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

Mandatory NHS immigration health surcharge for partners to double

7 February 2018

The immigration healthcare surcharge (IHS) was first introduced in April 2015 with the view to provide the NHS with more funds to assist them in the provision of medical services to those seeking to settle in the UK in addition to the British public who also use the NHS. This fee applies to the main applicant and any dependent children. It is also irrespective of whether the applicant or their sponsor in the UK holds individual private healthcare insurance or joint family private insurance. The fee is still a mandatory requirement as part of the visa application.

Prior to April 2015 applicants were not required to pay any fees to use the National Health Service in the UK. The initial fee for applicants submitting an entry clearance application from outside the UK was £600, which is £200 for each year of the visa duration. Those who were applying for further leave to remain from within the UK were required to pay £500. Only members of specific countries such as Australia and New Zealand were initially exempt from paying the IHS fee, but they were later added to the list and are now required to pay the mandatory NHS surcharge as part of their visa application. The NHS surcharge does not apply to fiancées of British Citizens and UK legal permanent residents as well as family members of EEA nationals living and working in the UK as qualified persons.

The UK government has announced plans to increase the mandatory NHS fee for applicants seeking to live in the UK for more than six months. The new proposed fee stands at £400 per year, as opposed to the current £200 per year per applicant. Those seeking to apply for a visa in other longer-term categories such as students and those on Tier 5 visas will expect to pay around £300 as opposed to the £150 previously required.

This change may be acceptable for a couple with no dependant children, but for a family of four, five or more seeking to reunite and finally enjoy their lives together in the UK, the new NHS fee will be between £2,000 to £5000. This is in addition to the UKVI immigration application fees which currently stand at £1,464 per applicant for entry clearance, the travel tickets to the UK, transportation to the visa application centre and fees to either expedite the visa application (currently £551 per applicant), or courier original supporting documents to the UKVI processing centre in Sheffield for example. We can only imagine the financial burden this will place on many families, those who may just meet the minimum income threshold through employment, self-employment, or who may apply with savings alone.

Unfortunately, the NHS and Home Office fees cannot be paid in instalments or once the applicant arrives in the UK and begins working so that they can contribute to the NHS fee. This is a mandatory fee which must be paid when submitting a UK partner or spouse visa application to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). Failure to make this payment means that either the application can be refused, or that one cannot proceed pass the printing of an appointment confirmation due to the automatic redirection to the NHS payment website.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

New UKVI scanning service introduced for some participating countries

12 November 2017

The scanning service was first introduced in early 2017 to aid both efficiency and ease of processing for UK visa applications, including settlement partner, fiancée and spouse visas. Due to the UKVI decision making centre in Sheffield undertaking the application processing of more countries directly, creating a new scanning service allows the UKVI to improve their efficiency and meeting the processing time frames. Reducing the number of paper applications sent to Sheffield directly by post essentially means that the vast majority of applications will be mandatorily scanned and submitted electronically. Although well intentioned, the new scanning service has resulted in an increasing number of settlement applications being refused due to clerical errors made by VFS and TLS staff around the world.

What is the UKVI scanning service?

The new UKVI scanning service enables the applicant to have their supporting documents scanned and submitted to the UKVI decision making centre in Sheffield electronically. This service is provided for a fee, or without charge depending on the country of application. For example, if applying from the Philippines, there will be a fee payable to use the scanning service at the Visa Application Centres (VAC) in Manila and Cebu. However, if applying from Albania or Canada the new scanning service is provided without charge. For some countries where scanning is mandatory, there will be no extra fee for this service.

Once the documents have been scanned and submitted to the DMC (decision making centre) in Sheffield by VFS or TLS staff at the local UK Visa Application Centre, the applicant will be able to take their important original supporting documents back home. Therefore, there is no need to send any original documents to Sheffield by post. The applicant’s passport will be retained by the Visa Application Centre in the country of application.

Those who chose to use the new UKVI scanning service will need to take the original supporting documents to their biometric appointment at the relevant Visa Application Centre in the country of their residence. The VFS or TLS staff will scan the documents onsite and return them to the applicant. All documents presented must be legible, not crumpled and no smaller than A4 in size. Items which are smaller than A4 should always be copied onto another A4 sheet of paper to ensure the evidence meets the requirements. Staples and paper clips must be removed before submission, which allows the documents to be scanned quickly by the VFS or TLS clerks, reducing the waiting time at the VAC. We always encourage our clients to make a copy of all the documents submitted. This means that the duplicate copy of the application is always retained by the applicant or their sponsor.

