UKVI announces increased processing times for family applications

1 June 2022

There has been a noticeable increase in processing times for family applications in the past few weeks as UK visas and Immigration (UKVI) is prioritising applications from Ukrainian refugees. As a result, the processing times for all UK partner, fiancée and spouse visa applications submitted from outside the UK are expected to exceed standard 12 weeks from the date the applicant attends an appointment to provide biometrics at the local UK Visa Application Centre. Individual case processing can take up to 24 weeks as the UKVI has decided to temporarily amend marriage and family service standard for family route of 12 weeks. The majority of applications will be processed within 24 weeks, with some being further delayed depending on complexity and other factors. Strong applications well-presented will be approved much faster than ones with some critical information missing.

Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to expedite a UK settlement partner, fiancée or spouse visa application for an additional fee as the UKVI priority service remains suspended until further notice. Those applying for a UK family visa from outside the UK are only able to request standard processing at the moment. All other additional premium services such as ‘Keep My Passport When Applying’ or ‘Premium Appointment’ have been temporarily suspended. All applicants, regardless of nationality and country of application, are subject to the same procedure and processing delays, as the UKVI is working to reduce a backlog of cases that the Decision Making Centres (DCM) are struggling to manage.

The UKVI priority services are currently still available to applicants who are applying for further leave to remain (FLR) and indefinite leave to remain (ILR) from within the UK.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

UK family visa processing amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

25 December 2021

Since February 2020 the world has been all but halted by the global COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has affected all areas of life including international travel and immigration. The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) have maintained the government guidelines within the operational restrictions. Whilst casework remains accessible remotely and within relevant departments, there have been some changes to the application process that have brought many questions and concerns to the fore. However, the Home Office has been very compassionate in the way that they deal with individual applications that have been affected by the travel restrictions, or by those who have had to self-isolate due to the pandemic. The UKVI have set out clear guidelines on their interim procedures in light of the ongoing pandemic. They have been very transparent in confirming that once the correct procedures have been followed, there should be no adverse consequences for individuals who are unable to leave the UK or travel to the UK in order to activate their settlement partner or spouse visa during this pandemic.

Family visa holders and applicants in the UK

It is important to note for family visa applicants in the UK that the pandemic is not seen as an exemption for extending the visa or leave to remain. As usually is the case for leave to remain or settlement applications, these normally must be made within 28 days before the current (long-term) visa is due to expire (the actual submission date may vary depending on whether the initial family visa was issued from inside or outside the UK as well as the date the visa holder first arrived in the UK). Further leave to remain (FLR) and indefinite leave to remain (ILR) applications are considered submitted once the Home Office application fees and their associated IHS payments, if applicable, have been made. Therefore, once the application has been submitted online and paid for within 28 days before the visa is due to expire, it is considered as submitted on time. Once this happens the applicant will be covered by section 3C of the immigration Rules, which means that they can legally remain in the UK while their extension or settlement application is being processed by the UKVI no matter how long the process takes.

Temporary visa holders in the UK

The UKVI have introduced an interim category called ‘exceptional assurance’ for temporary visa holders who are unable to leave the UK due to current border closures and associated travel restrictions. Anyone who is unable to leave the UK before their temporary visa expires, including visitors, students and work visa holders, may request additional time to stay in the UK to avoid falling out of legal status. Whilst the UKVI have established a specialist COVID-19 response team to handle enquiries on temporary extension applications, it is vital that visa holders take relevant steps to contact them and advise of their circumstances as soon as possible. The UKVI will not contact anyone in the UK with a short-term visa to remind them of the visa expiry date. Due to the high amount of correspondence received at the Home Office we advise that those requesting ‘exceptional assurance’ have their Home office reference number or visa application reference with their date of birth, full name, passport number contact information and date current visa was granted ready for submission to the UKVI COVID-19 response team. This will allow them to access applicant’s immigration status in the UK easily and make the necessary changes. We would also advise to retain additional proof such as confirmation that flights have been cancelled due to COVID-19 and include this in the initial correspondence to the UKVI.

Switching to family visas inside the UK

There has recently been some confusion over the Home Office’s policy on switching to family visas, i.e. unmarried partner or spouse, from within the UK. It has been confirmed that only long-term visa holders, such as workers and students for example, are eligible to apply for further leave to remain under family immigration Rules (Appendix FM) inside the UK. Visitors are not permitted to switch to a family visa as a matter of current Home Office policy. Those who currently hold a valid visitor visa or ‘exceptional assurance’ derived from the visitor visa held previously, are expected to leave the UK and apply for a suitable settlement partner, spouse or fiancée visa in the prescribed manner from outside the UK. There is no exception to the rule.

UK partner and spouse visa holders

Partners and spouses of British Citizens and UK legal permanent residents who have already received a 90-day visa to enter the UK 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, must apply for a replacement 90 day entry clearance vignette once they have made firm travel plans and are ready to book flights. The cost of replacing an expired 90-day vignette is £154 at the moment as the UKVI is no longer able to process replacement applications free of charge. Those who manage to enter the UK on an expired 90-day vignette outside the 90-day window and their settlement visa was not properly activated on arrival as a result, are required to contact the Home Office to vary conditions attached to their visa. Visa holders are not required to leave and re-enter the UK in order to activate their family visa. However, they need to advise the Home Office in writing as soon as possible so that an updated biometric residence permit (BRP) can be issued free of charge.

