Can I switch my visa in the UK because of Coronavirus?

European flags fluttering in the wind: we provide advice to EU citizens on permanent residence cards

The short answer is yes. At present there are a number of visa applications which must ordinarily be made from the applicant’s home country, regardless of whether the applicant has existing leave in the UK. Given the current climate many people are likely to find this difficult to impossible, due to the widespread travel disruption and amount of countries on lockdown.

Thankfully the Home Office has indicated that due to these ‘unique’ circumstances that it will allow in country applications for those ‘applying to stay in the UK long-term’, whose current visas run out before 31/05/2020. This would mean applicants in this position would no longer have to return to their home countries’ in order to apply. It is also possible to extend your visa to 31/05/2020 if you are unable to return to your home country, if it expires before this date. Doing this does not exclude you from being able to apply to switch in country.

As the Home Office has not provided any lists of accepted visa switches or further details we are working under the assumption that any switch to a long term visa, could be made. This would include, but is not limited to:

  • Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme to Tier 2 (general)
  • Tier 2 (dependant) to Tier 2 (general)
  • Visit visa to any long term visa.
  • Visit visa to ancestry visa.
  • Marriage visit visa to any long term visa.

Applications are to be made online and can only be made up until 31/05/2020, although this is up for review and may be further extended if the need should arise. You will still need to pay the same fee and meet all the other requirements of your visa.

This presents a chance for people to save money on an expensive international trip, so if you have been planning to apply for a long term visa, have an expiry date before 31/05/2020, and are already in the UK, now might be a good time to make the switch.

We can help you manage the process of switching in country. Contact us at info@ukvisas.co.uk or on 01403 801 801 to arrange a video consultation.

Coronavirus Latest – Your guide to the 24/03/2020 Home Office Advice

On the 24th of March 2020 the Home Office finally released updated advice for those whose UK visas are affected by Coronavirus. While this guidance is by no means comprehensive, and leaves a lot of questions unanswered it will still be helpful for a number of people. As such I have summarised the questions it has answered below.

What if my leave is expiring but I can’t return to my country?

This is a common problem, and one which the previous update did not address for the vast majority of people. Thankfully the government has said if you are in the UK and your leave expires between 24/01/2020 and 31/05/2020 you will be able to extend your visa if you cannot leave the UK due to travel restrictions or self isolation.

This will be a relief for those dreading the prospect of international travel, as well as for those whose visas may have already expired and who may be anxious about the long term implications of overstaying. This process is not, however, automatic.

The government has set up a Coronavirus Immigration Team who should be contacted to update your records. You will need to provide:

  • Your date of birth
  • Your full name
  • Your nationality
  • Your previous visa reference number
  • The reason you cannot go back to your home country (ie isolation, border closure)

Please note that if flights are running back to your country and you are not in isolation, you may run into trouble as this concession only appears to apply to those who are physically unable to return, not everyone.

 

Do I have to return to my home country to switch my visa?

The Home Office insists, for reasons best known to itself, that a number of visa applications must be made from the applicant’s home country, regardless of whether the applicant has existing leave in the UK. These include switching from Tier 5 to Tier 2, and switching from a Tier 2 dependent visa to a Tier 2 general visa. Given the current climate applicants are likely to find this difficult to impossible.

Thankfully the Home Office has indicated that due to these ‘unique’ circumstances that it will allow in country applications for those ‘applying to stay in the UK long-term’. As the Home Office has not provided any lists of accepted visa switches or further details we are working under the assumption that any switch to a long term visa, such as tier 2, could be made.

Applications are to be made online and can only be made up until 31/05/2020, although this is up for review and may be further extended if the need should arise.

 

I’m outside the UK and the Visa application centre in my country has shut. What should I do?

Unfortunately a number of overseas visa centres are now shut and you will not be able to apply until they re-open. If you already have an appointment and it has been cancelled, you should follow the instructions from your visa centre on what to do next.

English Language Testing Centres are also affected, so you should keep up to date with the IELTS website for information on what to do if your test is cancelled.

If your documents are with a visa centre then you may be able to get them couriered back to you, but you should check with your specific visa centre.

If you are British and need a passport to urgently travel to the UK, you will not be able to apply for this if your country’s visa application centre is shut. You will need to apply for an emergency travel document.

