Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak: impact on the UKVI visa processing

19 March 2020

There have been growing concerns that with the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) the UKVI partner, marriage and fiancée visa processing times may be affected. If more people (including UK immigration officers) are isolated, staff shortages and/or local visa office closures are likely to have a substantial impact on the UKVI operations worldwide.

The UK government may take additional measures to ensure maximum public safety and consider closing the border, if the situation worsens – same as Australia and New Zealand did a few weeks ago, when they started banning passengers from certain countries affected by the virus. Effective today, New Zealand has further strengthened travel restrictions banning most foreign travellers. Last week the US temporarily banned visitors from Europe for 30 days. The European Union closed its borders this week. It would be unethical to speculate whether or not the same can happen in the UK, but we must be mindful that as of today, there are more than 35,000 cases in Italy at the moment and the numbers keep rising rapidly. As a result, the local UK visa application centre in Milan has been closed temporarily, as a precautionary measure. They are no longer accepting UK visa applications. The UK visa application centers in China have been closed since February.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) spread may negatively affect UK visa applicants in the US as the main UK application support centre/scanning hub is based in New York City (which is where applicants in the US normally must send their original passport and supporting documents for scanning as part of the application process). The New York state has recently declared a state of emergency due to the rapid spread of coronavirus. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last week that he was deploying the National Guard to help contain the spread of the virus in New Rochelle, New York. As New York City residents prepare for a potential lockdown, there are concerns that the UK visa application support centre in New York may suspend operations amidst coronavirus outbreak.

Furthermore, the World Health Organization formally declared the current outbreak a “pandemic” last week. Therefore, we are currently advising our existing clients to submit their visa applications as soon as possible, as there is a very real risk that more countries and local UK visa application centres/scanning hubs may be affected by the outbreak.

Applicants in the UK have also been affected by the outbreak, as some UKVCAS biometric and scanning facilities located at local libraries are cancelling existing appointments in order to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Sopra Steria UKVCAS and Local Library Authorities are continuously following advice from the Government to ensure public safety. This may potentially affect those applying for further leave to remain (FLR), indefinite leave to remain (ILR) or British Citizenship. Scanning appointments are currently available at larger UKVCAS service centers, including Core and Premium Lounge Service Points.

As the situation surrounding COVID‑19 continues to evolve, we want to assure our clients that we are doing everything we can to provide normal services. We are here to support you during these unprecedented and uncertain times. We are available, online or by phone during our normal business hours. We are closely monitoring the changing situation, and complying with public health guidance. Our advisers, receptionists and legal assistants currently work from home, therefore we are able to offer continuous service, even in areas where lockdown or self-isolation may be required. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us.

On behalf of the entire UKmarriageVisa.com team, please stay safe.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

UK partner and marriage visa fees remain the same in 2020

21 February 2020

Surprisingly, the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)’s fee schedule for 2020 – 2021 remains the same as last year. The Home Office has on many past occasions raised the UK immigration and nationality fees between March and April annually. However, there are no changes in the processing fees for applications made inside and outside the UK this year. This includes UK settlement partner, fiancée and spouse visas as well as in country further leave to remain (FLR), indefinite leave to remain (ILR) and naturalisation applications.

The cost of applying for a UK settlement visa from outside the UK, i.e. fiancée, unmarried partner or spouse of a British Citizen or legal permanent resident, will remain £1,523 per applicant in 2020 -2021. The UKVI settlement priority service will be available at the same cost of £573 per applicant. Dependent children under the age of 18 are required to pay a separate visa application and priority service fee regardless of the outcome as the UKVI visa application processing fees are non-refundable. The NHS fee also remains the same.

In country further leave to remain (FLR) applications designed to switch to or extend an existing partner or spouse visa from within the UK will cost £1,033 plus an optional super priority service fee in the amount of £800 per applicant. Priority applications are normally processed within 24 hours, usually on the same day the applicant attends a biometrics and scanning appointment at their local Sopra Steria UKVCAS centre in the UK. There is an additional fee payable for scanning services, if the applicant chooses not to self-upload the documents on the official website. The UKVCAS staff can scan the documents on the spot.