Fiancée visa holders in the UK

Fiancée and proposed civil partnership visa holders who are currently in the UK can apply to extend their visa if they are unable to get married within the initial six month period due the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Proof that a wedding or civil partnership ceremony has been cancelled or postponed by the Register Office due to COVID-19 will be considered a valid reason under this special provision. The fiancée visa can be extended for further six months.

ILR and FLR holders

Indefinite leave to remain (ILR) holders who are absent from the UK for over two years due to the ongoing pandemic are not subject to any special concessions at the moment. They are expected to apply for a Returning Resident visa from abroad and pay the relevant fee in order to obtain permission to return to the UK. Unlike ILR holders, those who have been unable to return to the UK with activated family visas or biometric residence permit (BRP) cards that expired between 1 March 2020 and 19 July 2021 will face no future adverse immigration consequences. Generally, a short break in continuous residence in the UK (up to six months) will be forgiven as long as they submit their further leave to remain (FLR) application as soon as possible on return. There is no specific timeframe; however, we recommend applying within 5 days of arrival.

Visa process for applicants outside the UK

Most TLS and VFS UK Visa Application Centres (VACs) around the world continue to operate as normal and their operations remain unaffected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with very few exceptions. The UKVI priority service is now available in most locations worldwide. If the local VAC is currently closed due to local restrictions, it is still possible to apply for a UK fiancée, partner or spouse visa apply online and select a VAC in any other country to book a biometrics appointment, which is a mandatory step in the application process. Applicants who are required to take a mandatory English test before they can apply for a UK family visa can claim an exemption on their application form if the local test centre was closed or they could not attend the exam due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and associated travel restrictions.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

Coronavirus COVID-19 update: latest immigration news and changes

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.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

Impact of COVID-19 on £18,600 minimum income threshold and KOL

10 April 2020

An updated Home Office guidance on the UKVI financial requirement is urgently required, as many sponsoring British citizens and permanent residents who have been furloughed or lost their jobs are no longer able to satisfy the financial criteria to sponsor their fiancée, unmarried partner or spouse for a UK settlement visa or leave to remain. Despite the ongoing lockdown resulting in a drastic surge of people losing their jobs or struggling to break into the workforce, the Home Office has yet to release an updated guidance for Appendix FM family applications.

Even those sponsors who are currently furloughed to receive the government funding that covers 80% of their usual wage, up to £2,500 a month, may not be able to meet the minimum income requirement as a result of the pay cut. It remains to be seen how the Home Office will treat sponsors who have been furloughed when assessing their financial situation in order to make a final determination of eligibility to sponsor their partner or spouse for a settlement visa. Obviously, the financial requirement cannot remain the same, i.e. £18,600 per annum for couples with no children, during these unprecedented times. The Home Office policy must be updated to address this issue, as otherwise many couples would be unfairly disqualified on financial grounds.

Life in the UK and English language test requirements and changes

Whilst the IELTS centers have confirmed that they are exercising social distancing in locations that are still open, each applicant should check the British Council website to ensure that their local test center is open. If the test centers are open in your local area and accepting applicants, we would encourage you to use your discretion in maintaining the proper precautions.

For individuals who are required to pass the Life in the UK test in order to settle or naturalise in the UK, the test centers within the UK have suspended all tests until they hopefully reopen on 11 May 2020. As for tests which have already been booked, they will automatically be moved to new dates commencing 12 May 2020. However, it remains unclear at this stage how applicants whose BRPs expire before they are able to take an English or Life in the UK test should proceed, as the new Home Office online application form requires a unique Life in the UK test pass reference number. It is impossible to submit the online form without this piece of information.

UK marriage visa advisers are here to help

We are aware that it can be challenging to contact the UKVI and we are able to assist you in successfully updating your status in the UK. Additionally, due to the preparation required in submitting an entry clearance or FLR/ILR application we can still provide our services in helping our clients prepare all the necessary documents for consideration and submission in advance of restrictions being lifted. In preparing early, this enables us to mitigate any delays or influx of applications once the COVID-19 lockdown ends and the UKVCAS, TLS and VFS offices reopen.

Additionally, we realise that due to the UK government furlough affecting the income of some families and sponsors, we would recommend contacting us well in advance so that we can assist you with new financial categories that will hopefully be announced in the near future. We realise that the 80/20 furlough or worse means that sponsors will be on a tax credit arrangement.

Therefore, we encourage you to contact us now, so we can review the best Appendix FM rules which will now meet your circumstances. We continue to review the UKVI COVID-19 policies and procedures along with UKVCAS to keep our clients well informed of the best step forward.

We are a modern and technologically astute firm which enables us to work remotely during these unprecedented times. This means that we are still able to follow up on the relevant systems to check UKVCAS openings, and passport returns as we are aware that many had intended to submit an entry clearance or further leave to remain application before the COVID-19 crisis.