 

I’m a sponsor, what do I need to know?

If you are a Tier 4 sponsor, you should be aware that the government has indicated that in these circumstances it will permit distance learning, which is not normally permissible, where students are overseas but wish to continue studying. There will be no requirement to withdraw sponsorship in this scenario.

Furthermore students who wish to commence a course via distance learning will not need to travel to the UK or be sponsored under Tier 4.

If you are a tier 2 or 5 sponsor, there is a good chance that much of your workforce is suddenly working from home. While you would ordinarily need to report this to the Home Office, if it is as a direct result of the Coronavirus pandemic, you will not need to report this. All other changes of circumstance must be reported as usual.

 

Other questions

There are a number of other questions which remain unanswered, including:

  • Whether those on visas with ‘no recourse to public funds’ will be eligible for wages through the ‘coronavirus job retention scheme’.
  • Whether Tier 2 employees can be ‘furloughed’.
  • How long Tier 2 employees will have to find another sponsor should they be made redundant, or their sponsor go bankrupt.
  • What will happen to people overseas who have been granted visas but now cannot come to the UK within the allowed time frame.

We will let you know as and when answers to these questions become apparent. If you have any other questions, please do let us know in the comments and we will do our best to answer you. You can also contact us at info@ukvisas.co.uk or on 01403 801 801 for a consultation.

Overcoming The Top 4 Reasons For Spouse Visa Refusals

 

Spouse visas are one of the most complex and evidentially demanding visa applications you can make. With rejection rates of up to 25%, make sure you’re not leaving yourself vulnerable to refusal for one of these 4 common reasons.

 

1. Problems evidencing sufficient funds.

While it might sound straightforward to meet the income threshold of £18,600 this is one of the most common reasons a spouse visa might be refused. Even if you earn above the threshold, you must then prove you have been doing so for a minimum of 6 months with the same employer, and if you are self employed you will have to submit a veritable mountain of documentation.

There are some allowances for sponsors claiming certain benefits and it is also possible to sponsor your spouse relying entirely on cash savings (this requires you to have held £62,500 for a minimum of 6 months). These both have separate evidence rules, and if you do not provide sufficient evidence within the rigid evidential guidelines then you can expect a refusal even if you do meet the criteria.

You should also check there are no discrepancies between documents, for example between your payslips and your employer letter, as this can also lead to a refusal.

Evidence you are likely to have to provide includes:

  • Payslips
  • Bank Statements
  • Letters from your employer
  • P60’s
  • Letters from your bank

 

2. Insufficient evidence of a genuine and subsisting relationship

Based solely on the form you would be forgiven for thinking that your marriage certificate would be sufficient evidence of your relationship. A lack of clarity on the part of the Home Office around what exactly constitutes adequate proof of a genuine and subsisting relationship has resulted in many frustrating refusals for genuine couples who had plenty more evidence to provide but did not realise it was necessary.

With regard to evidence a good rule of thumb is more is better, especially where you are living separately and looking to bring your spouse to the UK to join you. If you are not living together at the time of application you need to explain why, and prove you are in a ‘genuine and subsisting’ relationship. Good examples of evidence you can provide include:

  • Printouts of your private messages, with times and dates visible. If these are not in English you must also provide certified translations.
  • Pictures together. Wedding pictures are a given, but you should also provide other pictures from a range of events, holidays and family gatherings.
  • Evidence of shared financial responsibilities. If you live together this will be easy, but if not then consider if there is anything you pay for together.
  • Letters of support from family and friends confirming they know you as a couple and can vouch for your relationship.
  • Records of holidays you took together, including itineraries, hotel bookings and flight bookings which show both your names.
  • Birth certificate for any children you have together (even if they are not applying with you for whatever reason).
  • Evidence of how you keep in touch and maintain your relationship if you are not living in the same country. Evidence of Skype or calls, evidence you visit each other, evidence you buy gifts for each other and evidence of anything else you use to interact with each other is vital.
  • Evidence of cohabitation in line with Home Office guidelines in the form of bills, NHS letters, tenancy agreements and letters from other reputable sources.
  • Evidence you intend to live together if successful, including evidence relating to the property you will be living at including your tenancy agreement.

