COVID-19 has created considerable anxiety for many thousands of people who are applying for a visa in the UK, or whose visa is due to expire. As the country entered a lockdown, much of the operational machinery behind the processing of visas ground to a halt, including the closure of all UK based UKVCAS service points. UKVCAS service points, operated by Sopra Steria provide a number of services that are essential to the processing of visas, including taking biometrics, uploading of supporting documents, translation, document checking, and interpretation.
At the end of May 2020, UKVCAS and UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) announced a ‘phased reopening’ of service points from the start of June. This will likely have come as welcome news to many thousands of individuals and their families currently in the UK who are keen to progress their outstanding application.
There are 57 UKVCAS offices across the UK, of which 13 have now reopened in the main UK centres; these service points are as follows:
The announcement on the UKVCAS website states:
“Following government guidelines and Public Health England advice on Coronavirus, UKVCAS, in conjunction with UKVI, will begin a controlled, phased reopening of Service Points from 1st June 2020. Our priority remains the safety of customers and staff and to ensure we deliver an effective service that meets public health guidelines. This means that initially, we can only offer our service at a reduced number of locations, and at a lower capacity than usual. We understand that this may affect your booking and it may not be possible for you to attend an appointment at one of the reopened sites. We appreciate your patience as we work with UKVI to resume the service safely”.
Unfortunately, while 13 UKVCAS service points have reopened, this is only for those who already had an appointment booked; no new appointments are being allowed at this time. UKVCAS has stated, “unfortunately, if you did not have an existing appointment, prior to the suspension of the service, you will not be able to book an appointment at this time. Please be assured that every customer is important to UKVCAS and we will be reviewing the new approach regularly to assess when we are able to open more appointments, more sites, and bookings for all customers”. It is likely that UKVCAS has taken this approach both from a perspective of coping with reduced capacity and also to enable the service to clear the existing backlog without being overwhelmed (and hence overloading UKVI).
Premium, super-premium, and VIP services are also not being offered at the current time.
UKVCAS has confirmed that anyone who had an appointment booked to visit a service point will be contacted by email to confirm the next steps, explaining how to rebook the appointment. They have also requested that anyone who receives an email to rebook their appointment should make their new booking as soon as possible. Again, this is most likely to ensure that the existing backlog is cleared through as soon as possible, allowing new bookings to resume.
If you are concerned you have not yet received an email, UKVCAS says, “If you are in this group [i.e. those with an existing booking], and have not already received an email, you should receive one soon. We ask that you continue to check your registered email address for updates”.
In terms of payment, UKVCAS also confirms that they will honour any existing payment for the previous booking, and hence no further charge will be made for the new appointment. They also advise that the postponed appointment will not show on your online UKVCAS account, which will allow affected individuals to create a new booking.
If your closest service point is closed, you may be offered an appointment at another location. If you don’t want to travel to the other office, you will need to wait until your nearest location opens and there is an available appointment; doing so should not negatively impact your immigration status.
TLScontact and VFS Global have also announced a limited reopening of service centres around the world, these include those in Berlin, Dusseldorf, Munich, Belarus, Minsk, Ukraine
Kiev, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Beijing, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, and Suva.
It is important to check on the respective website for reopening and details in your local region. Some offices are only rebooking existing appointments, whereas some are already allowing new bookings to be created.
The reopening of UK immigration offices in this country and around the world will hopefully mark the start of the journey back to normality. Much will depend on the ongoing spread of the pandemic and whether further lockdowns eventuate. In the future it may be that rather than all offices closing in unison around the world, only those in affected areas will be closed, thereby allowing some visas to be processed.
If you expect to visit an immigration service center soon, do expect delays as office staff work to adhere to new COVID-19 safety guidelines. This will be essential to the protection of staff and service users and will help to ensure that offices can remain open.
And on a final note, the Home Office is now making almost daily announcements regarding UK visa applications, automatic extensions, new policy decisions, quarantine requirements for those entering the UK, and other important information. As such, it is highly recommended that you keep a close eye on any changes which may affect you and your family members.
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