Treating applicants and lawyers as Administrative Assistants to the process
The Home Office have gone paperless and applicants along with legal representatives are being treated as administrative assistants helping to prop up the system.
It is the case that either supportive documents are scanned and uploaded via the UKVCAS website in advance of personal appointments or applicants must pay for the Document Scanning service during the appointment at a Core Service Point. The charge is £45 per person and this applies to all appointments booked on or after 22 July 2019.
For applicants not confident that documents have been uploaded properly, a document checking service is also provided to check that an applicant has 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 are required to upload their documents through UKVCAS website at least 2 working days before their appointment date.
Not only is there a need to scan and upload documents but this has to be done in a prescribed manner designed solely to make Home Office decision- maker’s lives easier. Documents are required to be provided in each of the categories set out in the Mandatory Documents and the Optional Documents sections.
The Mandatory documents section requires the following to be uploaded:
• Proof of identity/travel history
• Proof of application
The Optional documents section requires the following to be uploaded:
• Residence in the UK
• Finances • Proof of Business
• Life Events
• Medical Information
Applicants who are legally represented will of course look to their legal representatives to ensure that documents are correctly scanned and uploaded. Where documents are voluminous, this a very laborious task. For those actually reliant upon administrative assistants to undertake this task, well and good however utmost care must be taken to ensure that every single document to be relied upon in the application has been correctly uploaded.
Where applicants have paid a hefty application fee in advance for their applications to be processed, it is not at all apparent why they should, when they need to at a service and support centre appointment, have to pay further so as to have their documents uploaded by support staff. Surely scanning and uploading of availed orderly documents is part of the customer service aspect? If not, what is?
No acknowledgment letter or email of pending applications
It used to be the case that prior to the new Home Office online application visa process, upon submission of a postal application for leave to remain, an acknowledgment letter of sorts would be forthcoming from the Home Office within a matter of days or weeks.
Not so nowadays.
Applicants attending pre-arranged appointments at Service and Support Centres(SSC) are literally walking away with no evidence that they have a pending application with the Home Office.
It also used to be that letters sent out by the Home Office to have biometrics enrolled at the post office would suffice to indicate and re-assure that an application was pending. However, apart from claims such as those under the Domestic Violence Rules, which generate biometrics enrolment letters automatically upon online submission of an application, applicants no longer receive such letters in the post. Instead, enrolment takes place at a service and support centre. Information from the .Gov website sets out what happens at a service and support centre- https://www.gov.uk/visas-and-immigration-service-and-support-centres:
“A UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) staff member will:
• take your biometric information (fingerprints and a photo)
• check and scan your documents
• make sure your application includes all the information needed
• tell you what happens next You’ll usually get your documents back at the end of your appointment. UKVI may keep your travel documents, such as your passport, until your application is processed”.
There is a nothing to stop an applicant forwarding further evidence by post to the Home Office following attendance at a SSC. What the Home Office will do if original documents are sent over to them is to scan the documents to their systems and then return the originals also by post indicating that they have taken a copy. In such circumstances, it is this return letter from the Home Office that will indicate to some extent that an application is under consideration, however to some employers who are slow to undertake an Employer Check, this may simply not be good enough.
Failed asylum seekers submitting Further Submissions in person at UKVI Liverpool are routinely provided same day acknowledgement letters in relation to their Further Submissions. Considering that leave applicants under the new application process are expecting some sort of service having paid substantial Home Office application fees, it cannot be too much to ask and neither would it be much trouble for the Home Office to automatically provide standard written acknowledgment letters/emails referring to pending applications on the same day as the personal appointment.
Problems with booking appointments
Currently, the UKVCAS website contains the following message:
“We are currently experiencing high demand for appointments at our service points which means you may have to wait longer than usual for an available appointment.
We are working to ensure additional appointments are made available and apologise for any inconvenience caused. UKVI would like us to assure you that you have up to 45 working days to book an appointment once your application form has been submitted”.
Expecting applicants to hang about, waiting and constantly checking for a free appointment, prior to attending an appointment and having biometrics enrolled, adds to an applicant’s anxiety and prolongs what should be a short and simple online process required to obtain an appointment.
Rather than be met with periods of uncertainty, applicants are having to fork out further funds in relation to paid appointments so as to undertake the necessary action expeditiously in order to enable validity of their applications.
These are only just a few of some of the problems faced by applicants under the “new” application process.
Lip service is being paid to customer service.
The process, is in cases, a far cry from that announced by the Government on 2 November 2018:
“The Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said: We are committed to delivering a modern, convenient and easy to use service for UKVI customers.
These new service centres located across the country are a key part of our vision for a system that supports its customers and provides peace of mind whilst they are making an application”.