On 5 November 2018 the Home Office launched a new process for immigration applications submitted in the UK, in commercial partnership with Sopra Steria. The new partnership affords access to a range of new user pay services, including access to a premium lounge, on-demand mobile application services for both small and large groups of applicants and priority processing on a next working day or 10 working day basis.
The Immigration Rules have been amended to reflect the changes made to the in-country processing arrangements. Although in many ways the changes are welcome and will make life easier for applicants, a careful reading of the revised Rules reveals a potential pitfall for international travellers that they and their employers should be aware of.
Under the new process, applicants are handed their passport and biometric residence permit back after they attend their appointment to enrol their biometrics. They also are not normally required to submit any original documents to the Home Office in support of the application, as scans are uploaded electronically instead. This can be done during the online application submission process, or at the appointment to enrol biometrics. All this sounds like good news; for most applicants it eliminates the possibility of original documents being lost by the Home Office or in the post. Also, as most applications are now made online, the risk of an application being rendered invalid due to using an out of date form or problems with payment processing may soon be a thing of the past.
However, it is important that applicants are aware that travel restrictions continue to apply while the application is being considered even though they have their passport returned to them. This will be particularly important to bear in mind in the lead-up to Christmas, when a lot of people want to travel, for year-end business reasons, to see family and friends, or for seasonal short-breaks.
The Immigration Rules now state that if a person travels outside the common travel area (the UK, Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man and the channel islands) after their passport has been handed back, this will automatically withdraw their application. Previously, it was possible for individuals with a Tier 2 or 5 premium sponsor to continue to travel outside the common travel area, as long as they ensured they returned before their existing leave was due to expire. This provision has been deleted.
The consequences of travelling after the passport has been returned are severe and may include having to resubmit the application, including paying the immigration fees and service charges again, being unable to board a flight to return to the UK or being denied re-entry at the border.