Risks involved

The scanning service proves to be reassuring to applicants who prefer to keep their original documents due to sentimental or other reasons. However, as this method is not error free, there have been some situations where the scanning service resulted in the examining entry clearance officer (ECO) in Sheffield overlooking submitted supporting documents resulting in an application being refused. This is a recent example of some of the negative sides to the scanning process, as explained by a UKVI scanning service user:

“They have refused our application as Danni is not British?? We have his British Passport there with us and took photocopies of it, that were included in the paperwork? We are completely bewildered. We of course presented Danni passport which the lady in Dusseldorf scanned. She said they didn’t need to retain his passport as it would be sent ‘electronically’ to the UK. What a shambles! It seems like half our documents haven’t been properly scanned and forwarded to the UK. The refusal is based on “It is not accepted that your sponsor is a British citizen as claimed. This is because you have not provided any evidence that he is a British citizen and holds a UK Passport. We drove 8 hours to present his passport!! I am trying to contact the TLS Dusseldorf office, but you can’t ring them, only an only “Feedback and Complaints’ screen. I have tried typing into that three times and it when I hit ‘save’ it just blanks the fields again. Useless! We are going crazy!! I don’t know if you can contact Sheffield or TLS Dusselfdorf?? and ask what happened to our documents?

In this situation it is always wise to carefully observe the clerk at the UK Visa Application Centre as they scan the application to ensure that they do not miss anything out or overlook any documents that are vitally important to the application. While it is nerve wracking flagging up a potential oversight with visa officials on the spot, we would always encourage our clients to do so, as it minimises the distress caused if the application is refused due to “failure to submit appropriate documents or evidence”, which was in fact submitted at the Visa Application Centre, but overlooked by the VFS or TLS clerks.

As the supporting documents are all scanned at the Visa Application Centre on the day of the appointment, there is no opportunity for the sponsor to forward any additional documents to Sheffield from the UK. The sponsor must ensure all of the supporting documents are sent to the applicant in good time, as they cannot re-submit any documents at a later date. In addition to this, documents cannot be scanned and submitted to the DMC in Sheffield from any other location except from at the Visa Application Centre with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of normal residence.

As the UKVI has recently increased the number of countries which they directly process applications from, the list of countries that will be required to post or scan their applications into the UKVI may change over the next few months, and we will continually advise our clients of such changes to enable them to prepare their applications in the correct format for the decision making centre in Sheffield. In those countries where the scanning service is not mandatory yet, we encourage our clients to submit original supporting documents to Sheffield by courier thereby minimising the risk of refusal due to a clerical error on VFS or TLS side.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

New ways to meet the financial requirements as of 10 August 2017

24 July 2017

It has been exactly five years and two weeks since the UKVI introduced life shattering legislation requiring British citizens and permanent residents seeking to sponsor their spouse, fiancée, unmarried partner and their dependent children for a UK settlement visa to meet the financial requirement. The minimum income threshold was set at £18,600 per annum for couples with no children. If the sponsoring British citizen and their foreign partner or spouse have a dependent child the threshold rises to £22,400. An additional £2,400 is added for any subsequent child.

The result of the 9th July 2012 legislation meant heartache for families who did not meet the mandatory income requirements. Thousands of settlement visa applications have been placed on hold since February 2017 following a Supreme Court judgment, and some applications did not even reach the entry clearance officers desk, due to not meeting the current immigration rules. Especially hard hit were sponsors employed in the northern and southern areas of the UK, outside of London, where the pay gap was unbearable and unfairly placed such sponsors with the decision to move to another country with their foreign spouse.

Even with a starting salary under the threshold with a promise of it rising after probation or a years’ service, would still mean thousands of potential applications likely to be refused on financial grounds. Self-employed sponsors knowing that they would have an influx of clients and could demonstrate they would meet the income threshold, based on upcoming contracts, still would not have a chance of being considered as this would not reflect the accurate income at the time of submission. As a result, literally thousands of families have been separated due to the UKVI financial requirements without the hope of being able to use Article 8 as a defence. However, the new immigration rules of August 2017 stand to give many families hope again.

Support from third parties

On a review of the original Appendix FM (financial requirement) the rules stated that third party financial support would not be accepted. However, the new rules as of 10 August 2017 indicate that in certain exceptional circumstances third party support will be accepted in some cases.

The UKVI will be accepting the following in support of an application:

  1. a credible guarantee of sustainable financial support to the applicant or their partner from a third party. This can be a family member or close friend who can support the applicant
  2. Whether there is enough evidence to assure the UKVI caseworker that there will be no change to either the financial assistance available to the applicant and their partner; and
  3. The relationship between the applicant/sponsor and the third part is not likely to change

Discussing this aspect, the third party, such as a family member or friend, will have to provide verifiable documentary evidence that they are able to support the applicant in the UK and this can take the form of an affidavit which is witnessed / notarised with evidence of the financial support available, e.g. salaried employment or savings. They also need to provide evidence of their financial situation to allow the UKVI entry clearance officer to assess whether the guaranteed financial support will be available to the applicant and sponsor throughout the duration of their settlement visa or further leave to remain (FLR).

