There have been important changes to the UK visa application process affecting applicants in the US. It has been confirmed that from October 2018 the requirement to send original supporting documents to the UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) processing centre located in Sheffield will be abolished. It will be replaced by a brand new system which has been designed to benefit US Citizens and legal permanent residents applying for a UK settlement fiancée, spouse or de facto partner visa to reside in the UK. The new procedure will remove a lot of stress that many applicants in the US have experienced through the previous process.
The issue over the role of original supporting documents initially arose as the regional British Consulates in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York stopped processing settlement visa applications in the US. This has forced applicants to apply directly through the UKVI processing centre in Sheffield. The requirement to provide original supporting documents meant that anyone applying for a UK partner, marriage or spousal visa from the US was forced to send extremely valuable and sensitive documents across the Atlantic. The application process itself demanded applicants in the US to use a private courier which can be substantially expensive. These sensitive documents included original passports, marriage certificates, birth records, proof of accommodation and financial documents such as pay slips and bank statements. Having to send the original documents to Sheffield added a strain on the application process in the US. The time window for sending the documents was five days from the date of a biometrics appointment. This is a relatively short period of time which added extra pressure on applicants.
There is a reason why the UKVI Sheffield office could not accept soft copies of any documents. It is a regulatory requirement of the Home Office only to accept original supporting documentation. This policy can be considered outdated as in some other countries UK visa applicants are allowed to use a scanning service which negates the need to submit any original documents. This includes countries such as France, Canada, Brazil and many more.
The process for US applicants, however, was different until October 2018. There is a logistics issue as we have seen applicants who have lost documents in transit. Clients have been left devastated at losing their original passports and marriage certificates. They were forced to re-apply which can be a gruelling and significantly time-consuming process. Obtaining duplicate financial documents such as P60s can also be a difficult task. The outdated and inefficient system of the UKVI was causing undue tension and stress for applicants in the US. It led to wasted time and unneeded additional costs. Most of this could have been easily avoided if the UKVI updated their system and allowed applicants to send scanned copies of their documents.
The process for applicants in the US has finally adapted to meet the basic needs of applicants. It can now run more effectively and efficiently, and reduce the various difficulties associated with the previous system. The requirement to send original documents to the UKVI centre in Sheffield via a private courier has been completely eliminated. Applicants will now be able to submit their entire settlement application to a scanning hub in New York. The VFS Global staff will check the documents and then have them scanned. They will be sent to the Sheffield decision-making centre electronically rather than being delivered by post. However, it is important to keep in mind that original documents are still required to be scanned. An original passport is a key necessity, and without this, a UK spouse or fiancée visa application will be automatically rejected by the UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) in Sheffield. Settlement applications that are missing key information will be refused without contact with the applicant.
The current non-refundable UKVI processing fee is £1,523 per applicant.