New in-country visa application system for UK residents

On 2 November 2018, the Home Office has launched a new in-country visa application system, where applicants will have to submit online applications and visit one of the visa centres managed by the outsourcing company Sopra Steria. Existing premium service centres will be closed on 29 November 2018, although some applicants of particular visa categories will still have a chance to book appointments until 9 January 2019.

Up until now any in-country visa applications could be submitted either:

1) By post: the applicant filled out the paper application and sent it together with all supporting documents to the Home Office by post. Some of the forms were available to submit online, but applicants still needed to print them and send by post. The main difference between postal and online applications is the submission date. For postal it is the day when the application is actually posted and for online it is the day it is submitted online. The applicants also have to visit one of the registered post offices across the UK to enrol biometrics - fingerprints and a digital photo. If for any reason they failed to do their biometric enrolment, then his visa application would be considered invalid.

2) In person at the Premium Service Centre: this option was available only for certain visa categories. The applicant had to complete a paper or online application and bring it along with the supporting documents to one of the premium centres at the appointed date and time. During the visit the applicant also enrolled his biometrics. The visa officer reviewed the application during the appointment and the decision was usually made on the same day. The cost of this service was £ 610 in addition to application fees.

New system

Under the new in-country system visa applications are submitted and paid online. Then applicants need to book a visit in one of the Sopra Steria visa centres in order to submit their biometric data. The company guarantees that these appointments can be booked within five business days after completing the online application. The applicant can scan and upload the supporting documents to the system by himself, or it can be done in the visa centre for an additional fee on the day of the appointment. The applicant does not submit originals, which means that he can keep all passports. It is worth emphasising that the applicant cannot travel outside the UK while his application is under the Home Office consideration. Otherwise it will be considered withdrawn. However, the applicant can travel while he is waiting for his visa centre appointment after the submission of the online application. 

The timeframe for visa applications processing is slightly different. There are no changes in standard service: the decision will be made within six months or eight weeks depending on the visa category. Under Premium service decision will be made in ten working days (until the end of November 2018) or within five working days (starting from December 2018). Super Premium Service will secure the decision on the next business day.

There are four different types of visa centres working with the applicants across the UK:

• 6 main service centres with free appointments

• 50 improved service centres

• 1 premium lounge

• 7 specialized service centres for people who need additional support with their applications (SSC). Such centres will be opened in January 2019. They will only work with certain citizens and visa categories, for example, family visas, visas for dependent members, family reunion, visas associated with domestic violence, further applications after asylum refusal, for stateless people, for those who qualify for a fee waiver or fee exemption or for those who only have to enrol their biometrics.

All applicants will be able to order additional add-on services, such as same day appointments, documents translation, interpreting and even immigration consultations.

When is the new system introduced?

Up until 29 November 2018, applicants can choose between the old system and the new one. The applicant will complete an online form and then decide whether to send it by post or visit the new visa application centre. Once the choice is made, it can no longer be changed. The Sopra Steria reservation system was opened on 2 November 2018, and the first visa centre in Manchester and the premium lounge in London opened on the 9 November 2018. The remaining centres will be gradually opening until the end of November. On 29 November 2018, old Premium service centres will be completely closed.

Posted on Nov 13, 2018.

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