In November 2018 UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) introduced major changes to the way immigration applications submitted in the UK are processed.
This included a move to online applications and removing the requirement to provide original documents. The front-end service was outsourced to Sopra Steria.
There have been some issues with the new process since its roll-out:
- Lack of visibility of appointments – appointment availability is only visible once the application form has been submitted online.
- Appointment availability at centres – there is a real shortage of free appointments. Despite the Home Office stating that a free appointment would be guaranteed within 5 working days of submitting the online form, the wait for a free appointment is at least 2 weeks or more. Applicants usually need to pay to secure an appointment more quickly - which means paying an additional fee of £85 to £150 for the privilege of an earlier appointment.
- Cumbersome document scanning process – removing the requirement to submit original documents (apart from passports which still need to originals) appeared to be a sensible development. Applicants can now opt to either scan and upload documents ahead of their biometric appointment or pay an additional fee to have their documents uploaded on their behalf at the appointment.
However, applicants so far have found the self-scanning time-consuming (especially for applications with lots of supporting documentation) and confusing as it’s not clear into which file each document should be uploaded and it’s also not possible to view what has already been uploaded.
We have often found that it can be easier for applicants to pay for the scanning service – however, this involves another additional fee of around £50.
Biometric Residents Permits (BRPs) – delivery and expiry dates
In recent months there have also been delays in the delivery of Biometric Residence Permits once the immigration application has been decided. The BRP is the credit card size permit that is issued to an individual as evidence of their immigration leave in the UK.
Individuals should receive the BRP within 7 to 10 working days from the date their immigration application has been approved. However, in recent months, it is sometimes taking 15 working days or longer for the BRPs to come through.
The Home Office has outsourced the contracts for the production and delivery of BRPs. Each of these contracts is held by different providers and the Home Office has acknowledged that it has received an unprecedented number of complaints about delays.
Another development is in relation to the expiry dates on BRPs. Due to technical legal reasons, BRPs are being issued with an expiry date of 31 December 2024. This means that if an individual is today granted 5 years leave under Tier 2 (General) to work for a UK employer, they will not receive a BRP showing that their Tier 2 (General) leave will expire in February 2025. Instead, they will be issued with a BRP valid until 31 December 2024.
The Home Office has stated that these individuals will be able to have their current BRPs replaced free of charge and the remainder of the leave period initially expected will be issued on the new BRP. However, this will require the individual to action this before their current BRP expires.
The aim of the new system was to have a more streamlined and efficient application process. Whilst the published processing times for the super priority service (for a decision within 24 hours of attending an appointment) and the priority service (for a decision within 5 working days of attending an appointment) are now being met, the overall process is undermined by the lack of appointments.
We, therefore, recommend factoring in additional time for any applications as an appointment may not be available quickly, even when paying the fee to book an earlier slot.
Once an application has been decided, the Biometric Residence Permit should be received within 7 to 10 working days. Given the delays in delivery in some cases, we also strongly recommend that individuals do not make any firm travel plans outside of the UK until they receive their new Biometric Residence Permit.
Expiry dates on Biometric Residence Permits for Tier 2 applicants will also need to be closely checked going forward as individuals may need to have their existing Biometric Residence Permit replaced in future with the remainder of their leave. In practice, this will also mean that employers will need to carry out repeat right to work checks once the replacement Biometric Residence Permit has been issued.