Part 2: How not to fall foul of the new application process and ensure a valid Home Office application

(1) STATEMENT OF CHANGES OF 11 OCTOBER 2018

The Explanatory memorandum HC 1534, 11 October 2018 (web accessible) to the Statement of changes to the Immigration Rules published on 11 October 2018, provides as follows, among other matters:

“Changes supporting the operation of the new application process in UK Visas and Immigration (other than for applications under the EU Settlement Scheme)

Application process

7.8 Changes to the Immigration Rules are required in order to permit UKVI’s transformed application process. The ambition is that most applicants will apply online, with assisted digital support where necessary. A process will also remain for receiving applications on paper for routes where there is no online application form. The Rules changes set out the requirements for making a valid application under the new application process in relation to the applicant making an appointment to attend in person to enrol their biometrics and submitting the required documents in support of their application.

Fee waiver

7.9 The changes will also protect the position of applicants seeking a fee waiver as part of an online application for leave to remain.

7.10 Where an application for leave to remain is made online, an applicant who wishes to apply for a fee waiver as part of that application will have to submit that fee waiver request before the application for leave, and this will be considered first. The applicant will be notified of a decision on the request for a fee waiver, and will have 10 working days from the date they receive this notification to submit an application for leave. If the application is made in time, i.e. within 10 working days, the date of application will be the date the fee waiver request was submitted. This is important because it protects an applicant’s continuing leave whilst they make their application for further leave. If the fee waiver request is granted, the applicant will be able to submit an application for leave without an accompanying application fee. If the fee waiver request is refused, the applicant may still submit an application accompanied by the relevant fee.

7.11 If an applicant does not submit an application for leave within 10 working days, their application will normally be rejected.

Evidential requirements

7.13 The Rules changes are also aimed at helping applicants to meet the evidential requirements in the Rules. To support the new application process as it can be difficult for applicants to obtain original documents, especially if they need to be obtained from overseas, the requirement to provide original documents is being removed and copies can be provided. If there are doubts about whether a document is genuine, verification rules will apply.

Evidential flexibility

7.14 The changes provide for a more generous approach to evidential flexibility. The policy previously allowed for a caseworker to write once, in very precise circumstances, to request further information where an applicant had failed to provide the evidence required. These changes provide more flexibility to caseworkers regarding whether and when they may write to applicants to ask for any missing documents required, to be provided within a reasonable time frame”.

 

(2) THE CHANGES

The system prior to 2 November 2018( and also continuing on some application routes) required an individual to make an application, send their documents to UKVI, who retained them until the application was completed, and enrol their biometrics separately.

From 2 November 2018, people applying for work or study visas, settlement or citizenship from within the UK will be able to make appointments to use new modernized service centres.

In line with Home Office provisions and policy, the modernized service means that most people applying in the UK will be able to submit their biometric information including photos, fingerprints, and signatures as well as their supporting evidence at a single appointment. It will now be possible, in the majority of cases, to take digital copies of evidence meaning that people will not have to hand over important documents, such as passports, while their applications are processed.

The majority of people will now complete their applications online before attending one of the UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services centres (UKVCAS), which will be delivered by commercial partner Sopra Steria.

Customers will be led through an online application process making it clear what they need to do, what supporting evidence they will need and where they need to go to complete their application.

Free appointments will be available for everyone, however, applicants will also have the option to purchase added value services such as same day appointments and On Demand services.

In addition, there will also be 7 dedicated Service and Support Centres (SSC), which are intended to transform the experience for people who need more support with their applications.

It is intended that experienced frontline Home Office staff will help those who need extra support to better understand their circumstances and if necessary, take the appropriate safeguarding action.

These SSCs will be in Belfast, Cardiff, Croydon, Glasgow, Liverpool, Sheffield and Solihull, and will open in January 2019.

 

(3) THE NEW APPLICATION PROCESS

Choice between the new UK Visa and Citizenship Application Service (UKVCAS) and existing postal service:

If an application is made on or after 2 November 2018, an applicant may be given a choice between using a new service for enrolling their biometrics and submitting evidence or using the existing service offered through the Post Office or at a Premium Service Centre (PSC) (subject to availability).

