One of the most common questions asked by visa applicants in the UK is whether they can travel out of the country whilst their immigration applications are pending.
This question has grown more urgent for applicants in recent times as the combination of Covid and the UK’s departure from the EU has led to delays in visa processing times.
On 6 October 2021 the Government’s immigration rules are changing, make the answer to this question clear – but unfortunately not in the way that most applicants would wish.
The new rules confirm that if an in-UK applicant for leave to remain or settlement travels outside the Common Travel Area (the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland) whilst their application is pending, the application will be treated as withdrawn.
This means that applicants will effectively be trapped in the UK from the date their application is submitted – whether online, by app, or post – until a decision is made. That is, unless they are prepared to withdraw and then subsequently re-submit their application. However, this is only an option in some cases. Depending on the type of application and the applicants circumstances they may no longer be legally able to re-enter the UK and submit a new application once they have left.
Are there any exceptions to the bar on travelling outside the UK?
There are some categories of application where travelling outside the UK will not cause an application to be withdrawn.
Applicants for naturalisation as a British citizen can still travel outside of the Common Travel Area whilst their application for naturalisation is processing, as long as they continue to have the intention of settling in the UK.
Applications to the EU Settlement Scheme will not be treated as withdrawn if the applicant travels outside the UK whilst the application is pending. However late applicants and those with a Family Permit which has now expired may face issues re-entering the UK. Advice should be sought before booking a trip outside the UK.
So how can you speed up a decision?
Most UK applications for leave to remain take 8 weeks to be processed, with applications for settlement being processed in 6 months. That is a long time to commit to remaining in the UK, especially for applicants who need to travel for work, or who have family overseas.
The Priority Service options that the Home Office offers can reduce these times considerably – to 5 working days or even to next day processing. However applicants need to be careful as these services are not available for every type of application, and certain applications offer one of the priority options but not both.
Where priority services are on offer they can seem prohibitively expensive, particularly where there are dependants applying at the same time. For example, a family of four applying for settlement under the UK Ancestry route will face the decision of whether to commit to being unable to leave the UK for 6 months, or pay nearly £4,000 for next day processing of their applications, as only Standard or Super Priority services are available for this route. Where an application has to be withdrawn and re-submitted the costs may end up being even higher.
How Gherson can assist
Before submitting any application for leave or settlement in the UK, applicants need to consider their travel needs carefully, and make sure they fully understand what their options are in terms of speeding up applications, and what constraints they will face – on both travel and re-application.
The General Immigration Team at Gherson has a wealth of experience in handling immigration matters and would be delighted to hear from you if you require assistance, send us an e-mail, or alternatively, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn to stay-up-to-date.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.