Therefore, if a third party promises to provide support, provides an undertaking and financial evidence of support, and yet their employment is only fixed term for six months, then it is highly unlikely that this would be accepted, because the financial support should be available to the sponsor and applicant for the period of the limited leave applied for, i.e. 30 months for a spouse / partner settlement visa or further leave to remain (FLR), if applied from within the UK.

The relationship held between the couple applying for the visa and the third party is another important aspect. If the relationship is that of a parent and child, supportive relationship whereby they have always helped each other and there is also evidence of this, then this relationship is unlikely to change. This should be taken into account when relying on third party support.

Perspective employment of self-employment income

The previous immigration rules indicated that the sponsoring British citizen or permanent resident had to be with their employer for six-months or more at a salary of £18,600 per annum. If the sponsor had recently started new employment they must have a letter from the new employer confirming the income amount and have evidence of earning £18,000 within the last 12 months prior to application. The rules now indicate that the UKVI will consider the following:

  1. credible prospective earnings from the sustainable employment or self-employment of the applicant or their partner; or
  2. any other credible and reliable source of income or funds for the applicant or their partner, which is available to them at the date of application or which will become available to them during the period of limited leave applied for.

The new rules indicate that prospective employment or self-employment will now be accepted IF a formal offer of employment has been made, or there is evidence that within three months of the applicant arriving in the UK, self-employment or employment for the sponsor will commence. Unlike in the previous rules, self-employed sponsors can now provide a signed or draft contract for the provision of services or franchise which is on headed paper of the company that the self-employed person will be providing services for. These all contribute to supporting evidence showing that the income will be available and can be relied upon.

The new rules only act as an exception to be considered if the application at first glance does not meet the £18,600 requirement based on self-employment or employment categories directly without considering future earnings or third party assistance. The income requirement has not been dropped, it remains at £18,600 but allows that with assistance from the sources above, the requirements are met, or that if under the UKVI minimum income threshold requirement.

Mortgages as a source of income

Considering the fact that the new legislation is based on exceptions and that the income requirement is still the same, should the application not meet the required financial threshold, it may be possible to rely on income or funds from other acceptable sources such as residential or commercial mortgage. In order to facilitate a UK visa application without hard cash savings available or the relevant income, a sponsor may decide to purchase a property with a mortgage amount or loan to value slightly higher than the sale price of the property in question.

With the loan to value being slightly higher than the property sale price (and after the deposit is applied) will, on application of the mortgage by the lender, permit the sponsor to have extra cash available to meet the shortfall of the income requirements. Subject to the mortgage being provided by a lender that is the FSA equivalent regulated, as such and that with the exceeding loan to value, the mortgage payments are still reasonably affordable by the mortgage applicant for the duration of the limited leave to remain applied for, this additional source of income may be considered by the UKVI caseworkers when making a final determination of eligibility.

Considerations of the HRA 8 and children

The UKVI now must consider that there are some situations where an offshore parent of a child in the UK would be disadvantaged by the decision to refuse the application based on the income requirement not being met. A prime example of this is where parents in the UK must raise their child without the assistance of family or grandparents, and must work because the other parent may not have a UK visa. The parent in the UK obtains employment to care for themselves and the child, but because of not having the support of grandparents or assistance with school runs, school holiday cover etc., it is only practical for the main caregiving parent to resort to lower paying part-time jobs to enable them to care for the child. This automatically affects the possibility of never meeting the income requirement that would enable the offshore parent to come to the UK, and share the financial responsibilities.

This approach was often ignored by the UKVI. However, this story is played out repeatedly, as it is so common, the new legislation considered this. Therefore, it now covers article 8 consideration and such exceptional circumstances, that as in the above a refusal would deprive the rights of a child under 18 by invoking harsh consequences on that child or partner. It will now become mandatory for the UKVI caseworkers to consider the interest of any child under 18.

Access to Public funds

There are also two situations where some benefits will be considered with the employment income as a base figure. The circumstances permitted are if (1) a parent who has a low income is claiming certain benefits, and there are compelling reasons involving the welfare of a child, or (2) where an application meets the grounds for destitution under section 95 the Immigration Act.

Duration of leave to remain when applying under the new rules

It is vital to note that where such exemption applications are made as indicated above. The applicant will be placed on a 120-month route (10 years) to settlement (ILR/Naturalisation), if during this time the sponsor/ applicant meet the income requirement without the four exceptions above, then the applicant can revert to being on the 60-month rout (5 year route to settlement).

This legislation is to be enacted from the 10th August 2017. In the meantime, while we wait for the final areas of the new legislation to be refined as indicated in the statement of changes, we welcome your questions on the upcoming changes. Please complete the online assessment form on the right hand side if you wish to discuss your case with one of our UK marriage visa consultants. We aim to respond within 24 hours excluding weekends and bank holidays.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

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