 

3. Problems meeting the English Language requirements

There are a number of ways applicants can demonstrate they meet the English Language requirements, but it is important to remember that the level differs depending on whether it is your first application in this category, an extension of a previously obtained spouse visa, or indefinite leave to remain. While A1 is sufficient for your first application, only B1 is acceptable for those seeking to make England their permanent home.

If you are lucky enough to have a degree taught in English from a recognised institution this part of the application can be a lot easier, however if it was not taught at a UK university you will have to get a NARIC certification to prove the degree was taught at a level above the specified CEFR level.

If you do not have a degree, then be prepared to have to locate a test centre offering you the chance to sit one of the approved exams. Beware that not all test centres offering IELTs are UKVI approved so you should always check your English test was taken at an approved centre to avoid an eye-watering waste of time and money both in taking the test and submitting an application which does not meet the requirements and is likely to be refused.

 

4. Errors in the application form

This might seem obvious but you should double, triple and quadruple check the application is free from any errors, inconsistencies or typos. Any error could lead to a potential refusal, and it is worth taking the extra time to ensure everything is accurate instead of risking a time consuming and costly refusal which could ultimately result in a black mark on your visa history.

 

 

Due to the complexity of this type of application it is highly recommended you seek expert advice to ensure everything goes smoothly. We have extensive experience with this type of application so please contact us at info@ukvisas.co.uk or on 01403 801 801 to find out how we can help you.

5 common reasons your visit visa might be refused and how to overcome them

 

 

Visit visas are some of the most commonly and seemingly arbitrarily refused visas you can apply for. Here are the 5 top reasons the Home Office might refuse a visit visa and some advice on how to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

1. The Home Office does not believe you will leave at the end of your stay.

This is one of the most common reasons for refusal. The Home Office may have concerns that you are using a visit visa in order to gain access to the UK in order to live. This is of particular concern to individuals from countries in conflict or developing countries who may struggle to convince the Home Office that they have a genuine intention to return despite standards of living in the UK being arguably higher.

You can help assuage the Home Office’s fears by providing evidence proving ties to your own country. This might include:

  • letters from your employer confirming you will be visiting while taking annual leave, as well as confirming the date you will be returning to work.
  • Evidence of dependents or family in your home country for whom you are financially responsible or for whom you are a carer.
  • Showing your level of income, if you earn an above-average amount this may demonstrate a strong incentive to return.
  • Evidence of the activities you are coming to do, including letters of invitation from family and friends, itineraries of tourist activities you intend to take part in and evidence of hotel bookings.

If you can demonstrate you have a good quality of life in your home country, which is likely to be preferable to living as an illegal migrant in the UK with no right to work or study lawfully, then this reduces the chance of having your visa refused for this reason. If you have applied for previous visit visas and stayed longer than you stated you would, even if you didn’t overstay, you should take care to explain this.

 

2. The Home Office is concerned about your poor immigration history or the poor immigration history of your known family in the UK.

When you apply you will be asked if you have any connections to the UK. Whether you are coming to visit family or not, the visa status of any family residing in the UK will be considered alongside yours. If you have family members with a history of poor visa history then the burden of proof will be on you to demonstrate that you are different. Attempts to conceal family members with poor history are inadvisable and if found out will certainly lead to the refusal of your visa and potentially more serious consequences.

The Home Office may contact family members or friends in the UK so it is wise to discuss your application with them beforehand and make sure there are no inconsistencies between the information you give the Home Office and the information they give when questioned. Make sure that they are aware of all facts as they appear on your application to avoid a refusal for an innocent error.

You should also consider adding evidence to your cover letter explaining why you do not want to live in the UK if you have friends and family resident here, as the Home Office may be suspicious that your real intent is to move here to join them.

If you have any poor immigration history of your own you should also be sure to provide a robust explanation and evidence that you have changed and do not intend to repeat this.

 

3. The Home Office is not satisfied you have enough money to fund your stay.

This can be a difficult one because the Home Office does not give an exact figure you must hold in order to satisfy this requirement. Instead they take a holistic approach, taking into account financial responsibilities you have in your home country (rent, mortgage, dependents etc) as well as the length of stay, where you will be staying and what activities you will be doing.

It may be helpful to provide a detailed, costed, itinerary explain what costs you expect to incur and how you will cover them with the funds you hold. If you will be staying with family or friends who are not expecting you to pay then you should provide letters confirming this.