 

Applicable routes where there will be a choice:

Customers seeking leave to remain in the UK or to settle permanently on the following routes will have a choice between using the existing service or the new UK Visa and Citizenship Application Service (UKVCAS):

  • Tier 1 (Investor)
  • Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent)
  • Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)
  • Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)
  • Tier 2 (General)
  • Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer): graduate trainee
  • Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer): long term staff
  • Tier 2 (Minister of Religion)
  • Tier 2 (Sportsperson)
  • Tier 4 (General) student
  • Tier 4 (Child) student
  • Tier 5 (Temporary Worker)
  • PBS dependent: partner
  • PBS dependent: child
  • Member of HM forces or their dependents
  • Turkish businessperson or worker
  • Dependent partner of a Turkish businessperson or worker (ECAA 3: dependent partner)
  • Dependent child of a Turkish businessperson or worker (ECAA 3: dependent child)
  • Settle or extend your leave in the UK: Turkish ECAA categories only
  • Settle in the UK: long residence
  • Settle in the UK: child
  • Settle in the UK: partner of a person or parent of a child already settled in the UK
  • Settle in the UK: HM forces category
  • Settle in the UK: refugee or humanitarian protection
  • Settle in the UK: certain categories
  • British citizenship by naturalisation
  • Register for British citizenship as a child under 18
  • Register as a British citizen
  • Update, replace or transfer: biometric residence permit
  • Other leave to remain applications within the Rules (unless noted below)
  • Apply for a Home Office travel document

Applicants applying under the family or private life route, depending on their individual circumstances, may be able to use the new service. During their application they will be advised about which services they are able to use.

 

Applicants who cannot use the new service:

During the transition period applicants can choose to use the existing service and enrol their biometric information at the Post Office or a Premium Service Centre if they are applying for one of these routes. Applicants will be told how to do this as part of their application and in their biometrics enrolment letter.

If applicants are applying through one of the below routes, they will not be able to use the new service and will continue to use the existing service:

    • to join family members in the UK as a dependent, other than a PBS dependent, armed forces dependent or ECAA dependent
    • for family reunion with a refugee or person with humanitarian protection
    • on the basis of statelessness
    • on the basis as a victim of domestic violence under the specific route
    • making further submissions after a failed protection claim
    • to only enrol their biometric information
    • for a fee waiver or fee exemption
    • apply for a certificate of right of abode
    • apply for a registration certificate as an EEA or Swiss national
    • apply for a document certifying permanent residence as an EEA or Swiss national

 

 

Gradual withdrawal of majority of paper application forms:

Over the next few months, the majority of paper application forms will be withdrawn and most UK-based customers applying for leave to remain in the UK or to settle permanently will need to apply online. Check the GOV.UK guidance to see how to make an application.

On the new service, customers will be led through an online application process making it clear what they need to do, what supporting evidence they will need and where they will need to go to complete their application.

 

Between 29 November 2018 until January 2019 – Online applications for leave based on family life or private life including spouse and partner applications:

UKVI’s PSCs closed on 29 November 2018.

If applicants are applying online for leave based on family life, including spouses and partners of settled persons, or private life, they will have the choice to use one of the following services from 29 November 2018 until January 2019:

  • UKVCAS service – applicants will be offered an appointment within 5 days and can choose to have a standard or super priority decision
  • the existing service to enrol their biometric information at the Post Office
  • UKVI’s 24 hour decision service

In the meantime as per the UKVI update of 30 November 2018, there are only a limited number of appointments available at PSCs. These appointments are intended for customers unable to access UKVCAS services during the transition period who may still require a 24 hour decision service. Applicants will be advised about appointment times and PSC locations available to them as part of the application process.

Applicants will be able to return and view the other services available to them before making their final confirmation.

 

New service – applications, payment of fees and health surcharge to be made on-line:

Under the new service, applicants will make their application and pay their application fee online, this will also include their biometric enrolment fee (if applicable). Applicants will also have to pay the immigration health surcharge (if applicable) online before they make their application and include their reference number on the online application.