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COVID-19 pandemic and UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) update

10 April 2020

Since February 2020 the world has been all but halted by the global coronavirus pandemic COVID-19. The pandemic has affected all areas of life including international immigration and travel. The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has maintained the government guidelines within the operational restrictions. Whilst casework remains accessible remotely and within relevant departments, all face to face TLS, VFS and UKVCAS Sopra Steria biometric and document scanning appointments have been cancelled until further notice amid coronavirus concerns.

This disruption to applicants seeking to obtain or extend their UK visa/BRP has brought many questions and concerns to the fore. Fortunately, the UKVI has been very compassionate in the way that they deal with individual applications that have been affected by the current travel restrictions, or by those who have had to self-isolate due to the ongoing pandemic. The UKVI has set out clear guidelines on their interim procedure in light of the pandemic. They have been very transparent in confirming that once the procedures have been followed, as discussed below, remaining in the UK during this pandemic will not result in an adverse immigration history.

Individuals on short-term visas in the UK

Since the lockdown and travel restrictions commenced at the end of February 2020, the UKVI has stated that anyone whose visa was due to expire between 24 January 2020 and 31 May 2020 will be able to extend their visa automatically until 31 May 2020 as long as they intended to leave the UK at the end of their temporary stay, but were unable to do so due to the ongoing pandemic and border closures. Whilst the UKVI has established a specialist COVID-19 team to handle enquiries on an application for the temporary extension, it is vital that steps are taken to contact them and advise as soon as possible. The UKVI will not contact anyone in the UK with a short-term visa. The UKVI can be contacted on: Alternatively, temporary visa holders can use an online form available on the official Home Office website.

Due to the high amount of correspondence received at the Home Office we advise that you provide your Home Office reference number or visa application reference with your date of birth, full name, nationality, passport number, contact information and date your current visa was granted (including the date you last entered the UK) / expired. This will allow the UKVI officials to access your immigration status in the UK easily and make the necessary changes.

The Home Office will send you an email to confirm your email address. It is vital that you check your emails regularly and take action indicated in Home Office correspondence. Once your email has been confirmed, the UKVI should respond within five working days. To ensure that you have proof of applying for an extension as well as to assist you in remembering what you put in the form, we would advise that you take a screenshot or print out the application submission and retain it with your passport and onward travel ticket. If you have contacted your travel provider and they have sent you confirmation that your flights have been cancelled due to COVID-19, we would also advise you to retain this and include this in your correspondence to the UKVI.

According to the UKVI, temporary visitors whose visas/leave to remain expire before 31 May 2020, may be eligible to switch to a long-term UK visa until 31 May 2020. This includes applications that would normally need to be made from the applicant’s home country. The Home Office has not yet released any further information on this special provision; however, we assume that it directly applies to visitors switching to the partner/spouse visa route, which is normally not allowed as a matter of general policy. The Home Office announcement implies that anyone who entered the UK as a visitor on or before 30 November 2019 may be eligible to apply for further leave to remain (FLR) under the 5 or 10-year partner route to settlement in the UK.

Individuals on settlement or long-term routes in the UK

If you are in the UK on a long term visa/BRP that is due to expire and you intend to remain in the UK in the settlement (including partner routes) or points based system categories, it is important that the pandemic is not seen as an exemption for applying for leave to remain. Partner and spouse visa holders cannot us the same channel described above to extend their stay in the UK, as the UKVI COVID-19 team only deals with temporary visa holders at the moment. Despite the ongoing lockdown, they must still submit their FLR or ILR application in a timely manner.

Visa applications are considered submitted once the visa application fees and associated IHS payments have been made. Therefore, once the application has been submitted online and paid for within the prescribed timeframe, the FLR or ILR application is considered as submitted on time. Once this happens the applicant will be covered by section 3C of the immigration rules, which means that they can legally stay in the UK while their application is being processed.

As biometrics bookings and document uploads are processed via the UKVCAS site, it is important to note that there are no bookings available and all services are currently suspended until further notice. Essentially, this means that you can still create an account on the UKVCAS site and upload your documents, but biometric bookings cannot be made at this time. However, it is not a matter of concern once an online further leave to remain (FLR) or indefinite leave to remain (ILR) application has been paid for and submitted on the Home Office website. The UKVCAS normally allows 60 calendar days to book and attend an appointment after submitting an online application. This grace period should be extended if the lockdown remains in place.

Applicants outside of the UK

Individuals who had applied for entry clearance from abroad before the lockdown commenced must continue to wait for the decision on their application. At present the Home Office has stated that individuals who are unable to attend a biometrics appointment due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be contacted by the department once restrictions have been removed. No application will be adversely affected due to the pandemic, if appointments cannot be attended.

The UKVI has advised individuals who have compelling or compassionate circumstances to contact their local TLS or VFS centre, if they have an approved UK visa which has not been collected as they may be granted a visa waiver or “authority to carry” such applicants. Whilst there are no concessions for individuals who have entry clearance but cannot travel to the UK, an extension of the 30-day entry visa can be requested on the official Home Office website. The fee for this is £169.00 and it will extend the initial visa/entry clearance for another 30-day period.

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Posted in UK marriage visa news

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 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

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