You should provide bank statements showing your funds and that you have held them for a reasonable period of time but be careful to explain any potentially suspect looking deposits, as the Home Office will be suspicious of unexplained money.

3rd parties are also able to provide sponsorship if they have a genuine professional or personal relationship with the applicant and will be legally present at the time the visitor enters, however they may have to provide an undertaking to pay back any public funds the visitor claims.

 

4. The Home Office believes you may intend to do a ‘forbidden’ activity.

There are a number of activities you cannot carry out in the UK while here on a visit visa, and these may be specific to the type of visit visa you apply for. For instance you may get married if you are here on a Marriage visa, but not on any other form of visit visa.

If the Home Office has suspicions that your intentions in coming to the UK fall outside of your category of visa they are likely to refuse it. You should take particular care to demonstrate that you do not intend to work here. If you are here on a Permitted Paid Engagement visa you should ensure the evidence provided clearly shows that the engagement you are here to perform does not fall outside the strict rules governing accepted paid engagements.

Be sure that the category of visa you are applying for matches what you intend to do, and provide evidence and explanations of how your visit will comply with the category-specific rules.

 

5. The Home Office has concerns about the veracity or consistency of evidence provided.

When making a visit visa application the general rule is the more supporting evidence the better, however it is important to ensure that all your evidence is consistent. Here are some common areas to beware of.

  • Make sure your financial evidence lines up. If you have stated your salary elsewhere, make sure your bank statements match your salary. If they do not, provide a robust explanation in your covering letter.
  • Make sure information you have provided in your application can be corroborated by witnesses and be prepared for the Home Office to approach your friends and family. Make sure they will be giving the Home Office information which is wholly consistent with each other as well as other information you have provided.
  • Do not be tempted to gloss over undesirable aspects of your immigration history or any criminal history, or to falsify documents. The use of any deception will result in both the refusal of your visa as well as a 10 year ban. It is not worth the risk.

 

If you would like to apply for a visit visa, it is always best to seek professional help. Contact us for a consultation at info@ukvisas.co.uk or on 01403 801 801.

The New Immigration System and How it Will Affect You

The New Immigration System and How it Will Affect You.

On the 19th of February the government released its plans for immigration from 2021. Find out what impact this could have on you, your business or your students. It should be noted that EU, EEA and Swiss citizens will all remain non-visa nationals, capable of entering for 6 months without a visa under the normal visitor rules.

Changes to the skills based system

Despite the government’s claims to reduce low-skilled migration, they will be lowering both the minimum general salary threshold as well as the minimum necessary RQF skill level. The new rules will apply equally to applicants applying from both inside and outside the EU, although not to EU residents already in the country who have settled or pre-settled status.

The minimum salary will be lowered to £25,600 from £30,000, with the potential to go down to £20,480 if the applicant has strengths awarding them points in other areas (for example working in a shortage occupation or having a relevant PhD). This appears to lead to an counter-intuitive scenario where the stronger the applicant, the less the sponsoring company is required to pay them. It will be interesting to see how the government reconciles this with their pledge to attract the ‘brightest and best’ and to reduce wage undercutting.

The minimum RQF level of the job will be lowered from RQF6 to RQF3, essentially meaning that the required difficulty level of the job to be offered has gone from one equivalent in experience and difficulty to a Bachelor’s degree, to one equivalent in experience and difficult to A-levels. While this does not cover unskilled entry positions, it is still a big shift in the required skill level in order to sponsor an overseas worker.

The Resident Labour Market Test will be abolished along with the cap on the number of people who are able to come to the UK on the skilled-worker route.

The Global Talent Scheme will be opened to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens, allowing highly-skilled scientists and researchers to come to the UK without a job offer. This will also be expanded to be more accessible to those with a background in STEM subjects, although more details on this are not yet available.

The Seasonal Agricultural Visa pilot scheme is due to be quadrupled (from 2,500 to 10,000) as the government recognises this sector is reliant on low-skilled temporary workers to function. This would allow farms to hire workers for a period of up to 6 months, and is intended to ease pressure on the agricultural sector during busy harvest months. There is no other current path for unskilled workers to enter the UK, which does little to reassure employers in other sectors heavily reliant on unskilled or low-paid workers, including care-work, hospitality and construction.