For indefinite leave to remain (ILR) applications, the current Home Office fees remain the same, i.e. £2,389 for applicants with no dependents, plus an additional £800 super priority service fee, if the UKVI fast track service is required to ensure the same day decision.

ILR holders who wish to apply for naturalisation are expected to pay £1,330.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

Document reduction for settlement partner and spouse applications

17 February 2020

The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has released the new immigration instructions affecting Appendix FM settlement fiancée, spouse and unmarried partner visa applications made outside the UK. In a brief one-page internal memo addressed to the UKVI’s commercial partners VFS and TLS, the Home Office provides a list of specific documents that will no longer be accepted as part of Appendix FM family applications. The new policy does not affect applications made in the UK, i.e. further leave to remain (FLR) applications under the 5 or 10-year partner route to settlement.

These important changes are introduced as a result of the UKVI document reduction pilot scheme for Appendix FM spouse and partner visa applications launched by the Home Office on the 16th September 2019 at six UK Visa Application Centres in India. The scheme has now been extended globally resulting in the aforementioned policy memorandum being released in February 2020.

The reasoning behind the new UKVI policy is to reduce the amount of documents submitted as part of Appendix FM settlement partner and spouse visa applications. Although well-intentioned, the idea of putting certain restrictions in place may result in an increased number of family applications being refused on relationship grounds. There is no clear Home Office guidance of what actually constitutes sufficient evidence of a genuine and stable relationship, as all family visa applications are assessed based on their individual merits. In light of recent procedural changes, couples are naturally concerned to ensure that they sufficiently demonstrate the genuine and ongoing nature of their relationship as the burden of proof falls on the visa applicant and their sponsor in the UK.

Forcing couples to exclude certain types of “unnecessary” documents as a matter of the new UKVI immigration instructions without providing an exhaustive list of other supporting documents that may be accepted by the UKVI case workers when conducting a relationship assessment creates a lot of uncertainty at the moment. The documents that will not be accepted include call logs, social media chat history, money transfers, greeting cards, phone cards, wedding receipts and invitations, letters from friends etc. It is unclear at this stage how the UKVI case workers expect partner, fiancée and spouse visa applicants to demonstrate regular contact with their sponsor in the UK without call logs or social media chat printouts. Likewise, it is unclear how couples are expected to demonstrate shared financial commitments without submitting money transfer receipts, as generally, those applying for a partner or spouse visa from outside the UK are unable to provide a joint bank account, tenancy agreement or utility bills in both names due to not living together with their sponsor. Apart from phone logs and money transfers, it is impossible for many couples to provide any other supporting documents to demonstrate that their relationship is genuine and subsisting.

The UKVI states that with immediate effect “prohibited” documents will be excluded by VFS and TLS staff during the scanning phase of the application process. VFS and TLS offices around the world have been instructed not to accept the above-referenced documents provided in support of an Appendix FM settlement partner, fiancée or spouse visa application. They will not be scanned. This really puts the matter of having a “decision ready” application and other adequate evidence into perspective. Please contact our team of expert UK family visa advisers to find out what other documents may be used to support a settlement partner or marriage visa application.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

New UKVI online visa application process has caused great confusion

3 April 2019

The Home Office is changing the way UK visa applications and supporting documents are submitted to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) for processing. Couples applying for a UK settlement fiancée, unmarried partner or spouse visa are no longer required to send original supporting documents to the UKVI centre in Sheffield. This requirement that has been in place in most countries apart from the US, Canada, Colombia, UAE, South Africa and some others for many years has now been abolished and replaced with a brand new procedure.

Historically, the UKVI required visa applicants to submit original documents in support of a UK partner or spouse visa application arguing that soft copies had no evidential value as they could not be verified. As a result, a large number of applications were refused due to not meeting the mandatory policy requirements. According to the Home Office internal guidelines, a UK marriage visa interview is not a required part of the application process as there is not enough physical time to chase the applicant for additional evidence when the examining UKVI case worker may have 200 cases to process on their desk. Consequently, submitting uncertified online bank statements, pay slips or even sponsor’s UK passport copy could easily trigger a visa refusal leaving the couple with the option of making another settlement visa application with the correct evidence (and paying all Home Office fees again) or lodging a formal appeal which would normally take up to 12 – 14 months.

