On 2 November 2018, UK Visas and Immigration launched a new system for visa applications made within the UK. It involves an overhauled online application process and new Visa and Citizenship Application Service centres operated by outsourcing firms Sopra Steria. The first centre opened on 9 November. Premium Service Centres will close on 29 November (although limited appointments will be made available until 9 January 2019 for some applications, as set out below).
This post will be updated as and when we get more “hands-on” experience of the new system, and we encourage readers to share their experiences in the comments too.
The “old” process
The application process we have known so far can broadly be divided into applications made by post and applications made in person at the Premium Service Centre.
Those choosing to apply by post would historically complete paper applications, although an increasing number of application forms became available online too in recent months.
Whether the application was filled in online or on the paper form, however, the applicant would then need to send the application form by post with their supporting documents to the relevant Home Office department. The main difference between a paper and an online application was the date of application. The date of application is the date the application is sent, if completed on paper; or the date the application is submitted online, if completed online.
For both paper and online applications, the applicant then had to attend a participating Post Office to enrol their biometric information. Failing to enrol biometric information meant that an application would not be considered valid.
Applications at the Premium Service Centre
The alternative option, available for some applications only, was to submit the application in person at the Premium Service Centre. Again, an applicant had the choice between submitting the application online, and that would be the date of the application, or attending the appointment with a completed paper form. In the latter case, the date of application would be the date of the Premium Service Centre appointment.
An applicant would attend the Premium Service Centre with their application and supporting documents. Biometric information would also be enrolled at the Premium Service Centre. This option costs an additional £610, and the application would in most cases be decided on the same day, in which case the applicant would leave the centre with a decision and all of their supporting documents.
Attending an appointment in person meant, in other words, having the possibility to have the whole application “done and dusted” in one day.
The new process
Under the new process, application forms are completed online. Applicants pay online, including the biometric enrolment fee.
Applicants are then redirected to Sopra Steria’s website to book an appointment to attend a VCAS centre in person, where they will enrol their biometric information. The website will indicate the latest date the appointment can be booked for, although applicants should be guaranteed an appointment no later than five working days from online submission.
Supporting documents can be uploaded online, or scanned at the appointment for an added fee. Applicants will retain their original documents, including their passports, while the application is being decided.
This does not meant that all applications will be decided on the day of the appointment, however. Applicants must still pay an additional charge to have their applications decided expeditiously. There are three available services:
- Standard service, where the application will be decided within the current timescales of six months or eight weeks, depending on the type of application.
- Priority service, where the decision is made in ten working days (until the end of November) or in five working days (starting from December).
- Super priority service, where the applications will be decided on the next working day.
There are also four different types of centres available to different applicants:
- 6 core service centres offering free appointments
- 50 enhanced service centres offering charged appointments
- 1 premium lounge (this seems basically like the business class lounge in an airpot, promising “an upgraded service in comfortable surroundings with spacious seating areas, hi-speed wifi and business facilities such as scanning and printing”)
- 7 dedicated Service and Support Centres (SSC), to open in January 2019, for people who need more support with their applications. These SSCs will be for people:
- applying under a family route
- applying to join as a dependant
- applying for family reunion
- applying on the basis of statelessness
- who qualify for a fee waiver or fee exemption
- applying under the domestic violence route
- making further submissions after a failed asylum claim
- who are required to only enrol their biometric information
The Home Office promises to make available further information on SSCs later this year. In the meantime, applicants applying online for leave based on family life or private life who are not yet able to use VCAS centres will have some limited appointments available at Premium Service Centres, from 29 November 2018 to 8 January 2019.
The customers who can use this service will be those applying for leave based on family life or private life where one of the following conditions applies:
- they have no extant leave
- they are applying for the first time or are switching from an unrelated route
In addition to choosing the type of centre and the service of their choice, applicants will also have the option to purchase “added value services” such as same day appointments, document translation, interpretation and even immigration advice. It appears that these services have been further sub-contracted from Sopra Steria to an Indian firm called BLS International.
Who can chose what service?
