The Home Office has announced a new service for processing UK work, study and settlement visas along with citizenship applications. The intention is to centralise and improve the efficiency of the process and to digitise it as much as possible. The current system is notoriously complex, with applicants often struggling to secure appointments and then being left without essential personal documents for months.
The biggest change is that scanned copies of original documentation will now be accepted by the Home Office and may be uploaded in advance of appointments, saving time and providing a welcome peace of mind where valuable original documents are concerned.
For the biometric elements, however, such as verification of fingerprints, photographs and signatures, applicants will have to make an appointment at one of 57 new Service Centres. Most applications will be dealt with at seven ‘core’ centres, where self-service biometric kiosks will be introduced. Sopra Steria, a European information technology consultancy and Home Office “partner”, will allocate appointments at these Service Centres according to location and availability. Alternatively, for a fee, appointments will be available at one of fifty ‘local’ centres, which will be located in places such as local libraries. For urgent cases, enhanced user-pay appointments will be available, enabling applications to be made out of office hours and over weekends. A system of same day/next day bookings will also be available.
For added flexibility, pop-up centres will be an option for groups of 10 or more applicants and there will also be a home visit service.
The standard service will aim to provide a decision on the application within 8 weeks of the biometric appointment, whilst the priority services will produce a decision within 10 working days.
The new centres will be introduced between 5 – 29 November and during this period the new and existing systems will operate in tandem. From 29 November, however, all the old Premium Services Centres will be closed. Online services and bookings will be available from 2 November but until December applicants will need to check online which centres are open.
The Home Office intends to offer a number of new services that it hopes will centralise the entire process and make it more efficient. This includes checking documents before submission, translation of original documents and telephone interpreters. As with the enhanced appointments service, they will include ‘user-pay’ add-on services for which the applicant will be charged.
There is renewed focus on support for vulnerable applicants and complex cases. The intention is for vulnerable applicants to be able to meet an experienced UKVI caseworker face to face, although the Home Office has not given any indication as to who would qualify in this category and how many caseworkers will be made available to assist them.
The introduction of these services suggests a desire to move towards a faster and more user-friendly service, but only time will tell whether these changes produce the efficiency to which the Home Office aspires.
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.