15 July 2020
Over the last few weeks we have seen a drastic change within the UK immigration sector as it relates to some of the Home Office requirements to either study, settle, marry or join family in the UK on a settlement partner or spouse visa. These important changes that the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) have made are certainly welcome at this time, but this is not without some draw backs and exceeding amount of patience. We have detailed the most important changes below and what that means for current or prospective applicants.
Biometric enrolment appointments for applicants in the UK
The UKVCAS application support centres run by Sopra Steria provide biometric enrolment appointments for UK visa applicants to select on their website. However, at present appointments are only available for individuals who have already registered online and had booked appointments prior to and leading up to the COVID-19 lockdown. As such individuals applying for a UK partner or spouse visa (further leave to remain), indefinite leave to remain or citizenship from inside the UK were prevented from attending their biometrics appointment as they were cancelled by the UKVCAS. Therefore, new appointments are only available for these applicants at the moment. Once they have been contacted by the UKVCAS and have attended their appointments to validate existing applications, new appointments will become available to all other applicants registered during and after the COVID-19 lockdown. Due to limited availability, the UKVCAS is now scheduling appointments for applicants who had applied online in April – May 2020.
The Home Office has introduced a new method of obtaining biometrics, without compromising health and safety during phased re-opening. For applicants who are seeking to extend their UK spouse or partner visa, or apply for indefinite leave to remain, British citizenship or other immigration benefits within the UK, the new method of operation is by re-using biometric information submitted in older applications. Eligible applicants, who have registered on the UKVCAS website, will receive an email with detailed instructions on how to proceed without attending a local UKVCAS application support centre. The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) is contacting eligible applicants in date of registration order.
Biometric appointments for applicants outside the UK
Many of the UK visa application centres abroad have been re-opening since June. TLS and VFS offices in Australia, China, Russia, Ukraine, South Africa, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Brunei, Cambodia, Vietnam, the USA and many others resumed operations are currently offering biometric appointments. Applicants are now able to proceed with applications that were put on hold due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Applicants in other countries where local TLS and VFS UK visa application centres remain closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are still unable to book an appointment.
Mandatory English language and Life in the UK test
In order to join family or enter the UK on some aspects of the points based system, it is mandatory to submit evidence of being able to communicate to a specified level in English. Usually an in-country further leave to remain or indefinite leave to remain application would require that a unique SELT (English language test) or KOLL (Life in the UK test for ILR applicants) reference number is put in the online form generated on the official Home Office website. Without this code there was no way to proceed. However, due to the closures of many of the English language and KOLL test centres, there was no way for most applicants to take a test. This left many applicants stuck in limbo. The new concession state that anyone who must pass a mandatory language or KOLL test and was unable to due to the closures of the test centres, can now submit their application without a unique test pass reference number. It must be stated on the application form that the test centre was closed or if the applicant could not travel because of COVID-19. Sufficient evidence would be proof that the test centre was closed and the applicant received an email cancelling or postponing an appointment, or proof from a doctor that either the applicant or someone in their household fell under the restrictions in place for shielding, or had contracted the virus.
UK family settlement visa concessions: income threshold
Since 2012 British sponsors have been required to show evidence that they earn £18,600 per annum through employment, self employment, or otherwise in order to bring a foreign fiancée, partner or spouse to the UK on a settlement visa. As many sponsors in the UK have been furloughed, this has greatly impacted on their annual income equivalent. The Home Office concession announced recently indicates that individuals employed for six months by March 2020, with a contracted salary of £18,600 per annum will have their full income considered as opposed to furloughed income. In short, if the sponsoring British Citizen or permanent resident had been employed on a contract earning £18,600 or more between October 2019 and March 2020 and then furloughed, even if their furloughed income would drop slightly below the £18,600, due to their normal salary of £18,600 or more and being employed between the aforesaid dates, the UKVI will accept 100% of their income.
If, however, sponsor’s income would fall under Category B (less than six months with current employer) and they were not earning £18,600 from employment by the time they were furloughed in March 2020, it would be wise to either seek additional employment to top up any shortfall, or wait until the sponsor has reached six months with the same employer. The same is true for applicants who are self-employed and affected by the pandemic. If the loss of annual income occurred between 1 March 2020 and 31 July 2020, the UKVI will disregard that loss when making a final determination of eligibility.
UK fiancée visa holders in the UK
Many fiancée visa holders would have applied and obtained a six-month settlement visa in order to allow them to marry their sponsor in the UK. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many weddings have been postponed. The result of the postponement may mean that the initial settlement fiancée visa is approaching the expiry date. The new Home Office concession prevents any anxiety or breach of terms. It allows fiancée visa holders who are unable to register their marriage before their initial visa expires to simply email the UKVI and update their circumstances or reapply for another fiancée visa within the UK.
Temporary UK visa holders in the UK
This aspect is probably one of the most potentially exciting aspects of the Home Office concession. If you hold a temporary UK visa (including visitor visa) which expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020, you may be eligible to apply to remain in the UK on a long-term visa without returning to your country of normal residence. This includes individuals who would need to start a course of study, switching employment or visiting. Visitors, who are normally not allowed to apply for a partner or spouse visa from inside the UK, are now permitted to switch. Applicants still need to prove that the criteria are met for the switch into a long-term family category and pay the appropriate Home Office fees. The application must be submitted on or before 31 July 2020, unless the Home Office agrees on extending the time frame beyond 31 July 2020. No such announcement has been made yet.
UK partner and spouse visa holders: 30-day entry clearance vignette
If you have already received a 30 or 90-day visa to enter the UK as a partner or spouse of a British Citizen or permanent resident under the 5 or 10-year route to settlement and are not able to travel to the UK due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this can be replaced free of charge until 31 December 2020. Once UK visa application centres re-open in your country of residence, you will be contacted by the centre and reissued with a 90 day visa.