The new system is not open to all applicants yet:
Customers in the UK seeking to remain in the UK or to settle permanently on the following routes will be eligible to use the new service UK Visa Citizenship Application Service (UKVCAS) from 9th November 2018, the appointment booking will open on 2nd November 2018:
- Tier 1 (Investor)
- Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent)
- Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)
- Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)
- Tier 2 (General)
- Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer): graduate trainee
- Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer): long term staff
- Tier 2 (Minister of Religion
- Tier 2 (Sportsperson)
- Tier 4 (General) student
- Tier 4 (Child) student
- Tier 5 (Temporary Worker)
- PBS Dependant – partner
- PBS Dependant – child
- Member of HM forces or their dependants
- Turkish Businessperson or Worker
- Dependant partner of a Turkish Businessperson or Worker (ECAA 3 – Dependant Partner)
- Dependent child of a Turkish Businessperson or Worker (ECAA 3 – Dependant Child)
- Settle or extend your leave in the UK – Turkish ECAA categories only
- Settle in the UK – long residence
- Settle in the UK – child
- Settle in the UK – partner of a person or parent of a child already settled in the UK
- Settle in the UK – HM forces category
- Settle in the UK – refugee or humanitarian protection
- Settle in the UK – certain categories only
- Registration certificate as an EEA or Swiss national
- Document certifying permanent residence as an EEA or Swiss national
- British citizenship by naturalisation
- Register for British citizenship as a child under 18
- Register as a British citizen
- Update, replace or transfer – biometric residence permit
- Other leave to remain applications within the rules (unless noted below)
- Apply for a Home Office travel document
Customers on the remaining routes will continue to need to use the existing service until January 2019. This includes most customers applying:
- To join family members in the UK as a dependant, other than a PBS dependent, armed forces dependent or ECAA dependent
- For family reunion with a refugee or person with humanitarian protection
- On the basis of statelessness
- On the basis of domestic violence under the specific route for that
- Making further submissions after a failed protection claim
- To only enrol your biometric information
- For a fee waiver or fee exemption
- For a certificate of right of abode
Applicants will be told which service and which centre is available to them after having submitted the form online. In other words, the website should only offer to applicants the options of services and centres which they can use.
When is the change happening?
Until 29 November, applicants will have a choice between using the old system or the new system. The online application form is the same, and once completed, the applicant needs to chose between the old and the new system. Applicants should bear in mind that, once they have selected one of the two systems, there is no going back!
- 2nd November: our partner Sopra Steria will have their appointment booking tool live
- from 9th November: the new UK VCAS centres will start to open around the country;
- and all locations will be open by 30th November.
- During the period of 9th November – 30th November, the majority of customers can choose whether to enrol their biometrics and submit their documents via these new centres or use the existing processes via Premium Service Centres.
- 29th November: Premium Service Centres will close.
It is important to bear in mind that VCAS centres are opening gradually:
|Period||Service point opening|
|Week Commencing 5th November||Manchester, Premium Lounge (London)|
|Week Commencing 12th November||Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bradley Stoke, Burnholme, Burnley Cambridge, Glasgow, Hull, Lancaster, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Peterborough, Stockport, Wakefield, Warrington, Warwick|
|Week Commencing 19th November||Belfast, Bristol Patchway, Cardiff, Coventry, Croydon, Dorchester, Gloucester, Ipswich, Kensington (London), Llandudno, Newport, Salisbury, Shepherds Bush (London), Swindon, Taunton, Truro, Victoria (London), Wolverhampton|
|Week Commencing 26th November||Barbican (London), Bedford, Bournemouth, Brighton, Canning Town (London), Canterbury, East Ham (London), Eastbourne, Grays, Hemel Hempstead, Norwich, Portsmouth, Preston, Reading, Shoe Lane (London), Stevenage, Stratford (London), Swinton, Watford, Wimbledon (London)|
An applicant who wants a free appointment (that is an appointment at one of the six core service centres) the week of 12 November will only be able to book an appointment in Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Cardiff, as Belfast and Croydon will not open until the week of 19 November.
Can I travel while the application is pending?
Once an applicant has attended their appointment, although they will retain their passports, they should not travel or their application will be considered withdrawn. At a meeting with ILPA on 7 November, however, a Home Office representative confirmed that applicants will be allowed to travel, without withdrawing their application, between the date the application is submitted online and the date of their appointment at the centre.
Where can I find more information?