The applicant will then be directed to Sopra Steria’s website to book an appointment at a UKVCAS centre. At this stage, the applicant can choose whether to purchase added-value services. These services will only be available to applicants using the UKVCAS service.

 

Need to make an appointment as specified by the application process:

Following submission of an application either online or by post the applicant will need to make an appointment as specified by the application process.

An applicant will be able to choose an appointment within 5 working days of making their application. Applicants are encouraged to go to an appointment as soon as possible and will receive a reminder after 15 working days if they have not attended an appointment.

If the application includes family members, the applicant will all need to attend an appointment at a UKVCAS centre at the same time.

Children under 16 must be accompanied to their appointment by the responsible adult named on the application.

If an applicant chooses to use the new service, they will not need to post their supporting evidence to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

They will either self-upload their evidence or take it with them to their appointment.

If an applicant chooses to up-load their evidence, this may reduce the length of their appointment. Applicants will be informed what evidence to submit when they make their application.

In most cases, the applicant will have their supporting evidence (including their passport) returned to them immediately once the appointment is finished. They may not be able to use their passport for travel until they have received a decision on their application.

The applicant will be told what they need to bring to their appointment when they submit their application, this will include:

  • appointment confirmation
  • passport or travel document
  • supporting evidence (unless the applicant chooses to self-upload)

At the appointment the applicant will:

  • show their appointment confirmation ( they will get this as an email containing a QR code) and ID documents to confirm their appointment
  • enrol their biometric information (fingerprints, photograph) and digital signature
  • submit their supporting evidence (unless they choose to self-upload this)
  • show their passport or travel document and have their identity checked
  • speak to a member of staff who will check that their biometric information has been successfully enrolled and their       passport and supporting evidence has scanned correctly

 

Service Standards:- For both the new and existing services, applicants will be told on their application form how long it should take to get a decision. Applicants will also be told if they can get a faster decision on their application.

Applicants will be contacted by UKVI if their application is going to take longer.

If applicants choose to use the UKVCAS service, they will be able to apply to use the priority service online. They will find out how to do this when they have completed their application.

If applicants choose to use the existing Post Office service, they will have to request to use the service and get a reference number before making their application online. See the guidance for the Tier 2 priority service or Tier 4 priority service to find out how to use these services.

 

New service- UKVCAS centres:

From 9 November 2018, new UKVCAS centres began to open with all being opened by early December 2018. These centres will be managed by the Home Office’s commercial partner, Sopra Steria. Applicants can check when service centres will be opening near you.

There will be 57 UKVCAS centres across the UK:

  • 6 core service centres offering free appointments
  • 50 enhanced service centres offering charged appointments
  • 1 premium lounge

Optional added-value services will also be available.

Applicants can use the Assisted Digital Service to get help using the online form if they do not feel confident using a computer or do not have access to one.

The application form and appointment letter will tell applicants how to give their biometrics and how to provide their supporting evidence.

 

The future- Opening of Service and Support Centres in January 2019:

In January 2019, UKVI will start opening dedicated Service and Support Centres (SSCs). Applicants must apply using the existing service until then if they are applying for these routes.

These service centres will be for:

  • some customers applying under family route
  • customers applying to join as a dependant
  • customers applying for family reunion
  • customers applying on the basis of statelessness
  • customers who qualify for a fee waiver or fee exemption
  • customers applying under the domestic violence route
  • some customers who are required to only enrol their biometric information

Further information on SSCs will be made available later this year.

 

(4) SOPRA STERIA- UKVCAS

Under the new process, applicants can now complete their applications online before attending one of the UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services centres (UKVCAS), which will be delivered by commercial partner Sopra Steria.

Via the Sopra Steria website, https://www.ukvcas.co.uk/help-support/ourinfo/bookAppointment, applicants can book an appointment to enrol their biometric information and have their supporting documents checked. They can also buy extra services to make their appointment “ as easy as possible”.

 

Booking an appointment:

To complete an application, applicants must enrol their biometrics and have their supporting documentation checked at one of Sopra Steria service points.

When applicants have filled in their online application with UK Visas and Immigration they will be directed to Sopra Steria’s website where they must set up an account and log in.