International Students and Graduates

This appears to be largely similar to its current form however there are a few differences. Most obviously the student routes will now be open to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens.

Secondly and perhaps most excitingly for those hoping to study in the UK and work here afterwards, a new immigration route will be opening in 2021. This will allow graduates who complete their degree from summer 2021 to stay for up to 2 years after the end of their degree to work or look for work. They can work at any RQF skill level during this period but if they wished to convert their visa to a skills-based visa at the end of the 2 years they would presumably need to secure a job offer meeting the minimum salary and RQF levels described above.

What should I do?

If you are an EU citizen in the UK, we strongly advise applying for the settled or pre-settled scheme as soon as possible to secure your right to live and work in the UK next year.

If you are an employer or educational institute considering sponsoring overseas workers or students in the future, we would advise applying for your sponsor license now. We can assist with this process, so call us on 01403 801 801 or emails us at info@ukvisas.co.uk to arrange a consultation.

Becoming British – 6 Reasons to Take the Plunge

So you have indefinite leave to remain? 6 reasons why you should consider taking the citizenship plunge.

 

With the hurdle of indefinite leave to remain cleared it might seem tempting to consider yourself done with the difficulties of visa applications. There are, however, a number of good reasons which make it well worth the effort to take the final step and secure your immigration status as a British Citizen.

 

  • No need to worry about changing immigration laws.

With immigration law constantly changing and a climate of uncertainty around Brexit, British Citizenship can give you the security and peace of mind you need with a lifelong right to reside in the UK.

 

  • British Citizenship is for life, Indefinite Leave to Remain can be lost.

Indefinite leave to remain can be lost if you’re away for more than 2 years and it is at the discretion of the Home Office whether they choose to grant a returning resident visa. British Citizens can travel and live in other countries safe in the knowledge that they will always be able to return to the UK.

 

  • Benefit from visa free travel to more countries if your existing nationality does not provide this.

The British passport, at the time of writing, allows visa free travel to 184 countries and ranks 8th in terms of travel freedom. Depending on your existing nationality you may be able to visit many other countries much more easily. If anything should happen while you’re abroad, you can enjoy peace of mind knowing you will have access to hundreds of UK embassies and consulates all over the world.

 

  • Participate in elections and referendums

Only British Citizens are able to participate in elections and referendums. If you live in the UK you deserve a voice in important matters which directly affect you. Being on the electoral roll may also improve your credit. Unfortunately you cannot participate unless you have British Citizenship.

 

  • Wider array of jobs available in sensitive areas

Many sensitive jobs in both the public and private sector are only open to British Citizens. This includes the ability to stand for office if you’re interested in getting into politics. British Citizenship can open up a variety of new career opportunities!

 

  • Pass on your citizenship to your children.

Secure your children’s future in the UK by passing your citizenship to them. This guarantees them full access to all of the social and economic benefits associated with British Citizenship.

 

Anybody considering applying for citizenship or wondering if they are eligible should contact our team of experts for a consultation on 01403 801 801 or at info@ukvisas.co.uk.

No Automatic Deportation After Brexit

“No Automatic Deportation After Brexit”

This has been the latest revelation from Boris Johnson regarding the settlement of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit. On the face of it this seems like a very positive message to EU citizens concerned about their future in the UK after Brexit, but let’s examine what it really means for EU migrants and their employers.

 

Does this mean people who fail to apply for settled status by the deadline will be allowed to stay after all?

In short, unlikely. The government has indicated that in order to avoid deportation after missing the deadline, EU migrants must ‘give grounds for why it was not possible to apply in the timeline, if no valid reason is given then the valid immigration rules will be applied.’ It is not clear exactly what the government would regard as a ‘valid reason’ but it is likely to be a difficult threshold to meet given that applicants have got until 30 June 2021 to apply and they have been able to apply since 30th of March 2019.

This would suggest that an applicant would need to provide evidence of a compelling impediment to application which spanned over 2 years. It is unlikely many people would be able to satisfy this criteria. While the wording of ‘valid immigration rules will be applied’ deliberately avoids the term ‘removal’, it is clear that this may be the fate of those who fail to apply in time.

 

Can those who have not yet applied for settled status continue to work in the UK now we have left the EU?

