In changes outlined last week, the Home Office has unveiled radical changes to the immigration application system. The explanatory statements refer to a ‘transformation’ of the application process, and this isn’t an exaggeration. The changes scheduled to take effect next month would see Home Office employees deploy common sense when considering applications, and possibly even compassion for applicants who have tried to comply with onerous requirements but have fallen short.
Changes to the process can be summarised as follows:
- The move towards online applications continues, which will hopefully streamline the cumbersome paper forms that have been used in the past;
- There will be digital support available to applicants (anything which negates the need to call the – frankly useless – central telephone helpline will be an improvement);
- Evidence submission will move away from the obsessive focus on original papers, towards a more user-friendly option to rely on copies, which can be verified as genuine where required;
- Applicants will have greater ability to request the return of their passports where an application is pending, although there will still be no ability to travel before a decision is received;
- Evidential flexibility rules will be relaxed, with an effort to act reasonably and fairly in circumstances of missing documents or mistakes;
- Applications for fee waiver will be better connected to the overall application for status, with an opportunity to pay fees in the event of waiver refusal (rather than being rejected as having submitted an invalid application).
So, does this mean that the Home Office has developed a more positive approach to immigration overall? Unfortunately, no. While these changes to the application process are welcome, they were announced on the same day as a significant increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge, with the required payment doubling in December. This means paying £400 in health surcharges per person per year, despite many migrants in the UK holding lawful employment and already contributing to the NHS via general taxation. It is easy to see how such a stark increase could cripple a family in future applications; a sponsored worker with a partner and 2 children will pay global fees from around £6,500 if they would like just 2 years’ status, from December 2018 (subject to parliamentary approval).
Other changes announced include a tightening up of provisions surrounding exemption from the Life in the UK Test for medical reasons, surely not a major issue where exemption is only granted if support has been obtained from a registered UK medical professional. This likely represents another example of the general hostility of current immigration policy, as opposed to a necessary measure to address specific abuse. You can read more about the requirements for English language and the Life in the UK Test on our site, here.