New process for in country applications
The in country application process is currently going through a major overhaul. From the beginning of November, the Home Office started gradually introducing changes to the way the applications are being submitted and processed. Various immigration categories are transitioning in accordance with different timescales, but overall most of the in country applications will follow a similar unified process eventually.
Online application forms
Some immigration routes have already been operating online forms for a number of years. The Home Office is now rolling them out for the majority of applications, to include the recent online form for naturalisation as a British citizen. Most of the paper forms are to be withdrawn within the next few months.
Once the transitional period is over, most applicants will need to submit an online application form, which will then provide the facility to pay all applicable fees online, including the biometric enrolment fee. Once this stage is completed, the system would take applicants through to appointment booking.
New application centres and service standards
This is where the system changes significantly. As part of the overhaul, the existing Premium Service Centres are closing down with the last appointments being available to a few specific categories until January 2019, when they will cease to operate completely.
New application centres are being gradually opened around the UK. Essentially, there will be two types of centres operating, UK Visa and Citizenship Application Service (UKVCAS) and Service and Support Centres (SSCs).
UK Visa and Citizenship Application Service (UKVCAS)
UKVCAS centres will accept applications in the majority of the Points Based System routes, most of the settlement routes and some British citizenship applications, amongst few others types of applications.
In total, 57 of UKVCAS centres will open by early December, more specifically:
- 6 core service centres offering free appointments
- 50 enhanced service centres offering charged appointments
- 1 premium lounge
Once the online application is submitted, the applicants will be encouraged to attend appointment at the centre within 5 working days. It will be interesting to see whether appointments will be available within this timeframe.
At the appointment, applicants will submit their biometrics, so there will be no need to attend the Post Office anymore. The supporting documents will be scanned and uploaded electronically, removing the need to send the original documents to the Home Office. This can be done either at the appointment or prior to it, if the applicant has facilities to do so, which is to reduce time spent at the centre. The passport will be checked at the appointment and returned to the applicant straight away in most cases, which improves the process significantly.
There will be a selection of additional services available to purchase from Sopra Steria, the commercial partner of the Home Office running the centres. These will include the next day appointments, mobile service and document scanning.
As part of the online process, the applicants will be able to choose to expedite their application processing by the Home Office by purchasing Priority or Super Priority services, if available for their application type.
Service and Support Centres (SSCs)
These centres will start opening in January 2019 and will provide services to a few specific categories of applicants, including some migrants applying under family routes. There is limited information regarding this service at the moment, but the Home Office pledges to announce more detail later this year.
The application process is to be much more intuitive and transparent in terms of options available for each application, which is a welcomed development. As expected with any major system change, there are some difficulties. Unfortunately, some of the issues seem to be quite severe like difficulties with making payments or booking of appointments.
Also worth emphasising is the fact that, although applicants will hold on to their passports, if they travel outside of the Common Travel Area, their leave to remain or settlement application will be treated as withdrawn.