Coronavirus Latest – UK Visa Centres Now Closed

As of 29/03/2020 Sopra Steria has closed all its UK visa centres for an unspecified period of time to combat the spread of Covid-19.

What does this mean for me?

If you have already submitted your application and cannot attend an appointment. You will have to wait until the centres re-open and the booking system goes back up in order to book your appointment. Unfortunately your application will not be considered until you have provided your biometrics, so you may face a longer wait than anticipated for a decision to be made.

 

If you have not yet submitted your application for an extension or change of category and your visa is running out, you should still submit your application as normal. Failure to do so may result in you being classed as an overstayer if your visa expires and you have not successfully secured an extension. The same applies to those hoping to switch visa category in country who have not applied for the extension to 31/05/2020. You will not be able to book your appointment, but you will be able to submit and pay any relevant fees as normal, you should also still register with UKVCAS by clicking the ‘book my biometric appointment’ button after submitting your application.

 

If you already booked your appointment but it was cancelled, your appointment will automatically be rebooked for a date approximately 6 weeks ahead. You do not need to do anything, if it is rebooked to a time or location which is not convenient for you, you will be able to cancel and rebook once the booking system is open again.

 

UKVCAS will be making the Home Office aware of all applications and has issued assurances that no application will be negatively affected by Covid-19. This suggests that the normal rules around booking an appointment within 45 days of submission are likely to be extended, however the terms of the extension have yet to be announced.

 

If you are in the process of making an application, have a visa which is due to expire, or are concerned about the impact of Covid-19, please get in touch at info@ukvisas.co.uk or on 01403 801 801 for a consultation.

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.

Life in the UK – Coronavirus and More

If you are an adult between ages 18 – 65 applying for indefinite leave to remain or British Citizenship you are likely to need to take the Life in the UK test. This is separate from any test you may have to take to prove your English ability and is designed to measure your knowledge of UK daily life. How well it accomplishes this goal is up for debate, with much of the test focusing on obscure historical factoids, but nonetheless it is a mandatory requirement. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions with regard to the test.

 

Are Life in the UK tests affected by Coronavirus?

As of March 21st, Life in the UK Test centres will be closed in line with official requirements of the UK Government until 13 April 2020 as a precautionary measure against coronavirus (COVID-19).

If you have booked a test to take place during this period, your test booking will be rescheduled automatically to a date after 13 April 2020.

If you are booking a new test, test dates are still available from 13 April 2020.

There is currently no guidance published by the government on what to do if you require Life in the UK to make a visa application and your current visa is due to expire before you will be able to take a test. If this applies to you, you should contact the Coronavirus helpline and explain your situation.

 

How should I book the test?

You should book the test on the government website be wary of booking through a third party or on any other website as they may not be legitimate. You will need:

  • An email address
  • A debit or credit card
  • An accepted form of ID (such as a passport or BRP)

There are over 30 test centres in the UK to choose from and the fee will be £50. You must book at least 3 days in advance.

 

What will the test be on?

The test will be on the contents of the official handbook for the Life in the UK test. It will be 45 minutes long and you will have to answer 24 multiple choice questions.

The pass mark is 75% and it is a pass/fail test. If you pass you will be given a unique reference number which you will need to make note of and add to your visa application form.

 

What if I fail?

If you fail you can take the test again, although you will have to wait 7 days. There is no limit on the number of times you can attempt the test, so if you aim to take it well in advance of the date you intend to make your application you will have plenty of time to have as many attempts as you need if the worst happens. These will not be free though, so it’s advisable to do plenty of revision so you can pass first time!

 

If you are interested in applying for ILR or British Citizenship, we can help with these applications and many others. Contact us at info@ukvisas.co.uk

Coronavirus – Your Questions Answered

With a climate of extreme uncertainty around international movement and migration we have endeavoured to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about visas and Coronavirus (Covid-19) below:

Will UK Visas be affected?

We have no plans to close or reduce our hours at present, and we are all set up to be able to work from home should the need arise. Even if we do end up having to work from home, one of our colleagues will be able to come to the office each day to collect any BRPs or documents arriving by post and ensure they are dealt with appropriately.