Apparently, the extent to which technology has changed in recent years has forced UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to expedite efforts to move document processing solely online. Effective March 2019, the UKVI encourages visa applicants to scan and upload their supporting documents using a brand new online application platform that underwent a major update on the 29th March 2019. Both TLScontact and VFS websites have been connected to the new platform so those applicants who choose to upload the documents online can be easily identified at the time of their biometric appointment at a local UK visa application centre run by TLScontact or VFS. Although well-intentioned, these changes have caused great uncertainty and confusion for TLScontact and VFS clerks around the world. A few of our recent clients have reported that TLS and VFS staff members in some countries are refusing to accept valid UK marriage visa applications as they have no proper training to process applications in accordance with the new prescribed procedure. The incompetence levels are mind boggling as some applicants were turned away by TLS and VFS staff.

Those applicants who have no access to a scanner or computer can opt for a new Document Scanning Assistance Service at the local Visa Application Centre. However, as this method largely depends on TLS and VFS knowledge and competence, there have been some occasions where supporting documents were not scanned properly resulting in an application being refused due to an error made on TLS or VFS part. We have received the following message from one of our potential clients who applied on her own and failed:

The VFS only scanned about 10% of the documents we provided for proof of income and relationship. On that basis, the visa was denied. Need advisement of how to file an appeal.

There are some countries where the new document scanning service is not yet available. Since the UKVI team in Sheffield is no longer accepting courier packages, the sponsoring British Citizen in the UK can submit all the necessary supporting documents in person at one of the newly opened UK visa application support centres in London, Birmingham, Leicester, Cardiff, Belfast, Manchester, Liverpool, Bradford and Edinburgh. The documents will be scanned and submitted to the UKVI team in Sheffield electronically. Original documents will be handed back to the sponsor at the time of their appointment. Same as with TLS and VFS staff members, it is advisable to carefully observe the authorised personnel at the UK visa application centre as they scan the documents to ensure that they do not miss anything out or overlook any critical documents that are vitally important to the application.

As a result of these recent changes, there are now two active online platforms for submitting UK visa applications which most applicants will find confusing. The visa4uk website that has been operating for almost a decade can still be used to apply for a UK settlement fiancée, partner or spouse visa. However, applicants using this platform may experience difficulties uploading the required supporting documents and/or purchasing additional services such as the UKVI settlement priority service or flexi ‘walk in’ appointment, depending on what country they are in at the time of application. Apart from visa4uk, applicants can now use the brand new online application platform called Access UK. This Home Office platform was recently updated to allow couples to apply for family visas including partner, fiancée and spouse. However, most TLScontact and VFS clerks are not yet familiar with the new platform which has caused great confusion and frustration for visa applicants around the world.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

Home Office confirms significant NHS migrant surcharge increase

7 January 2019

It is no secret that the NHS has been struggling in recent years. They have been burdened by understaffing and a general lack of financial resources to properly accommodate both UK residents and those from abroad. The government, in 2015, introduced a ‘surcharge’ to cover the cost of treating residents who were in the UK on long term visas, including partner and spouse visas. It gave them the same access to NHS services as UK citizens and EU nationals.

The government has recently decided to raise the NHS fee for all visa categories that are longer than six months, including those applying for a UK settlement spouse or unmarried partner visa as well as further leave to remain (FLR) under the five-year partner route. Some have welcomed this move as a boost for the NHS, whereas others have derided what they see as more cost increases in a visa system which is already considered expensive. The timing of the move has left little time for applicants to prepare for the rise in fees. An exact date was not specified for the increase until now, and it is unclear why the government did not provide full transparency.

The changes come into effect from 8 January 2018. The immigration health surcharge will increase from £200 to £400 a year. For families, it affects every applicant as all dependents usually pay the same rate as the main applicant. This could considerably increase the total cost of a UK spousal or partner visa application. People on visitor visas will not be affected by the surcharge changes. They will continue to pay for NHS treatment at the point of access. The health surcharge provides full access to NHS services, but users are still required to pay prescription fees. The increases will not affect residents of the UK (indefinite leave to remain holders or applicants) who will continue to have the same access to NHS services.

