In the era of the Coronavirus pandemic, news and government policies are constantly being updated. On recently, on 23rd June 2020, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson announced to the country that the lockdown which was put in place exactly three months earlier on 23rd March 2020 was being further relaxed. In large part to encourage the economy out of hibernation, from 4th July pubs, restaurants, and hairdressers will be able to reopen. Two households can also start to spend time together and people are being encouraged to take staycations. But not everything is back to normal. In the world of immigration, after a closure several weeks, UKVCAS service points are starting to reopen, but many are only providing a very limited service.
While they are processing visas, UKVI is not currently providing priority or super-priority services. These services offer, for an additional fee (£500 for the priority service and £800 for the super-priority service), a considerably accelerated decision on visa applications. These services are not available for all visa types, but where they are, applicants would ordinarily expect to receive a decision within five workings days for a priority service, and the next working day for the super-priority service (or two working days if a UKVCAS appointment to provide biometric information is made at the weekend).
Given that the lockdown as a result of COVID-19 on 23rd March slowed or halted processing of visas, any super-priority applications in progress at the time would also have been affected. According to the Home Office, applicants who used the priority or super-priority service before lockdown and are still waiting for a decision, letter, or Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) can now expect the following to happen:
Until there is confirmation from UKVI that the priority services have resumed, it should be assumed that they are not available. If you would like to check if either of these services is available, you can speak to the UKVI contact centre by calling 0300 123 2241 (note this is a chargeable number). There is a possible risk that by selecting one of these options when you apply, you may end up paying for a service you do not receive.
UKVCAS are gradually reopening service points across the UK to allow applicants to have their application documents checked, scanned, and uploaded, and to have their biometric information enrolled (fingerprints, photos, and signature). In total, 17 service points have now reopened, the first of which opened on 6th July. The service points which are now open are as follows:
UKVCAS have announced that some service points will not now open until after the summer, these include:
According to a COVID-19 factsheet published by UKVI in April, “If we are not able to make a faster decision on an application due to the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on processing standards we will contact the individual and refund the priority service fee they paid”.
There is currently no indication as to when UKVI will allow the priority and super-priority services to resume. It is likely that until UKVI and UKVCAS are back to full processing capacity and have a full complement of staff, they will continue to keep these services suspended.
If you are still waiting on a decision or even some form of communication from UKVI after submitting your priority application, by the end of June, it would be advisable to contact the UKVI contact centre to ascertain the status of your case. You may also consider engaging the services of immigration Solicitors who can make the necessary enquiries on your behalf. If a problem is identified, or if further information is required before a decision can be made, your Solicitor can handle these inquiries on your behalf where possible and make sure that a refund of the fee you have paid is arranged.
For visa applicants who use the priority and super-priority services, time is of the essence. Having your decision delayed by a number of weeks can be extremely frustrating, especially if it is important for your family, your career and job, or your business. As the COVID-19 lockdown eases, it is likely your priority application will be brought to a conclusion very soon, but if you are concerned it is taking too long, don’t be afraid to ask UKVI for an answer. And if you want to use the priority services for a new application, the best advice is to wait until normal service has been resumed.
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