We will still be available via phone and email as normal and we are working hard to support any of our clients who are having problems with their visas related to Coronavirus. Please be assured we will continue to be available as normal throughout this difficult time, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 

I have an upcoming biometric appointment, will it still go ahead?

Some visa centres around the world are currently closed and this list is constantly changing and updating, so you should check on either the VFS or TLS website (whichever is operating in your country of application) to check if your centre will still be open and what the most up to date guidance is.

For applicants in the USA standard UK visa service has currently been suspended until at least April 1st. Applicants for UK Visas are instructed to visit the Uk Visas and Immigration website for updated information, although at present no updated information is available. In the interim, VFS PAC locations across the US (bar SFO and Seattle) currently remain open for business and walk-in fees will be waived by VFS for customers seeking service.

For in country applications the current guidance from Sopra Steria is that you should not attend your appointment if you have Coronavirus or Coronavirus symptoms. In this scenario you should email ukvas@soprasteria.com with COVID-19 and your UAN in the subject line, and the details of your appointment in the body of the email. You will then receive a refund.

At the time of writing (23/03/2020) these UK sites have been shut as the government has shut all libraries. Applicants attending an appointment at one of these sites will have their appointment re-booked and the government has issued a statement that nobody will be negatively affected by this.

If you have symptoms, or have Coronavirus, after your appointment, you should email admin.ukvas@soprasteria.com with ‘COVID-19’ and your UAN in the subject and details of your appointment.

I am required to switch my visa out of country, but am worried about international travel, are there any provisions?

In short no, not unless you are a Chinese national switching from Tier 2 ICT to Tier 2 general with a visa expiry date before the 30th of March (if you are, there is guidance available here. The government has made no other provisions for switching in country, so at the time of writing anybody hoping to switch, for example from Tier 5 to Tier 2, will be forced to make a trip to their home country and take their chances on being able to re-enter.

There are also no provisions in place for people who are unable to leave the UK due to travel restrictions and as a result overstay their visas, although they may be able to plead that this was due to circumstances ‘out of their control’.

 

I am due to come to the UK after making a successful out of country application, but am unable to travel. Can I delay my entry date or start date?

If you are entering as a Tier 2 migrant the government has made no provision to allow people to delay the start date on their CoS more than the currently permitted 28 days. This means that you could potentially push your start date back 28 days, then apply for a new vignette which would allow you to enter up to 2 weeks after the start date on your CoS, ultimately allowing you a 6 week extension on your start date.

We can help with this process on 1403 801 801 or at info@ukvisas.co.uk so please get in touch if you are interested in delaying your entry date. Please note that it is not currently possible to delay beyond this point without cancelling your application and making a new one. We are also able to assist with this process should you need to delay your entry beyond the 6 weeks available through the above method.

 

I need to take IELTs or Life in the UK for my visa or citizenship application. Are these tests still going ahead?

Some centres for IELTs are closed. An up to date list is available by country here. Unfortunately there are currently no government provisions on what to do if you need to pass a test for your visa, but are unable to sit a test as test centres are closed. We will update you as soon as any further information is available. If your appointment is cancelled you should seek guidance on what to do when you are contacted about the cancellation. If this is unsuccessful, you should try to rebook for an open centre if possible.

Currently Life in the UK tests appear to be going ahead as normal, but this may be subject to change in the future.

 

With so much uncertainty, we would always advise you take professional advice on any issues you relating to your visa. If you are concerned about the impact of Coronavirus on your visa or your employees’ visas, or wish to get help with any aspect of the application process, please contact us at info@ukvisas.co.uk or on 01403 801 801 for a consultation.

Government to Freeze Tier 2 ILR Salary Threshold

After this week’s unpleasant news of a steep increase in the Immigration Health Surcharge, the government’s announcement that the salary requirements for Tier 2 ILR will not be rising to the planned £36,200 in April comes as a welcome relief. This is in line with the MAC recommendations discussed here, which indicated the planned raise would be unsustainable across many sectors and represented an unrealistic level of pay increase. This risks resulting in preferential treatment of foreign nationals over their UK-born counterparts. The threshold will therefore be remaining at £35,800 until further notice.