Students and those on the youth mobility scheme currently pay a lower charge of £150 per year. This will rise to £300 per year once the changes have been applied. The youth mobility scheme is available for certain students from specific countries, and it allows a stay of up to 24 months within the UK. For overseas students, the charges are still relatively minuscule compared to their total costs.

It is claimed that the rise in costs will allow the NHS to receive a £220M in total funding. In theory, the charges could be directly given back to services throughout the country. However, the reality is more complex, and the nature of the visa process means that the NHS will not immediately receive all of the money. Government visa fees and the NHS itself lending or paying the surcharge makes a realistic projection difficult to obtain.

The changes have been made to better adapt to the rising costs of providing NHS care. Although the rises may seem steep, they still offer a comparatively good deal for residing in the UK. Estimates state that the NHS pays around £470 per person for those eligible to pay for the surcharge. All immigration applications that are longer than six months will be affected by the surcharge. It can be paid online as part of an application or even if the application is made through a visa centre from abroad. Postal FLR applications also require the fee to be paid online; with the reference number being attached to the application before it is sent. It is vital for applicants to check if they are eligible to pay the surcharge and whether they will be affected by the new charges. In general, all applications made after the 8th January will be liable to pay the new rates. If an application was submitted before this date, then it is advisable to check with the home office if an applicant will be able to submit their application under the old rates.

EU residents do not have to pay any surcharge. Britain has not yet left the European Union, and therefore EU residents have full rights to use the NHS service. This could soon change, and EEA nationals living in the UK may face a similar surcharge. It is dependent on the type of deal that the UK can strike with the European Union. Negotiations are ongoing, and the situation continues to be uncertain. We provide updates if there is any news with regards to EU residents and access to the NHS. The current outlook remains unpredictable.

The UK visa immigration health surcharge (IHS) essentially doubles for applicants from the 8th of January. There will be no delays to this increase, and it won’t be phased out to certain groups. It will take effect immediately, which means it is vital to understand if an applicant is required to pay these fees as a part of a visa application. We will provide updates if there are any other changes with the surcharge. The government in recent years has been quick to roll out changes in the immigration process with little prior warning.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

Important procedural changes for FLR and ILR applicants in the UK

2 November 2018

There is a rollout of a new Home Office visa service in the UK from 2 November 2018 onwards. It will affect non-EEA nationals applying for indefinite leave to remain (settlement or ILR), further leave to remain (FLR) including unmarried partners and spouses of British Citizens and legal permanent residents, and those looking to apply for naturalisation. These changes have been introduced by the Home Office to provide a more efficient and effective service which will replace the existing procedure that has been around for over 10 years. The changes will come into effect gradually, although certain applicants will be affected immediately after the rollout.

The UKVI’s front end services are changing to deliver a smoother and more efficient experience. The changes will take affect over the next few weeks. The old system of paper applications will be phased out in favor of online applications. Most UK-based applicants, including those applying for FLR and ILR to settle in the UK with their British partner or spouse will need to make online applications. Effective November 2018, paper leave to remain and settlement applications will no longer be accepted with limited exceptions. The Home Office is going to release an updated paper FLR form for applicants who request a fee waiver. All other applicants are required to use a brand new online application platform launched this month.

The new rollout will also lead to the opening of specialist UKVCAS centres by 30 November 2018. There will be a total of 57 of new visa centres spread around the UK, including one premium lounge which will replace the existing UKVI Premium Service Centres. Six of these will offer appointments for free, whereas the rest will accommodate paid appointments. The new application method will provide the ability to pay both the Home Office and NHS fees online. The completion of the online application process will result in an appointment at a UKVCAS centre. The choice of appointment becomes available to an applicant within five working days.

It is highly advisable to book a UKVCAS appointment as soon as possible. A reminder is sent if an appointment is not attended within 15 days. An application that features family members will require them all to be present at an appointment with the principal applicant. Children under 16 must be accompanied with the designated adult that must be named on the application prior. The new service will not require any supporting evidence to be sent by post. This can be now uploaded online using the new Home Office application platform. Optionally, it is also possible to bring this evidence along to the appointment. It will be handed back to the applicant once the appointment is over, although they may not be able to use it until a decision has been reached.