UK Visas and Immigration and Sopra Steria have released the following information:
- A press release giving an overview of the new system
- More detailed guidance on the new front end services
- A PowerPoint presentation on the changes
- A timetable for the opening of the new VCAS centres
The locations of the VCAS centres have now also been published in response to a Parliamentary question:
These are all the address [sic] for the UK Visa and Citizenship Centres including the libraries that will host this service;
UK Visa and Citizenship Centres not in libraries
- Birmingham – Ground Floor, T3, Trinity Park, Bickenhill Lane, Birmingham, B37 7ES
- Belfast – 1st Floor Capital House, 3 Upper Queen Street, Belfast, BT1 6FB
- Glasgow – The Beacon, 176 St Vincent St, Glasgow
- Croydon – Bedford Point, 35 Dingwall Road, Croydon, Surrey,
UK Visa and Citizenship Centres in libraries
- Cardiff – Cardiff Main Library, The Hayes, CF10 1FL
- Aberdeen- Central Library, Rosemount Viaduct, Aberdeen AB25 1GW
- Barbican – The Barbican Library, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS
- Bedford – Bedford Central Library, Harpur Street, Bedford, MK40 1PG
- Bournemouth – Bournemouth Library 22 The Triangle, Bournemouth BH2 5RQ
- Bradley Stoke – Bradley Stoke Library, Fiddlers Wood Lane, Bradley Stoke, South Gloucestershire, BS32 9BS
- Brighton – Jubilee Library Jubilee Street, Brighton, BN1 1GE
- Burnley – Burnley Central Library, Grimshaw Street, Burnley, BB11 2BD
- Cambridge – Central Library Cambridge, 7 Lion Yard, Grand Arcade, Cambridge, CB2 3QD
- Canning Town – Canning Town Library 103 Barking Road E16 4HQ
- Canterbury – Canterbury Library, 18 High Street, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 2RA
- Coventry – Central Library, Smithford Way, Coventry CV1 1FY
- Dorchester – Dorchester Library, Colliton Park, Dorchester, DT1 1XJ
- East Ham – East Ham Community Neighbourhood Centre & Library, 328 Barking Rd, London E6 2RT
- Eastbourne- Eastbourne Library Grove Road, Eastbourne BN21 4TL
- Gloucester- Gloucester Main Library, Brunswick Rd, Gloucester GL1 1HT
- Grays – Grays Library, Orsett Rd, Grays RM17 5DX
- Hemel Hempstead- Hemel Hempstead Civic Centre, Hemel Hempstead, Herts HP1 1HH
- Hull – Hull Central Library, Albion St, Hull HU1 3TF
- Ipswich – Ipswich Library, Northgate Street, Ipswich IP1 3DE
- Kensington, London – Kensington Central Library, 12 Phillimore Walk, Kensington, London W8 7RX
- Lancaster – Lancaster Library, Market Square Lancaster LA1 1HY
- Liverpool – Liverpool Central Library William Brown Street L3 8EW
- Llandudno – Llandudno Library, Mostyn Street, Llandudno, LL30 2RP
- Newcastle – City Library 33 New Bridge Street West Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8AX
- Newport – Newport Central Library, John Frost Square, Newport, NP20 1PA
- Norwich – Central Library, The Forum, Millennium Plain, Norwich NR2 1AW
- Nottingham – Nottingham Central Library, Angel Row, Nottingham NG1 6HP
- Bristol – Bristol Patchway Library, Rodway Road, Patchway, South Gloucestershire BS34 5PE
- Peterborough – Peterborough Central library, Broadway, Peterborough, PE1 1RX
- Portsmouth – Carnegie Library, Fratton Rd, Portsmouth, PO1 5EZ
- Preston – Preston Harris Library, Market Square, Preston PR1 2PP
- Reading – Reading Central, Abbey Square, Reading, RG1 3BQ
- Swinton (Rotherham) – Library & Neighbourhood Hub, Station Street, Swinton, S64 8PZ
- Salisbury – Salisbury Library, Market Place, SALISBURY SP1 1BL
- Shepherds Bush – Shepherds Bush Library, 6 Wood Lane, London, W12 7BF
- Shoe Lane – Shoe Lane Library, Hill House, 1 Little New St, London EC4A 3JR
- Stockport – Stockport Central Library, Wellington Road South, Stockport, SK1 3RS
- Stratford, London – Stratford Library, 3 The Grove, London E15 1EL
- Stevenage – Stevenage (Central) Southgate, Stevenage, Herts SG1 1HD
- Swindon – Swindon Central Library Regent Circus, Swindon SN1 1QG
- Taunton – Taunton Library, Paul Street, Taunton, Somerset TA1 3XZ
- Truro – Union Place, Truro TR1 1EP
- Victoria, London – Victoria Library, 160 Buckingham Palace Rd, Belgravia, London SW1W 9UD
- Wakefield, UK – Wakefield Library, Wakefield One, Burton St, Wakefield WF1 2EB
- Warrington – Warrington Library, Museum Street, Warrington, WA1 1JB
- Warwick – Warwick Library & Information Centre, Shire Hall, Market Place, Warwick, CV34 4RL
- Watford – Watford Central Hempstead Road, Watford, Herts WD17 3EU
- Wimbledon – Wimbledon Library, 35, Wimbledon Hill Road, SW19 7NB
- Wolverhampton – Wolverhampton Central Library Snow Hill, Wolverhampton WV1 3AX
- Burnholme – Tang Hall Explore Library (Burnholme), Mossdale Avenue, York, YO31 0HA
This article was originally published on 30 October and has been updated several times to incorporate new information.