The invasion of Ukraine has had a major impact on the UK immigration system. Global mobility professionals recruiting or moving staff into the UK should be aware of the following issues and considerations.
What is happening?
The Home Office has introduced two expedited schemes for Ukraine nationals with a UK sponsor to come to the UK. The Home Office has reallocated staff to these schemes, and applications in these categories are understandably being prioritised and processed within days.
This has resulted in processing delays for all out-of-country visa applications. Priority services for certain out of country applications (study, work and family visa) have been suspended. At the time of writing, the current standard processing time for visit visa applications is six weeks. Work visas are regularly taking in excess of six weeks. Family settlement applications now have a standard processing time of 24 weeks (previously 12 weeks).
The delay in family settlement applications will have a serious impact on spouses, partners and children of British and UK-settled sponsors, who will have to wait until their applications are approved before they can travel to the UK. Impacted employees may need additional support through the uncertainty. Families waiting to travel to the UK may face difficulties in getting their children into the UK before the new school year in September and avoiding disruption to their education.
In-country visa processing times are in general unaffected at this point. Priority services remain available for in-country applications, and biometric appointments are currently readily available.
Applications for Russians and Belarussians
Out-of-UK visa applications from Russian and Belarussian nationals are being accepted, but our recent experience is that they are being held indefinitely.
The UK government has recently (28 April) enacted legislation giving it the power to impose visa penalties on applications from nationals of a country that the UK specifies as having taken action that gives rise to a threat to international peace and security. During the passage of the legislation, ministers stated that they intended to use these powers in respect of Russia immediately once the legislation was passed. This has not yet happened, but regardless, there is, in general, no legally enforceable timeframe during which the Home Office is required to process a UK visa application.
Work permit applicants are required to prove their knowledge of English; if they are not from a majority English-speaking country and do not have a degree taught in English, this will require them to sit a Secure English Language Test. UKVI-approved test providers have declared that they are pulling out of Russia and securing an appointment in Russia and neighbouring countries is extremely difficult. UK visa applicants residing in Russia also require TB screening in authorised clinics, and here, too, appointments are severely delayed.
Global mobility stakeholders involved in planning a move should make special effort to determine the required UK work start date in line with business needs, and plan early. They may also wish to consider whether overseas hires can start their role remotely, aiming to travel to the UK as soon as the visa is approved. Care should be taken in this case to consider the employment and tax implications of local work.
The Home Office has not published any concession to the rule that work permit applications must be submitted no more than three months before the UK work start date.
The ‘Keep my Passport’ service enables applicants to leave the application centre with their passport, allowing them to continue non-UK travel while the visa is in process. When the Home Office has reached a decision on the application, the applicant will be expected to return their passport to the centre for the visa endorsement. Where a visa applicant has more than one passport, it is usual that the Home Office will only ask to keep one current passport to endorse the visa.
Visa applicants should consider their eligibility for visa categories that do not face processing delays.
Where available to the visa applicant (applications from EEA nationals and British Nationals Overseas), using the UK Immigration: ID check app may cut down the processing time, as the applicant will not need to attend a biometrics appointment.
Ordinarily, the start date recorded on a worker’s Certificate of Sponsorship cannot be delayed by more than 28 days. However, where this date has passed and the worker is still waiting for a decision on their visa application, the 28 days will run from the first day of the visa.
It is not generally possible to switch from visitor status to work permit or other residence categories from within the UK. Visitors in the UK wishing to remain permanently are expected to leave the UK and apply from overseas. Those in the UK as visitors are not permitted to work or study and can be charged for using the NHS.
The applicant is free to complete non-UK travel on their additional passport while the application is in process. However, it is strongly recommended not to travel to the UK once the applicant has attended their biometrics appointment, or completed biometric enrolment on the UK Immigration: ID check app.
Mobility professionals involved in planning moves should be mindful of these significant delays. Document gathering and preparation can be completed in advance and applications submitted three months before a projected start date. Most importantly, you should prepare the individual and the business to expect unavoidable delays and look to build contingencies where appropriate.
Need to know more?
For further information, please contact Louise Haycock at firstname.lastname@example.org. This blog was published Monday, 6 June 2022. The UK Immigration Rules change frequently. To keep up-to-date with all the latest updates on global immigration, please visit our dedicated COVID-19 site, subscribe to our alerts and follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Since this blog was published, we are now seeing that applications from Russians and Belarussians are being approved where they have been submitted in a country in which the applicant has legal residence. Processing remains slow and many applications are still pending.