A usual UKVCAS appointment will consist of recording applicant’s biometric information, submitting any relevant supporting evidence, and having applicant’s identity verified with travel documentation. A UKVCAS staff member will let the applicant know if everything has been properly scanned and submitted to the appropriate UKVI decision-making centre for processing. Applicants will not be able to provide any additional documents later in the process. Therefore, it is vitally important to ensure that the initial FLR or ILR application is complete and accurate.

Anyone who makes an FLR or ILR application before 29 November 2018 will have a choice on whether to use the old or new application method. Applicants can have their biometric information enrolled at a local post office or a Premium Service Centre (PSC). This procedure will be abolished after 29 November 2018. All applicants will be required to attend a UKVCAS appointment in order to get fingerprinted and submit all the necessary supporting documents.

During the period between 29 November 2018 and 8 January 2019, there will only be a limited number of appointments available in the UKVI premium service centres for online customers who are applying for family life leave or private life and choose UKVI’s 24 hour decision service. Therefore, those who are unable to get a premium PSC appointment or use the UKVCAS yet, must consider other submission methods available as a result of these recent changes.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

Applicants in the US no longer required to send documents to Sheffield

1 October 2018

It has been announced that effective October 2018 applicants in the US are no longer required to send original supporting documents to the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) processing centre in Sheffield. The new arrangement will benefit American Citizens and US residents applying for a UK settlement spouse, fiancée or unmarried partner visa to live in the UK.

Since the British Consulates in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York stopped processing settlement visa applications a number of years ago, many applicants have raised genuine concerns over the Home Office requirement to send original documents across the Atlantic. As part of the visa application process, applicants in the US were required to use private couriers in order to submit their most sensitive information, including original passports, financial and accommodation documents to the UKVI centre in Sheffield within five days from the date of their biometric appointment in the US. The Sheffield office would not accept soft copies of any documents as a matter of current Home Office policy despite the fact that applicants in other countries such as Canada, Germany, Brazil and many others have been given access to a new scanning service which does not require sending original documents directly to Sheffield.

The process for applicants in the US came with great risks of hardly obtained original supporting documents, including applicant’s original passport, being lost in transit to the UK. A few of our dearest clients ended up needing to compile the same documents again as their original package was lost on the way to Sheffield. Needless to say, our clients were devastated. Obtaining duplicate copies of bank statements, pay slips, P60s is frustrating and grueling work, not to mention the time it takes to apply for a replacement passport or marriage certificate. It certainly resulted in a lot of unnecessary stress and extra costs that could have been avoided if the UKVI had a more efficient and risk free procedure for applicants in the US.

From October 2018 onwards UK settlement visa applicants in the US will benefit from a brand new improved process. Rather than sending original supporting documents to Sheffield by courier, applicants are now required to submit a marriage, partner or fiancée visa application to the regional UKVI scanning hub in New York City. All documents will be scanned by VFS staff in New York and submitted to the UKVI centre in Sheffield electronically. It is important to ensure that a valid original passport is included in the application package. Applications submitted to the UKVI scanning hub in New York without a passport will be refused. Likewise, incomplete applications with some critical supporting documentation missing are likely to be refused without any reference to the applicant or their British partner or spouse.

The UKVI processing fee (currently £1,523) is non-refundable regardless of the outcome.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

Report: unprecedented changes to the UK immigration rules since 2010

1 September 2018

An exclusive report from the Guardian has revealed the full extent of immigration changes since 2010. It found that an astounding tally of more than 5,700 changes had been made. This has only further complicated the immigration process and it has made the UK visa system a nightmare to navigate. The immigration rules are currently compiled of around 375,000 words which is double the amount it was in 2010. Lord Justice Irwin has referred to these changes “something of a disgrace”. He is not the only one who is calling for a radical change to the system.

The Conservative administration has been largely responsible for these changes. The current prime minister, Theresa May made 1,300 changes in the year 2012 alone when she was foreign home secretary. Amber Rudd who succeeded May also had a similar approach. The new secretary, Sajid Javid made claims about changing this policy but has thus far not differentiated anything substantially. Some changes were introduced at lightning speed. This left no time for checks to be made and little consideration was given to the volume of changes that came. An example of this is a document that was published in 2014 with a total of 22 changes. However, this was replaced by an updated document only three days later which consisted of 250 changes. The total number of changes made since 2010 amounts to almost 600,000 words some of which directly affected partners and spouses of British Citizens. In relative terms that is a huge amount.

