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.