Applicants can then book an appointment to visit one of Sopra Steria’s service points.

Applicants must:

  • choose a location
  • choose a date and time

Applicant can book an appointment for:

  • themselves
  • a group of people where applicants all hold a Lead Applicant/ Dependent relationship

Applicants must arrive at the service point in good time for their appointment.

Locations:

Sopra Steria have different types of service points:

  • core service points offer free of charge appointments and out of hours appointments
  • enhanced service points offer an inclusive package of extra services
  • premium lounge that offers a personalised customer experience

Date and time:

If applicants want to visit one of these service points they can book an appointment:

  • up to 28 days in advance
  • the same day
  • the next day
  • outside of standard office hours

 

Preparing documents:

Applicant’s supporting documents must be uploaded either before or during their appointment. Applicants can do this:

  • themselves on the Sopra Steria website (recommended)
  • by choosing Sopra Steria document scanning service and they will do it for applicants during their appointment (charges may apply for using this service)
  • It is to be noted that if an applicant’s appointment is at an enhanced service point or premium lounge, or an on-demand pop-up or VIP visit Sopra Steria will upload the documents for applicants during their appointment as part of the service.

When applicants attend their appointments they must bring with them the following:

  • the appointment confirmation details they received in the confirmation email from Sopra Steria (that is, the document containing the QR barcode in attachment for each group member)
  • all the applicant’s supporting documents

 

Visiting the Service Points:

Applicants must arrive at the service point in good time for their appointment.

When applicants arrive at a service point, Sopra Steria will check applicant’s appointment confirmation details. Applicants can then enrol their biometric information, either by:

  • doing it themselves at a self-service kiosk
  • having one of the team do it with applicants at a counter
  • Biometric enrolment is a:
  • scan of the applicant’s passport
  • photograph of applicant’s face
  • scan of applicant’s fingerprints
  • digital signature

Sopra Steria will then check that everything has gone well, including:

  • the biometric enrolment
  • document checking
  • paymentsIf applicants want to provide additional documents to support their application they can upload them, provided they do so before 22.00 on the same day.Sopra Steria offer extra services to applicants to prepare for their appointment.
  • Extra Services – Appointments:
  • If applicants have used the document scanning service then their original documents will be returned to them. They will not have been out of applicant’s sight. If applicants are happy to proceed, Sopra Steria will then submit their application.

In addition to the free of charge appointments at core service points Sopra Steria have a range of other appointment types.

Enhanced service points: Sopra Steria have enhanced service points across the UK. An appointment at one of their enhanced service points also includes the evidence scanning and evidence checking services. Prices start from £60 per person.

Out of hours appointments: If an applicant’s day tends to be busy, they can book an out of hours appointment at both core and enhanced service points and they can also book any other extra service when they do so. Out of hours appointments are offered subject to availability and start from £100 per person on top of any other appointment-based fees.

Next day appointments – If applicants need to attend an appointment quickly, they can book a next day appointment at one of the service points. The applicant will also be able to book any other appropriate extra service when they do so. Next day appointments are offered subject to availability and start from £100 per person on top of any other appointment-based fees.

Same day appointments – If the application is urgent, applicants can book a same day appointment at one of the service points, as well as any other extra services, subject to availability. Same day appointments are offered subject to availability and start from £100 per person on top of any other appointment-based fees.

 

Premium Lounge:

The premium lounge is stated to be “for customers who desire a service with added comfort and privacy”.

The first premium lounge, located in the heart of the City of London, is situated across the road from Fenchurch Street Overground Station and within 7 minutes’ walk of both Monument, Bank and Tower Hill tube stations.

The premium lounge provides an upgraded service in comfortable surroundings with spacious seating areas, hi-speed wifi and business facilities such as scanning and printing. Free daily newspapers and hot and cold beverages will be available as well as a choice of freshly prepared pastries, light snacks and fruit. The application process will be completed in an individual application suite where biometric collection and document scanning can take place in an environment of seclusion and privacy.