The question is whether this will be enough. With the government planning to lower their salary threshold for Tier 2 (General) to as low as £20,480 in some cases from January 2021, this would require migrant workers to secure a pay rise of at least £15,320 within 6 years of starting the role in order to be eligible for ILR. It is not possible to extend Tier 2 beyond 6 years in order to allow migrants more time to reach the required threshold. There is therefore a risk of employers taking a ‘revolving door’ approach to foreign labour, sending their employees home at the end of their 6 year period and bringing in new, cheaper labour to avoid having to pay salaries way above the average ‘going rate’ for the sector.

If you have any questions about ILR for yourself or for your employees please don’t hesitate to get in touch at info@ukvisas.co.uk or on 01403 801 801

Migrants to be Charged £624 a Year to Use the NHS They Help to Support

On Tuesday 11th of March Rishi Sunak unveiled the new Conservative budget which included, among other things, a steep hike from £500 to £624 per year for the Immigration Health Surcharge payable by foreign migrants on temporary visas in the UK (up from £300 to £470 for students). This means the rate will now have more than tripled since its inception in 2015.

The government had promised to prop up our struggling NHS but with cuts to National Insurance many of us were left wondering where they intended to find the money. It is apparent now that foreign nationals, including those coming here to work for the NHS will be made to foot the bill for years of underfunding and an aging British population.

From January 2021 EU nationals coming to the UK will also have to pay, securing the government with an amount of capital from migrant workers which vastly outweighs the amount the average migrant costs the NHS (studies suggest that migrants to the UK use the NHS significantly less than UK born residents of the same age and gender).  These workers also pay tax and national insurance at the same rate as UK-born workers meaning they are essentially being charged twice to use the same service.

The NHS is the pride and joy of the UK and protecting it was always key to election victory. There is a certain irony then in the way that the recent hike in the Immigration Health Surcharge will penalise the overseas NHS workers who allow it to function. In a time when we have staff shortages in a number of healthcare roles including nursing and care workers, it is difficult to see how these sectors, which tend to have lower salaries and less money to spare, will be able to absorb the cost. As Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair at the British Medical Association says, “The government says it wants to make it easier for international staff to come to work in the health service – they are doing the exact opposite by penalising overseas healthcare workers by charging them to use the very service they are contributing their skills to”.

This shameless profiteering will drive away foreign workers who make valuable contributions to the economy and our public services, at a time when we are already reeling with worsening staff shortages as a result of Brexit. It is also noteworthy that despite this being billed as a way to bolster the NHS, the 1.5 billion pounds the Conservatives aim to raise with this fee hike has not been ring-fenced for the NHS, and can in fact be used for other projects. This rather defeats the stated objective of this charge as making sure people ‘put in what they get out’ when using the NHS. If the money is not guaranteed for NHS use then selling it as a charge to support the NHS in order to gain public support, while then using it to remedy other areas suffering from chronic underfunding, is a betrayal of the public’s trust.

The hike also reduces the appeal of the UK to other international professionals and undermines the Prime Minister’s message that the UK is ‘open for business’. Who would choose to do business in a country that not only chooses to charge some of the highest visa fees in the world but also charges £624 a year on top of tax and national insurance for a service which should be budgeted to be sustainable based on tax and national insurance contributions.

In the words of Caitlin Boswell Jones, project officer at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants “This is double taxation on migrants, who already contribute more in taxes than they take out, and many of whom are the backbone of the NHS itself.”

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.

Coronavirus Chaos – What to do if it affects your visa

With coronavirus (or Covid-19 as it has now been officially named) continuing to cause serious disruption to travel in and out of China, the government has released a set of guidelines. The government recognises that people who ordinarily reside in China but cannot return are not to blame and are not intentionally breaching the terms of their visa.

What should I do if my visa is expiring?

If your visa expires between 24/01/2020 and 30/03/2020 your visa will automatically be extended to 31/03/2020. You will not get a new document to confirm this but it will be recorded on UKVIs systems. You will be subject to the same immigration conditions as your last visa. If you are here on a work visa, you may continue to work for example. If you require a status letter or new BRP  to confirm this you can contact a dedicated coronavirus helpline.

This extension applies automatically to Chinese nationals, but if you are normally resident in China and can demonstrate this then you may also be able to contact the hotline for an extension, but this will not be applied automatically.

