their appointments. Whereas previously they could have provided their biometric data at their nearest post office. Therefore, these people, who are already vulnerable, will be put in a position where they may be forced to pay for an appointment at an office closer to home.
Other concerns are related to the return of passports. While overall a positive development, there are worries among our experienced immigration solicitors that many immigrants might fall into the trap of thinking they are free to travel. The provisions on leaving the country while an application is pending have not changed. The application will be considered withdrawn if the applicant travels while it is still pending. This creates a dangerous situation where some applicants will leave the country not realising they are jeopardising their immigration application.
Another point of concern is that some applicants might view the relaxation of the rules on documents, i.e. not requiring original documents to be submitted, as an overall relaxation of the rules on specified evidence. This will lead to numerous refusals, as the requirements of evidence, in particular with application routes such as Tier 1 (Entrepreneur), Tier 1 (Investor), family related routes and other such immigration applications, remain as exacting as previously.
Overall, the attempt to streamline the application submission process and to give up on some of the unnecessary rigidity in the application process and documentary evidence submission is welcomed. However, there are many possible pitfalls and more time is required to assess them in full. In the meantime, applicants must remember that utmost diligence is still essential when preparing their applications and intimate knowledge of the immigration rules and processes is indispensable.
Contact us if you require assistance with your immigration matter. Our specialist immigration lawyers are experienced in all areas of immigration law and ready to assist with your matter, irrespective of the complexity of it.