Appointments at the premium lounge are available Monday to Friday from 08:00 to 18:00 for standard appointments with evening appointments available to 20:00 on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Applicants can choose the premium lounge when they book their appointment. The price for a standard appointment is £200. The price for an out of hours appointment is £260.

 

Extra Services- On demand pop up service:

The on-demand pop-up service is a service point that comes to a location convenient to the applicant. This service provides application facilities for organisations with more than 10 applicants and is available in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Sopra Steria teams can arrange half day or full day sessions depending on the number of applicants and can even remain in the area for several days to process higher volumes if necessary. The benefits for employees and students are considered to be convenience and time saving, while organisations benefit from reduced leave days and lost study time for applications that would otherwise be completed away from the office or campus.

To use this service, applicants can send Sopra Steria a message through the General Enquiry link to request more information. Once a corporate account is created an applicant will be able to request a preferred day and time for an on-demand pop-up to visit their organisation. Sopra Steria Customer Service Team will be the single point of contact for arranging the visit, taking payment and discussing anything they should be aware of ahead of the visit.

The price for this service varies depending upon the customer’s requirements.

 

Extra Services – The VIP Service:

The VIP Service is a mobile service provided by specially trained team members who will visit an applicant in their home, office or other location. The team will complete the same processes provided in their physical offices – such as identity checks, biometric enrolment and document scanning (if required) – but in a location that is convenient to the customer. The VIP service is stated to provide “convenience, privacy and peace of mind for you and your family”.

The VIP service is available in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and offer availability 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. To select this service, applicants must enter the details requested, including the postcode of the location they wish the team to visit.

Applicants must also enter the preferred date and time of day for the visit. Morning appointments are available up to 12.00 midday, afternoon appointments are available up to 18:00 and evening appointment are after that. Sopra Steria will aim to provide an appointment as close to the applicant’s preferred date and time as possible, and their customer service team will contact the customer to agree the finer details of the visit.

Sopra Steria will also ask the applicant to share some information that the team should be aware of ahead of the appointment, such as access to shared entrances, parking and confirmation of the number of applicants, and whether there will be a suitable private area to take photographs.

As to price, customers are required to request a call back via the UKVCAS website to obtain a quote.

 

Extra Services – Immigration Advice and document legalisation service:

The Sopra Service website states that their named immigration consultants are accredited by the UK’s Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) and can assist applicants with a full suite of UK immigration services, including extension of student and work visas, applications for indefinite leave to remain and citizenship.

The site states that their immigration consultants do not make immigration decisions and can only give you advice.

The site also provides that if applicants require certified copies of documents issued in the UK, they can get them certified by a solicitor. This can be done by sending the original documents to Sopra Steria’s central hub. The hub will arrange for certified copies to be prepared and returned to the applicant by courier or Royal Mail Signed For.

In case applicants need to legalise documents that were issued outside the UK, applicants must present the original documents authenticated by the relevant government authorities in the country of issuance. Sopra Steria will then arrange to have these documents legalised at the local embassy or consulate of that country, in the UK. If the original documents have not been authenticated in the country of origin, Sopra Steria state on their website that they can arrange for such authentication through carefully selected reputable and reliable service providers in the countries of origin.

The price for this service is stated to vary depending upon an applicant’s requirements.

 

Extra Services- Document Translation:

The document translation service can be used by customers whose original documents are not in English or Welsh. All translations are completed by professional translators who will translate the documents within 3 to 4 days.

All types of documents can be translated to support the applicant’s application including marriage, birth and divorce certificates as well as driving licences, academic diplomas and sponsor letters. The translations can be completed from scanned documents which are sent securely to Sopra Steria’s central hub for completion.

The applicant’s translated documents will be returned by email and by post.

The price for the document translation service is £75 per page.

 

Extra Services- Interpretation:

If English is not the applicant’s native language, Sopra Steria can arrange for an interpreter to be available for the applicant over the telephone if they require language assistance during their appointment.

Interpretation services are only available at core service points and the premium lounge.

Applicants can choose the interpretation service when they book their appointment. The price for this service is £60 in total.

 

Extra Services- Document Checking Service:

Applicants can buy the document checking service if they want Sopra Steria team to check that they have correctly uploaded the documents for their appointment, that the scanned documents they provided are of an acceptable quality and are complete.