Yes. While a survey by the grassroots organisation ‘the3million’ indicates that 1 in 10 EU citizens have already been asked to provide evidence of their settled status, this is not a legal requirement. EU citizens may continue to work without applying for settled status throughout the transition period. A lack of clarity in government communications has left employers and employees alike confused as to what their duties are, but until the end of the transition period, EU workers can continue to work, although they should still aim to complete the settlement application at their earliest convenience.

 

What kind of proof will people receive of their settled status?

Controversially, the government has elected to provide no physical documentation confirming the settled status of EU migrants. All records will be electronic which the government claims will “future-proof [applicants] rights and is linked to their passport or ID card, replacing physical documents which can get lost, stolen, damaged, tampered with and expire”. 90% of survey participants however indicated they feared discrimination without a form of physical evidence which can be shown to employers, banks or landlords, and would prefer a card.

Maike Bohn, co-founder of the3million has warned that the government is setting itself up for another Windrush crisis by failing to provide physical evidence which applicants may be able to later use to prove their right to live in the UK.

 

We will have to wait to see the full impact of the EU settled scheme, but as always, anybody concerned about their immigration status should contact us on 01403 801 801 or at info@ukvisas.co.uk for a consultation.

Changes to the minimum salary requirements

There have been a few changes to minimum salaries for roles at RQF Level 6 and above.

As is usual at this time of the year the Home Office have made changes to the minimum salary requirements for “New Entrants” – those under 26 or graduates switching in-country – and “Experienced Workers”. However these changes are generally slight, and some have even fallen. Typical examples are:

  • Civil Engineers: NE: £25,700 up to £27,500. EW: £31,600 up to £33,300
  • Quantity Surveyors: NE: £23,400 down to £22,600. EW: £30,400 up to £31,800.
  • IT Project Managers: NE: no change at £31,200. EW: £36,000 up to £39,900
  • Veterinarians: NE:£25,200 up to £27,100. EW £32,300 up to £36,300
  • Sales Accounts and BDM’s: £25,100 up to £26,500. EW: £33,300 up to £34,800

Please note that these figures are based on a 39-hour week. All of the new minimum salary requirements can be found in Appendix J of the Tier 2 immigration rules by going to this link:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/immigration-rules/immigration-rules-appendix-j-codes-of-practice-for-skilled-work

Salary increases to satisfy ILR requirements under question

The Home Office are on the look-out for sudden increases to salaries where these neatly satisfy ILR requirements.

The minimum salary requirement for ILR is currently £35,500 p.a., and this increases again in April to £35,800 p.a. Some employers, whose staff fall under this limit, increase salaries just in time to satisfy the ILR requirement, but the Home Office are now looking more closely at these increases. They may ask to see appraisal records to show how salaries are reviewed and any criteria applied to justify such increases.

So if you employ staff whose salaries fall well under the £35,800 limit, you may wish to consider increasing these in stages over time to avoid these questions being asked.  Needless to say, any increases must be appropriate to the work the sponsored worker is carrying out.

Passport Fee Increase

The Home Office is planning to increase passport fees this year, with postal costing more than online applications.

Currently, a standard adult passport or renewal costs £72.50 regardless of how the application is made.

The fee will rise to £75.50 for online applications and £85 for postal applications.

Charges for children’s passports will go up from £46 currently to £49 online and £58.50 in the post.

The changes are underpinned by new fee-setting powers given to HM Passport Office under the Immigration Act 2016 to give it the resources it needs to process six million applications a year.

The changes have been earmarked to come into effect in just a few weeks.

If they are signed off by Parliament, they will come into force on March 27.

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UK VISAS NO WIN NO FEE PROMISE

We provide a ‘No Win – No Fee’ guarantee for all points-based system visa applications unless expressly stated at the time of appointment. We will guarantee our service for these applications by offering a full refund on our fee should it be unsuccessful.

These guaranteed terms are conditional upon the client being able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Home Office that they have earned the income claimed or that they have the necessary funding in place for maintenance or are fully conversant with their business plan in the case of Tier 1 Entrepreneurs.

It also presumes that neither the applicant nor their dependants have previously come under scrutiny or been under investigation by the Home Office for any immigration matter. In order that we can do our job properly the necessary information and details required should be made available and they must genuine as well as accurate.