What should I do if I am switching visas but need to return to China to make an out of country application?

If you are switching into a Tier 2 Category which would ordinarily require you to return to China to apply, and your current visa has an expiry date between 24/01/2020 and 30/03/2020 you can apply to switch from within the UK. You still need to meet all other requirements and this is a temporary measure.

What should I do if my passport is stuck at a Visa Application Centre in China?

As the application centres are all currently closed in China, you may be able to apply for an emergency travel document if you are British and urgently need to travel. If it is not urgent, the government has promised to prioritise the return of documents as soon as the visa application centres are re-opened.

If you are Chinese or from a third country you should contact either Chinese authorities or your own consular representative in China.

Do I need to report it to the Home Office or withdraw sponsorship if my Tier 4, 2 or 5 employees or students are absent because of coronavirus?

If you are happy that the absence is due to coronavirus and you have authorised it you do not need to report this. You also do not need to withdraw sponsorship if your student is absent for more than 60 days or your employee is absent without pay for more than 4 weeks. The Home Office have indicated they will not take compliance actions against students or employees who are unable to attend because of coronavirus, or against sponsors for authorising these absences. The Home Office recognises exceptional circumstances beyond the control of either the sponsor or the employee/student.

If you have any further queries about how coronavirus might impact you, the government has also set up a free dedicated helpline at 0800 678 1767 and an email at CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk.

For any other immigration queries, please contact us on 01403 801 801 or at info@ukvisas.co.uk.

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.

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.

MAC recommendations – Tier 2 overhaul, revolutionary or recycling?

 

The Migration Advisory Committee has released an extensive report on the Points-Based System and Salary Thresholds. This was commissioned by the Government in July and September of last year.

If you’re wondering how the system might affect you, or your employees, then read on for a brief introduction to the new system as imagined by the MAC.

 

What might change?

The 278-page report advises against a full-scale ‘Australian-style’ points-based system. Instead, it recommends retaining the existing Tier 2 structure with an addition of lower skill-level jobs and a lower salary threshold from the current £30,000 per year.

  • Foreign nationals hoping to come to the UK may now be able to do so without a job offer if they score high enough on the points system.
  • The report recommends the existing tier 2 system remain in place, with a salary threshold, as a route for migrants with a job offer. They do however recommend that this route be expanded to include medium skilled workers.
  • Potentially the threshold for migrants settling under the tier 2 route may be paused and the requirements for settlement reviewed to increase flexibility. This is due to concerns that required pay progression is too steep for settlement.
  • There may be greater flexibility in the salary thresholds for those that come to the UK as full-time workers then transition to part time after having a child.
  • Overhaul the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route and re-design it is using a points-based system but add safeguards to prevent abuse.
  • Introduce a separate pilot visa for ‘remote’ parts of the UK, which could include a lower salary threshold exemption.
  • Review the Shortage Occupation List after the new immigration system is introduced

 

Factors like age, education, work experience and English language ability are likely to be taken into account. It is not yet clear how the government will weight each factor.

 

What about the income threshold?

Until now foreign workers looking to come to the UK to work must have a job offer paying more than £30,000. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) however has just recommended that this be dropped to £25,600 in order to boost recruitment of skilled NHS staff and teachers who are unlikely to meet the current threshold.

The current system is a complex mix of occupation specific thresholds relating to average earnings in a specific sector, worker experience, and a general threshold. The MAC indicated this could be profitably improved by having new entrant rates at 70% of the experienced rate, and using national pay scales to calculate thresholds in sectors like education and the NHS.

They also recommend that differences in average pay across regions should not be taken into account, with one threshold for the entirety of the UK, citing concerns that lower thresholds in certain parts of the UK risk ‘institutionalising’ some parts of the UK as ‘lower wage’, as well as adding unnecessary complexity.

While some stakeholders would prefer no threshold aside from the minimum wage, the MAC justifies the continued wage threshold by arguing that it prevents the undercutting of the labour market (i.e. employing migrants because they are cheaper than British nationals), ensures migrants are making net positive contributions and makes sure that policy supports the current government’s “ambition to make the UK a high wage, high skill, high productivity economy”.