To use this service applicants must upload their documents through the website at least 2 working days before their appointment date.

If applicants have booked an appointment at one of the enhanced service points the document checking service is included in the price of that appointment.

Applicants can choose the document checking service when they book their appointment. The price for this service is £35 in total, per person.

 

Support Line

Applicants can call Sopra Steria support line to make a new purchase or for certain visa application enquiries on the following numbers: 0900 165 6600 (inside the UK) or +44 900 165 6600 (outside the UK). Calls cost £2.50 plus the standard network rate and access charge.

Lines are open 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 5:30pm on Saturdays. If an applicant has enquiries with respect to purchases they have already made they can use the enquiry form or call the non-premium rate number provided in the booking confirmation email.

 

(3) SOME REFERENCE POINTS – VALIDITY OF APPLICATIONS AND THR NEW PROCESS

 

 

(4) COMMENT

Sopra Steria through their website,  have been carefully presented as the hub from which all services that applicants could possibly require can be obtained. A click on their website is all that is needed to gently nudge applicants to utilise other services provided by or via this organisation, such services including assistance with preparation of applications, as well as enabling translation and legalisation/authentication services. It is without doubt that these other services will prove useful to some applicants, however Sopra Steria are the designated UKVI commercial partner, there is no other choice but to be led to their site: as such once an applicant finds themselves directed to Sopra Steria’s website they are met with quite a few  other marketing services which appear to have nothing to do with the main reason why were directed there in the first place, i.e automated direction to Sopra Steria’s website to book an appointment at a UKVCAS centre.

A comparison of the new process with the unencumbered application process prior to 2 November 2018 calls into question why it was considered necessary to introduce the new application system with all its accompanying unnecessary frills. Introducing an on-line application system is itself unobjectionable; after all immigration practitioners and applicants have been utilising the on-line application process for several years now in entry clearance applications via the visa4uk website, https://www.visa4uk.fco.gov.uk/home/welcome. The concern is with the majority of the extra services embedded within the new system which will likely not be required by most applicants, e.g the majority of applicants on the 5year or 10year route to settlement and other routes have been having their  applications considered without them over the years. What then is the point of adding on some of these extra services? They are certainly not free.

What applicants above all want to know is the law as applicable to their case, the options and solutions to their legal problem and thereafter how best they can be enabled to present their application package as tailored to their individual circumstances. Actual submission of that application comes right towards the end of these considerations.

Introduction of the new application process may enable applications to be considered much more quickly. However will the new process do away with poor decision-making on the part of Home Office Case  decision makers? Will there be an effective process whereby upon lodgement of an appeal or submission of an effectively prepared Appellant’s bundle, withdrawal of a clearly erroneous decision will be made  prior to the date of the appeal hearing?

What is the point of an applicant paying exorbitant Home Office application fees, adding on some extra services simply for the comfort of a few hours of a pampered service, only to be met with a potentially unlawful refusal decision a short while later?

It’s a new application process and it remains to be seen how it will all actually work in practice, however a glaring question that remains is this: why have two different system application processes existing side by side even for the same type of application route? Why not streamline the process entirely and introduce it as becoming wholly effective on a certain specified date?

Having both an on-line process as well as a paper application form for the same route will create confusion in some cases and may in the coming weeks lead to more invalidation and rejection of applications. For example, currently there is both an on-line and paper application form for FLR(M) applications. If an applicant completes the paper form and posts it to the Home Office unaccompanied by a fee waiver application then that is the wrong procedure. Such an applicant, not requesting a fee waiver must now apply online.

There appears as yet to be no proper guidance on the new application process. The fee waiver policy guidance Fee waiver: Human Rights-based and other specified applications updated on 8 January 2018 remains unamended. This may be because currently, no fee waiver applications can be made on line.   It appears that much work still remains to be undertaken by the Home Office in relation to the new application process however it is hoped that the current state of affairs will not be grasped by the Home Office to reject and invalidate submitted applications without an opportunity to rectify errors or omissions on the part of applicants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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