October has been a busy month at the Home Office, including the publication of a Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules on 11 October, and on the same day, an announcement from the Immigration Minister that the Immigration Health Surcharge is set to double.

Immigration Health Surcharge increase

On 11 October 2018 the Immigration Minister Caroline Noakes announced plans to double the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) from £200 per annum to £400 per annum (for students and Youth Mobility applicants, there will be an increase from £150 to £300). This increase will come into effect in December 2018, subject to receiving parliamentary approval.

The IHS was first introduced in April 2015 and applies to non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals seeking to reside in the UK to work, study, or join family members for more than six months. Payment of the charge is taken at the visa application stage and is payable upfront for the duration of the visa. Thus for a Tier 2 migrant applying for a five year visa, the fee will increase from £1,000 to £2,000, a sizeable jump. The payment enables the relevant individuals to access the NHS on the same basis as UK residents for the duration of their stay.

Short-term migrants (including those on visitor visas) and those without permission to be in the UK are generally charged for secondary care treatment by the NHS at the point of access (click here to read our recent blog – who can use our NHS for free?).

Update on the launch of a new application process for applicants applying for a visa in the UK

With effect from 5 November 2018, the Home Office will launch a new Visa and Citizenship Application Service (UK VACS) for the processing of applications in the UK. Plans for the new service were first announced in May 2018 and further details were released on 18 October 2018. As part of the new streamlined services for those applying for visas from within the UK the majority of UK applications will be made online.

At present applicants either submit their visa application by post and attend a biometric appointment at a post office or they attend a Home Office Premium Service Centre with their application and submit biometric data at the same time.

Under the new process most applicants will submit an online application and upload supporting documentation via a secure digital process, which means that the majority of applicants will be able to retain their passports and provide copies of documents rather than originals. The ability to provide copy documents is one of the major provisions included in the latest changes to the Immigration Rules. Applicants will not be able to travel abroad whilst their application is pending, otherwise their application will be treated as withdrawn.

Once the application form and supporting documents have been submitted online, applicants will then have a number of options available to them in order to submit their biometric data and have their passports checked. The options include attending an appointment for free at one of six centres located in major cities (London, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff, Belfast and Glasgow), attending one of 50 additional user-pay centres located in local libraries, or attending an appointment at a Premium Service Point in central London. If attending a Premium Service Point, applicants can pay to have their applications expedited as is currently the case with the Premium Service Centre appointments.

The new appointment centres will open between 5 November and early December, and during this transition period, applicants can choose whether to enrol their biometrics and submit their evidence via these new centres or use existing processes.

For vulnerable applicants and those needing more face to face help with their application, free appointments will be offered in seven dedicated Service and Support Centres from January 2019.

Full information on when every site will open and the process to be followed will be published later this month.

EU Settlement Scheme

The EU Settlement Scheme is the immigration category which EU citizens and their family members will be able to apply under to continue living in the United Kingdom after 31 December 2020 (subject to the Withdrawal Agreement).

The Home Office is currently undertaking a phased implementation of the Scheme for resident EU citizens and their family members to obtain UK immigration status. The Immigration Rules for the scheme came into force on 28 August 2018 for an initial test phase, involving, on a voluntary basis, some NHS staff and universities. This phase has allowed the Home Office to test some of the functionality of the online application process in a live environment and to obtain feedback on applicants’ experience of the process.

The second phase of testing will test the online process as an integrated, end-to-end process, and this second phase will run from 1 November to 21 December. The Immigration Rules will be amended on 1 November to include details of this second phase testing. Those participating in the second phase testing will be staff in higher education, health, and social care sectors, as well as some vulnerable individuals supported by a number of local authorities with additional support needs.

Subject to this second phase testing being successfully completed, there will be a phased implementation of the Scheme and the Home Office anticipates that the Scheme will be fully launched by 30 March 2019.