Concerns that sectors such as social care will still fail to meet this lower threshold and may suffer staffing shortages have been dismissed, claiming “the root cause of the problems there is the failure to offer competitive terms and conditions”.

 

We will watch with bated breath to see if these recommendations actually result in any material changes in immigration policy. As we have said  before, the introduction of the “Australian” points based system was never anything ground-breaking, so it will be interesting to see how the current government works to implement these MAC recommendations.

In the meantime, if you have any queries or concerns relating to your visa or the visas of your employees, you should contact us on 01403 801 801 or at info@ukvisas.co.uk for a consultation.

Boris to review earning thresholds for migrant workers

While one of the current government’s selling points has been its pledge to crack down on immigration and to reduce the overall number of people coming to the UK, it has chosen to review the income threshold of 30K which prospective workers would have to meet in order to enter the UK. Let’s explore what this means in practice:

What’s the current system?

The current system for non-EU workers to come to the UK to work requires applicants to meet several stringent conditions. Applicants must currently meet an income threshold, although this varies based on the vocation, as well as the age and experience of the applicant. Applicants must also demonstrate a good knowledge of English.

Companies hoping to employ migrant workers from outside of the EEA also have to prove that they have not been able to find anyone within the UK or the EEA capable of doing the job unless the job is on the shortage occupation list. There is also a cap on the number of workers who can enter if they are not filling a position in a shortage occupation.

What’s Boris proposing?

Boris wants to replace the current system with a more holistic points-based system under which income would be taken into account alongside English ability, occupation, and qualification.  Each contributing factor would be assigned points, and the point total used to decide on whether the person would be a benefit to the UK.

What will change?

Critics of the current system argue that the income cap severely restricts the ability of industries which employ workers who are skilled but not particularly well-paid to fill positions. This includes the NHS, farm-workers and other industries which currently rely on EU workers to do low paid but skilled or crucial work.

Boris has pledged to cut ‘unskilled’ immigration but has not set out exactly who he will class as an ‘unskilled’ worker. This raises concern over the ability of organisations reliant on EU labour, such as care homes, to recruit enough staff, should their staff not be considered ‘skilled’ workers.

Hopefully, the removal of the wage cap will make the UK more appealing to skilled workers in low-paying industries to contribute to the UK economy, as well as mitigating some of the potential labour shortages as a result of Brexit.

What does this mean for me?

If you are a migrant worker or a company hoping to employ migrant workers and you want to find out more about how this might affect you, the team at UK visas can help.

Contact us now to arrange a free consultation and find out how we can support you.

Renewing CoS allocations for this Financial Year

Many of you will be getting a monthly e-mail from the UKVI sponsor team reminding you to request your CoS allocation for next year.

 

This won’t be received by those clients on Auto Renewal (about half of you) whose new CoS allocation for 2020/2021 will show up on the SMS on 6 April automatically – go to sponsor summary and scroll down to Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (ICT) CoS and the new number available will be shown – this is usually equal to the number issued last year.  If you didn’t issue any, or may need more this year, then we can always request additional CoS for you.

 

Those receiving e-mails will not be on automatic renewal, and so we will put in a basic request for you, similar in number to those issued this year, which may well be 0.  If you may need any, or any more, next year, we can always request additional CoS for you.  We need to provide detailed reasons why eg: the vacancy details and/or candidate details, major recruitment drive, etc..

 

Remember of course that for all out-of-country allocations we still have to request restricted CoS on a role-by-role basis at the monthly panel.

Promise of a temporary two-year extension for EU migrants to be scrapped

 

According to recent reports No 10 is preparing to shut the door on EU migrants two years earlier than expected – so by the end of this year.

 

This move puts the Government on a collision course with business groups such as the CBI who insist that firms will need “at least two years to adapt to any new immigration system”.

 

We would recommend that any clients who employ EU migrants currently, or plan to do so this calendar year, check that those staff have applied for and been granted the new “pre-settled” or “settled status”.

 

Unfortunately UKVI does not issue BRP cards to these people, but they can go to this link: https://www.gov.uk/view-prove-immigration-status to verify this. We would recommend that employers ask for a screen-grab or scan of the verification to place on their HR file.

