The Home Office had put in place some procedural changes that will have a significant impact on all FLR and ILR applicants in the UK. The changes will affect a broad range of applications including family categories under the 5 and 10-year partner route to settlement. The new process will mainly affect non-EEA nationals who are applying for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) and further leave to remain (FLR) as unmarried partners and spouses of British Citizens and legal permanent residents. The Home Office will roll out a new visa service for these applicants from November 2018 onwards.
The primary aim of these changes is to provide a service that better suits the needs of visa applicants. This includes making the existing service more efficient and less time-consuming. The task will not be as simple as the existing system has been in place for over a decade. Therefore, the changes will be gradual so that the system can eventually adapt to the new practices being put into place. The immediate changes will come into effect over the next few weeks. Certain types of applications will be affected immediately whereas others will not see any changes until after a few months. It is therefore critical to understand when the changes will affect you and the direct effect they may have on your application.
The primary branch to be affected by these changes will be the UKVI’s front end services. The changes are designed to make these services run in a smoother manner to provide a far more efficient experience. The main change is the replacement of all paper applications for online applications which are far more efficient. This old system will be phased out within a few weeks. Therefore, most applicants based in the UK, which includes those applying for FLR and ILR (to settle with their partner/spouse) will most likely be required to make online applications. There will be a few exceptions after November 2018 for paper applications. Those who are unable to afford to pay the Home Office application fee may use the old paper form to request a fee waiver.
The procedural changes will be met with the opening of new specialist UKVCAS centres which will begin opening their doors by 30 November 2018. In total there will be around 57 new specialist visa centres in the UK. One of these will be a premium lounge which will replace the current UKVI Premium Service Centres. 6 of the 57 centres will have the option of free appointments, whereas the rest will only be able to accommodate paid appointments at this time.
One key benefit of the new system is that all application fees can now be paid online. This includes the Home Office and NHS fees. Once a new online FLR or ILR application form has been completed, an appointment must be booked at a local UKVCAS centre. It is highly recommended for the applicant to choose the date quickly upon completing the online application form. UKVCAS will send a reminder if an appointment is not attended within 15 days.
Applications with family members require the presence of the principal applicant at the appointment. The application will not be considered unless the applicant is present. Children under 16 must be accompanied by a legal guardian that has been previously named on the oline application form. A key benefit of the new process is that supporting evidence will no longer be required to be sent by post and can instead be submitted online on UKVCAS website. However, it is still possible to bring this evidence to the appointment directly if the applicant has no access to a scanner. The documents will be handed back to the applicant after the appointment has concluded. However, FLR and ILR applicants may not be able to use their passport until a final decision has been reached by the UKVI caseworkers. An applicant may be unable to leave the country whilst their application is being processed.