In addition to the pilot of the new Immigration Rules and introduction of the Innovator and Start-up visa categories, a major change in the recent times has been the digitisation of the immigration applications procedures. The Government has invested almost £38 billion into digital improvement and transformation programmes that should assist governmental departments, such as the Home Office to increase efficiency and processing times. This attracted significant criticism from the applicants and legal practitioners.
Digitalisation came gradually into the lives of immigration applicants and practitioners. Initially, commencing a few years ago with an online form for overseas Visa 4 UK applications. Then it was followed by the AccessUK, rather more developed user-tested application system. Finally, at the end of 2018 majority of immigration applications were switched to online forms. In 2019, online app has been introduced for EU Settled and Pre-settled applications.
There are currently two main third party contractors that provide visa services on behalf of the UK’s government around the world, these are Sopra Steria and VFS Global. UK Visa and Immigration government agency stated that online processes should make the application process clearer for the applicants in terms of what they need to do, what supporting evidence they need to provide and where they need to go to complete their application. While the new systems can bring effectiveness in terms of procedure, their set-back is often accompanied by poor communication and practical/technical glitches.
These developments have coincided with major changes in the Home Office application procedures concerning provision of payments, supporting documents and biometric information. Most of this is now handled by third-party contractors. For the applicant and their legal advisors, these changes have created undue complications and problems.
The new processes are inevitably accompanied by delays and confusion on the part of the applicants and their legal representatives. Technical glitches are unavoidable and while these are positive trends that should in theory be valuable for the Home Office and applicants in a long run, the way the new systems were introduced so far has created more problems, such as additional costs and difficulties with availability of information when using third party contractors’ services, who are often unequipped to deal with specific complicated case related queries or legal matters.
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There are certainly positive implications to the digital changes that are brought by the immigration system, nevertheless, they are still at a very early testing stage. Applicants and advisers must have a clear understanding of the processes, otherwise serious cost implications and status of immigration applications could be easily jeopardised.