With effect from 1st June 2017, all customer enquiries to the Visa Office will be handled by a private company called Sitel UK. This means that there will be changes in contact details and how enquiries are handled. New service charges have also been introduced.
The service has been contracted out as part of the Conservative government’s drive to reduce costs and ensure migrants in ‘the UK immigration system make an appropriate contribution’. Along with increases in visa fees and changes to salary thresholds in visa categories, this serves to make applying to the Visa Office a more expensive process.
Under the new system, the following changes will happen to anyone applying from outside the UK:
- all phone numbers and opening hours will change
- the number of languages offered is reducing to 8 including English
- customers who contact UK Visas and Immigration by email will be charged £5.48
The charges for email enquiries must be paid using a credit or debit card but will include the original enquiry and any follow-up emails to the same contact centre about the same enquiry. If you do not have access to a credit or debit card you will have to find a trusted person to help you with this, such as an agent or sponsor.
There are no changes to the telephone service, or for enquiries made from within the UK.
Court challenges against the salary thresholds imposed on spouse/partner visas were brought to an end after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the government. This means that the thresholds will remain in place, and have been found ‘compatible’ with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Supreme Court unanimously backed the salary threshold in their ruling on 22nd February 2017, despite calling it ‘particularly harsh’ and acknowledging that it ’causes hardship to many thousands of couples, including some who are in no way to blame for the situation in which they find themselves’.
Under the rules, someone settled in the UK sponsoring an applicant for a visa as their partner or spouse must meet the financial requirement by earning at least £18,600 per year, rising to £22,400 with one child and an extra £2,400 for each child after that. Applicants cannot rely on offers of support from family members or other third parties. The non-EEA partner can only count their salary where they have work authorisation in the UK, for instance if they have secured a skilled work visa.
It has been estimated that 41% of the working British population, including 55% of women can’t afford to bring a foreign spouse to live in Britain. With no regional variation in the threshold this means sponsors are more likely to live in London. Whilst campaigners have commended the comments made in the ruling which criticise the impact of the threshold, it remains in place for all applications.
For a summary of the salary threshold, you can read the guidance provided by The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.
The Government have announced changes to the Immigration Rules which will take effect from 24 November 2016. The changes affect Tier 2, Tier 4 and spouse visas.
This new set of changes is being introduced as the first of two sets of changes to Tier 2 visas, as well as introducing new language requirements for spouses and partners hoping to go on and apply for citizenship. The key changes will be as follows:
English language requirement
A new English language requirement at level A2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages is being introduced for non-EEA partners and parents.
This affects those applying to extend their stay after 2.5 years in the UK on a 5-year route to settlement under Appendix FM (Family Member) of the Immigration Rules. The new requirement will apply to partners and parents whose current leave under the family Immigration Rules is due to expire on or after 1 May 2017.
- The Tier 2 (General) salary threshold for experienced workers will increase to £25,000, with some exemptions
- The Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) salary threshold for short term staff will increase to £30,000
- The Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) graduate trainee salary threshold will be reduced to £23,000 and the number of places will increase to 20 per company per year
- The Tier 2 (Intra Company Transfer) skills transfer sub-category will be closed
The changes to Tier 2 will come into effect for all certificates of sponsorship assigned on or after 24 November 2016. The date from which intra company transfers will be liable for the health surcharge will be announced in due course.
A number of changes are being made, including amendments to the academic progression rule, maintenance requirements for the Doctorate Extension Scheme and evidence of overseas qualifications, UK qualifications used as evidence, and a series of minor and technical adjustments.
The Government have released a statement confirming the situation for EU nationals living in the UK after the referendum vote. They have confirmed that there has been no immediate change to the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU, as a result of the referendum.
The statement also confirms that the decision about when to trigger Article 50 and start the formal process of leaving the EU will be for Theresa May, the new Prime Minister. The UK remains a member of the EU throughout this process, and until Article 50 negotiations have concluded. When the UK does leave the EU, it is fully expected that the legal status of EU nationals living in the UK, and that of UK nationals in EU member states, will be properly protected.
I have lived in the UK for more than 5 years. What does the vote to leave mean for me?
- EU nationals who have lived continuously and lawfully in the UK for at least 5 years automatically have a permanent right to reside. This means that they have a right to live in the UK permanently, in accordance with EU law. There is no requirement to register for documentation to confirm this status.
- EU nationals who have lived continuously and lawfully in the UK for at least 6 years are eligible to apply for British citizenship if they would like to do so. The eligibility requirements can be found here.
What if I have lived in the UK for less than 5 years?
- EU nationals continue to have a right to reside in the UK in accordance with EU law. EU nationals do not need to register for any documentation in order to enjoy their free movement rights and responsibilities. For those that decide to apply for a registration certificate, there has been no change to government policy or processes. Applications will continue to be processed as usual.
- Non-EU family members of EU nationals must continue to apply for a family permit if they wish to enter the UK under EU law, and they do not have a residence card issued by a member state. There has been no change to government policy or processes, and applications will continue to be processed as usual.
- Extended family members of EU nationals must continue to apply for a registration certificate (if they are an EU national) or residence card (if they are a non-EU national) if they wish to reside in the UK. There has been no change to government policy or processes, and applications will continue to be processed as usual.
- Irish nationals enjoy separate rights, under various pieces of legislation, which allow Irish nationals residing in the UK to be treated in the same way as British nationals in most circumstances. There is no change to this position.
- Croatian nationals might continue to need to apply for a registration certificate to be allowed to work in the UK under the transitional arrangements that were put in place when Croatia joined the EU in 2013. The type of registration certificate that they might need will depend on whether they need permission to work in the UK, and what they will be doing. There has been no change to government policy or processes, and applications will continue to be processed as usual.
Does the government plan to remove EU nationals from the UK?
- There has been no change to the right of EU nationals to reside in the UK and therefore no change to the circumstances in which someone could be removed from the UK.
As was the case before the referendum, EU nationals can only be removed from the UK if they are considered to pose a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to the public, if they are not lawfully resident or are abusing their free movement rights.
Following the announcement of proposed increases to visa, immigration and nationality application fees, UK Visas and Immigration have announced the confirmed changes.
For the most part these increases are in line with the proposals made earlier in the year. The main changes are:
- visas linked most closely to economic growth, such as those offered to workers and students, will be increased by 2%
- a 2% increase will apply to all visit visas to help maintain the UK’s position as one of the world’s top tourist destinations
- an increase of up to 25% will apply to settlement, residence and nationality fees, as these routes deliver the most benefits to successful applicants
- an increase of up to 33% for optional premium services offered by the Home Office such as the super premium service and priority visa services overseas
- Fees for all sponsorship categories will be held at the current rates.
Standard applications for Settlement will now cost £1,195 for a main applicant and £2,676 for other dependent relatives. Standard applications for Naturalisation will now cost £1,236 (which now includes the £80 citizenship ceremony fee).
The changes are being made as part of the Government’s ongoing drive to make the Home Office a self-funded system.