One vocal critic of the policy has been immigration and barrister lawyer Colin Yeo who stated that the complexity of the UK immigration rules has meant ordinary citizens are forced to use lawyers. This results in “astronomical” legal fees. He also spoke about how the rules have steadily got rid of any discretion which leaves out the human aspect of decisions and replaces them with a cold computational method. Yeo also stated how the frequency of changes means constantly having to remain up to date. “The changes are often hurried out, which means they can be badly written. They can be very difficult to understand, even for judges and lawyers. We’ve seen a number of errors in drafting that have to be corrected in later versions.”

One particular change that has been noted is the loss of appeal rights in some cases that was introduced in a 2014 Immigration act. It resulted in far less scrutiny to face for the Home Office. Judges are less inclined to look over decisions as a result and this has led to refusal rates skyrocketing since the changes were made. According to the Guardian, refusal rates for migrants applying for UK visas after suffering from domestic violence doubled between the time period of 2012 and 2016. Yeo has been very vocal in his sentiments for a substantial rewrite of the rules.

There has been some traction in making the rulers clearer and easier to understand. The law commission is working on simplifying the rules. A thorough review began in late 2017 and recommendations will be made by the commission on how the rules can be changed. A more transparent, coherent and simple set of rules is urgently required to produce fairer outcomes.

The analysis of these findings has shown that a fair amount of changes in the rules were focused on employment status and earnings in those who were applying to bring their foreign partner or spouse to the UK on a settlement visa. The Home Office have attempted to explain why the need for these vast amount of changes. However, it is clear that the current set of rules are changing far too much and in too short of a time. This has created a situation where there are overly complex rules which make it nearly impossible for an applicant to navigate through. There are encouraging words that give good reason for optimism in the future. It is clear that the commission’s findings will be significant in the shaping a future policy that is more clearer.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) Family Visa Unit under scrutiny

1 June 2018

Since 2015 the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) processing centre in Sheffield has been undertaking caseloads from countries around the world, which were previously handled by the local and regional British Embassies, Consulates and High Commissions with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of normal residence. The first change to the systematic decisions made by the British Embassies and Consulates abroad was when applicants in the US were required to forward their supporting documents to Sheffield followed by Canada and Australia. By 2016 the UKVI team in Sheffield commenced decision-making on UK settlement partner, fiancée and spouse visa applications from the majority of West Africa, Asia and Europe. Most recently Brazil, Chile, Peru and some other countries in South America joined the list as the regional British Consulate in Bogota, Colombia stopped processing settlement partner and spouse visa applications.

Most of the above applications being processed in Sheffield are under the family settlement categories. To be able to process such a significant number of applications, there must exist sufficient administrative staff to log the casework into the system accurately prior to assigning them to caseworkers or decision-makers for them to review each file and accompanying evidence from applicants. They need to ensure that each application has the required documentation, note the evidence submitted or missing, review the relevant legislation and decide whether the legislation and the evidence and supporting statements are compliant. The applicant’s and sponsor’s financial situation, accommodation, criminal history, previous marital and immigration history also need to be verified respectively before a decision can be made considering the number of applications and countries that the UKVI in Sheffield process within a maximum permitted time frame of 90 working days. The recent reports from both legal and media sources show that there is an ongoing state of negligence within the department which inevitably affect all individuals applying to settle in the UK.

The PCS, which is the Union for Home Office employees, states that the UKVI caseworkers are overworked, poorly trained and understaffed. There have also been reports as indicated in the Guardian news that the Family and Human Rights unit within the UKVI has been in a state of crisis, quote:“staff are trained for a week before beginning to make decisions on cases, with a high turnover of staff leaving and re-joining per day”. Other staff members from various UKVI departments have been commissioned to attend Sheffield to assist them with case files, which due to such a massive influx, and minimal staffing, have been stored in rooms, untouched, just waiting for processing. This corresponds to allegations made by two former Home Office employees who basically stated that caseworkers have been told to kick partner and spousal visa applications into the long grass because it is more profitable to process student visas.