 

 

New “Australian style” immigration policy

There is actually nothing new about the UK adopting an Australian style points-based system – we have this already.

 

The UK introduced the PBS (points-based system) in November 2008, with five tiers:  Tier 1 for highly skilled migrants, who were allowed to be self-employed or work for any business; Tier 2 for skilled migrants who had to be sponsored by their employer so needed a Certificate of Sponsorship; Tier 3 for lower managerial and blue collar/agricultural workers (this has never been opened up); Tier 5 for temporary workers and, finally, Tier 4 for students.

 

Steadily over the intervening 12 years or so, rules and conditions have been tightened up to the point that now Tier 1 is limited to a few exceptionally talented, or rich, individuals, whilst Tier 2, the arena in which we work together with you, the businesses that power this country, is restricted to highly skilled workers who, apart from a few exceptions, have to earn at least £30,000 p.a and are restricted in numbers from entering the UK.

 

There are a couple of recent changes which suggest there may be light at the end of the tunnel: nurses and doctors are excluded from the 20,000 annual cap and the list of shortage occupations has been increased significantly so reducing the number of resident labour market tests that need to be carried out and speeding entry for those candidates.

With the publishing of the MAC report today it is good to see that the new “Australian style” PBS Tier 2 (General) is envisaged to apply to both EEA and non-EEA citizens and to be expanded to medium-skill jobs with the cap and Resident Labour Market Test abolished and a simplified process introduced. It is proposed that the minimum salary levels will fall in line with this to £25,600 for experienced workers and £17,920 for new entrants.

 

 

 

How will the Conservatives’ election win affect the UK immigration system?

Conservative

As we reach the end of 2019, we approach not only a new year and a new decade, but also a new era for the United Kingdom’s international status. Now that Boris Johnson has firmly established his government’s control, we can expect Brexit negotiations to be finalised soon, with the Prime Minister targeting withdrawal from the EU on January 31st 2020.

What does this mean for the future of the country’s immigration system? As part of their election manifesto, the Conservatives laid out plans for what they claimed were revolutionary changes to the current system, including a new NHS visa and an Australian points-based process. But how much of this was really new, and how much was just electioneering? Let’s take a look at what we know so far.

 

NHS visa

 

During her speech in the House of Commons, which signalled the start of the Parliamentary year, the Queen revealed part of her government’s immigration plans to support the NHS: “A new visa will ensure qualified doctors, nurses and health professionals have fast-track entry to the United Kingdom.”

Boris Johnson went into more detail on these plans back on the campaign trail in November. The changes he mentioned included:

  • The application cost of a visa for medical professionals would be reduced from £928 to £464
  • A decision on the application would be guaranteed within two weeks
  • The minimum salary requirement of £30,000 for skilled migrants seeking five-year visas will be scrapped

However, dig deeper and these plans start to look less like a radical overhaul of the current system and more like tinkering around the edges.

For one thing, NHS doctors and nurses are already on the shortage occupation list and pay £464 for their visas, so this is misleading information unless Johnson meant it will be a £464 fixed fee for both a three-year and a five-year visa (a five-year visa is currently £928).

For another, visas on standard service are decided within 15 working days, and for an extra £220 overseas applicants will get the decision in five working days. Therefore, the Conservatives’ target of a two-week delivery is only five working days less than the current timeframe, which, as this article mentions, isn’t guaranteed as it is.

Therefore, in terms of real change, this really just leaves the scrapping of the £30,000 salary threshold for health professionals applying for a five-year visa.

This is certainly a welcome change. With an ongoing skills shortage continuing to impact the NHS, reducing the threshold will make it easier to recruit nurses and other health professionals on lower wages from outside the UK. And with their stated intention to also remove the cap on the number of migrant health professionals allowed into the country each year, it should help health services to recruit for much-needed positions.

 

Australian points-based system

 

“A modern, fair, points-based immigration system will welcome skilled workers from across the world to contribute to the United Kingdom’s economy, communities and public services.”

This statement of intent, also from the Queen’s Speech, is another part of the government’s claims to initiate radical reform of the UK’s immigration system, but, as with those made around the NHS visa, there is little new here to impress the well-informed.

