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.

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