It's a Visa Application Service - but not as we know it ...
OCTOBER 2018 UPDATE: We now have a dedicated web page on the new visa application process, including latest Home Office information
The Home Office have released details of a completely new Visa Application Process
The Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes (pictured), has recently announced significant changes to the visa application submission process.
From October 2018, the process of submitting immigration applications within the UK will be outsourced to Sopra Steria Group SA, one of the largest IT consultancies in Europe.
The statement, published on gov.uk on the 17th May 2018, advises that this will “deliver a new service for people applying for a work or study visa, settlement or citizenship from within the UK”.
Please note, this is still a developing story - one we will be keeping a close eye on at White Rose Visas. But here is what we know so far, and why it matters to you …
Comparing Visa Application Routes
At the moment applicants have a choice of how to submit their visa applications inside the UK. The current choice is to use the postal service, premium service or, for payment of a not insignificant additional sum, the super premium service.
For all of these services, an application form must be completed, biometrics given (fingerprints and a digital photo) and supporting documents provided. A Home Office caseworker will then assess the application and decide whether a visa should be issued, or the application refused. There are pros and cons to using each of the current services, but we like the element of choice open to clients at the moment.
Let’s take an FLR(M) - otherwise known as a Spouse - application and see how this will compare with the new service.
Who Are Sopra Steria?
Sopra Steria Group SA were established in September 2014 through a merger of Sopra Group SA (est 1968) and Groupe Steria SCA (est 1969). They operate in more than 20 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa, with an annual revenue of €3,845 billion (£3,363 billion) in 2017. They are based in Annecy, France, and have a work force of 41,661 (6,700 of which are based in the UK).
The Home Office do not have the best track record of handing over major contracts to private firms. Let’s not forget the £350 million wasted on a substandard IT system back in 2014 - see this Telegraph article for more details, or the e-Borders debacle in 2010 - further details available at Electronic Immigration Network. We have concerns over the timescale for implementing such major changes to the current system and doubt that everything will be in place by the autumn.
What Do We Know So Far?
The major changes announced by Caroline Nokes include:
- Applicants using the service will be able to submit biometric information including photos, fingerprints, and signatures, alongside any supporting evidence, all at a single appointment
- The new service will deliver a more streamlined application process from over 60 locations across the UK, including 56 local libraries
- Applicants can choose to upload digital files in advance of their appointment
In his article, Nicolas Rollason suggests that Premium Service Centre (PSC) appointments at Home Office offices around the country will be scrapped, along with Tier 2 priority postal services. However, it is likely that the service will remain available for certain “vulnerable” applications and asylum applicants.
Caroline Nokes states that “the new streamlined service will make the visa application process quicker and easier to access than ever before for people in the UK, through increasing the use of digital services” and that the UKVI Service Centres will “continue to offer appointments for anyone who needs a face to face interview with a caseworker.”
Simon Magava, Immigration Adviser at White Rose Visas, comments:
“Our concern is that the implementation of this new process will remove direct access to caseworkers - the decision makers at the Home Office - which is sometimes vital in ensuring the correct decision is made. On many occasions, we’ve talked to caseworkers face to face about issues relating to our clients’ cases, and been able to straighten out misunderstandings which would have resulted in an incorrect refusal.”
“This is why we advise certain clients to use the premium service centre appointment process: when we’ve evaluated that an application is too complex to be sent via a postal application.”
“It is true that the Home Office suggest that those who ‘need’ face to face interviews with a caseworker will still be allowed them, but what is worrying is that a large percentage of applicants may be denied access to the caseworker (decision maker). Furthermore, under the new system, who does and does not have access to the caseworker will be something that the Home Office, not the applicant, has the power to decide.”
Looking on the Bright Side …
The motivation behind the new application system is that the changes will bring a better service for clients. The 60 new locations (which have yet to be released but are set to include 56 libraries) will mean that applicants can choose to submit their data in a wide variety of locations. Applicants will not have to hand over important documents, such as passports, whilst applications are being processed.
The move has potentially positive implications for local communities. The service is believed to be in partnership with the Society of Chief Librarians and could be an essential lifeline in the battle to save closing libraries around the country.
Being able to upload supporting documents prior to the appointment should ensure that the caseworker has everything needed to make a swift decision on an application. This may also solve the issue of the Home Office insisting on the provision of hard copies of documents - an unrealistic expectation in this digital age.
If the system works well, this should mean that decisions are made by caseworkers within a few days, as they would have all evidence needed to assess an application immediately - however we note that Ms Nokes makes no mention of faster decision times within her statement.
There is still uncertainty as to whether Sopra Steria will offer a 24 hour service, similar to the current Premium Service. If they do, this is certain to attract a healthy additional fee.
White Rose Visas will continue to monitor all announcements relating to the new visa application process, and will publish updated information as soon as we know more.