We already have a points-based system for non-EU nationals. This was introduced in 2008 and was itself based on the Australian points-based system but has, over the past decade, become frustrated by complexity and increasingly stringent rules.

As visa and immigration advisors working with UK immigration policy on a daily basis, we’re the first to welcome change if it addresses the difficulties inherent in the current system. The UK needs a points-based model that meets our industry needs. However, while it is early days for this government, so far the changes to the UK immigration system they’ve set out seem to be focused more on satisfying their voter base rather than bringing about the changes necessary for industry.

As ever, we will be keeping a close eye on events and ensuring that we remain up-to-date and compliant with any changes to UK immigration policy. As this article shows, it’s a complicated business fraught with pitfalls, which is why we always recommend soliciting the support of an expert. Our team is available to provide advice and assistance to businesses and individuals – contact us now to arrange a free consultation.

Return of Post-Study work visas confirmed by HM Government

International students will be allowed to stay in the UK for two years after graduating, reviving the Tier 1 (Post-study) visa that was shelved by the Home Office back in 2012.  Almost 400,000 Tier 1 PSW visas were granted in each of the five year between 2008 and 2012.

Effective from the 2020/21 university intake, those who enrol on undergraduate, postgraduate or PhD courses in the UK will be able to stay in the country to work or look for work for two years after they graduate.

However, unlike the route which closed in 2012, this new route will also include safeguards to ensure only genuine, credible students are eligible.  Previously the post-study route allowed students to find any job, regardless of the skills required.

This announcement follows the creation of a new fast-track visa route for scientists and the removal of the limit on PHD students moving into the skilled work visa route, which collectively aim to cement the UK as a science superpower and a world-leader in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) sector.

There are over 450,000 foreign students in the UK, generating £20 billion per year through education exports, and research shows that they tend to earn considerably more than their UK counterparts once they leave university.

However, the four months “extra time” currently granted to Tier 4 students forces many to leave the UK as they do not have sufficient time or cannot demand a high enough salary to qualify for a sponsored Tier 2 work visa.

Dependant on the restrictions placed on eligibility, this additional two years should prove extremely popular and help make the UK education system more attractive to overseas students once again.

UK labour: new Shortage Occupation List proposals

According to the Office for National Statistics, the first quarter of 2019 saw the number of EU nationals employed in Britain hit an all-time high of almost 2.4 million. Despite ongoing uncertainty surrounding Brexit, UK businesses have continued to invest in recruitment, creating 100,000 new jobs in the first three months of the year, and EU nationals have helped them to fill those positions. However, impending changes to immigration rules are almost certain to affect this trend and create challenges for UK recruiters.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, as of October 31st, EU nationals are likely to become subject to the same restrictions other overseas nationalities currently face when seeking employment in Britain. This means UK businesses who wish to continue employing EU workers post-Brexit are likely to need to hold a valid sponsor licence, and ensure sponsored applicants obtain a valid working visa.

The additional complexity of the recruitment process could lead to UK employers experiencing difficulties in filling vacancies. However, one measure that seeks to avoid this situation is the recent update to the Shortage Occupation List (SOL).

The list defines occupations that are especially under-recruited, and therefore subject to exceptions from immigration employment laws. In anticipation of the possible impact Brexit could have for UK recruiters, the government engaged the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to review the SOL for the first time since 2013. Published in May 2019, the proposed list includes the additions of such diverse occupations as veterinarians, web designers, and secondary school teachers.

Employers recruiting for roles on the SOL can benefit from the following advantages:

  • No need to pass the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT), which shows an attempt has been made to recruit domestically. This makes a saving for employers in terms of vacancy advertising and recruitment time
  • These jobs are automatically granted a high level of points in the visa system, so a migrant cannot be turned down for sponsorship, even if the annual cap on the Tier 2 scheme has been reached
  • The job does not need to meet the minimum salary threshold required for settlement after five years
  • Visa application fees are lower if the occupation is on the SOL, making it more attractive to foreign applicants and their dependants

If you are involved in recruitment and want to find out more about how Brexit and the changes to the SOL may affect the process, the team at UK Visas can help.

Contact us now to arrange a free consultation and find out how we can support your organisation in recruiting from outside the UK.

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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.