The Law Society has recently reported on the current backlog in the Home Office decision-making department in Sheffield which portrays a bleak situation within the Home Office. Firstly, there are delays in decision-making, some of which have resulted in devastating effects on the couples’ immediate future with costs incurred. Such delays can and have resulted in family members being unable to work because their visa extension has been delayed, which means that some employers have been unwilling to allow the applicant to work until they receive the physical visa or a letter from the already overloaded UKVI confirming the applicant’s application status. As a result, this places families in destitute, and without the means to even travel, some have been unable to visit or bury loved ones abroad, because of a delay in the UKVI processing applications on time. Requesting a passport back from the Home Office means that the whole application is considered withdrawn and needs to be re-submitted from scratch.

The fees charged for the application submission range between £1,033 – £1,523 plus the cost of the UKVI premium service, yet, the fees for the actual processing in house per unit is a mere £252.00. For this extortionate price, applicants are sometimes forced to make a fresh application once receiving a delayed decision or refusal, as they have discovered that on receipt, the UKVI caseworkers have misplaced important supporting documents or misinterpreted the rules and regulations due to the lack of training and experience. The options here are limited to submitting a fresh application and paying the fees again, or lodging an appeal which can take up to 12 – 14 months. We can now see that these decisions are being made by staff under pressure to clear backlogs, sometimes with only a few days training on the job, or being temp/casual staff and not permanent UKVI staff, contracted through employment agencies for a limited time.

Unlike with other public-sector tribunals, where an applicant who may have been refused a specific benefit, can turn to the SSCS, who are separate and apart from the DWP, as part of the court and tribunal services, MoJ, this route means that applicants can be sure to receive a fresh decision from a judge. An applicant who opts for a fresh partner or marriage visa application, however, is simply resubmitting the case and decision to the same UKVI department that made the initial decision, which may place them again in the same situation that they were trying to have reviewed by the UKVI.

Almost 50% of applicants that lodge an appeal have their appeal upheld. Surely then if half are upheld in favour of the applicant, then this is a significantly huge number of cases that have had the law misapplied resulting in the initial refusal. The Law Society for England and Wales has noted that most of their solicitors have confirmed the same delays in the decision-making process and inaccuracies made by the Home Office.

They make the point that the system must be robust, timely and fit for purpose.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

UK partner and marriage visa fees to increase effective 6 April 2018

23 March 2018

The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) have announced that the current visa application fees will be increased at the beginning of April 2018. The UKVI have on many past occasions raised their fees between March and April annually. The new fees have been approved by Parliament and will come into force on 6 April 2018. This means that all individuals applying for a UK de facto partner or marriage visa on or after the above date will be subject to the new visa fees.

The cost of applying for a UK settlement visa from outside the UK, i.e. fiancée, unmarried partner or spouse of a British Citizen or legal permanent resident, will go up from current £1,464 to £1,523 per applicant (£59 increase). Minor dependants under the age of 18 must pay a separate visa application fee, regardless of the outcome of the principal applicant’s immigration application as the UKVI visa processing fees are non-refundable. Unfortunately, there is no option for a refund should the applicant receive an unfavourable decision.

Those who apply for further leave to remain (FLR) to switch or extend their existing partner or spouse visa from within the UK, will have to pay £1,033 (currently £993) for postal applications, or £1,643 (currently £1,583) for applications made in person at the local UKVI Public Enquiry Office (PEO). For indefinite leave to remain (ILR) applicants, the current Home Office fees have had an increase of £92, leaving sole applicants with no dependents a fee of £2,389 for single postal applications and £2,999 for premium PEO applications, respectively.

Those who opt for the same day decision can apply in person. The same day service attracts an additional fee aside from the standard application fees as listed in the categories above. Effective 6 April 2018, the cost of booking a PEO appointment in the UK for FLR and ILR applicants will increase from current £590 to £610 which includes dependent children.

Applicants in certain countries can benefit from additional user pay services, i.e. settlement priority service (10 to 15 day turnaround), walk in without an appointment, keep passport when applying. There has been an increase in these aspects of the application process. The UKVI settlement priority (fast track) service fee is set to increase to £573. As usual, this is the expedited or priority service fee per applicant, including any dependents, regardless of age and aside from the International Healthcare Surcharge (fiancée applications excluded).

Posted in UK marriage visa news

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