Those of you who follow our Twitter account will be aware that, over the past few weeks, we have been soliciting comments from other practitioners as to whether they, like us, have been experiencing difficulties in accessing accurate and full information about the varying procedures applicable with respect to entry clearance applications at different Visa Applications Centres (VACs) around the world. The Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA) also encouraged our initiative and circulated our survey to its members. We also put out our request for feedback on this issue from members of the Refugee Legal Group (RLG).
We are very grateful to the 75 organisations and individuals responding to our survey and would now like to share with you the results of that survey. As you will see from the report most respondents expressed views consistent with our experience that, at present, it is indeed difficult to obtain accurate information regarding the varying procedures being implemented.
The report includes concrete examples and, further, makes suggestions for improvement.
We were very grateful to be included yesterday by ILPA in a meeting which they had arranged between ILPA representatives and senior UKVI officials with special responsibilities for entry clearance procedures. The report had been circulated beforehand to participants in the meeting and we were further given the opportunity to present some background regarding our motivations and methodology in preparing the report at the meeting.
It was encouraging that, in reacting to the report, the representatives of UKVI acknowledged that the kinds of problems outlined in the report are in fact happening at present. They stressed, however, that the entry clearance section of UKVI is in the middle of a transition period which is likely to continue until the end of this calendar year.
In particular, they are working towards a more uniform system of decision making, based largely in Sheffield, which will be working from scanned copies of original documentation. They pointed out that, at present, even original documentation being sent to Sheffield directly by applicants and their representatives is being scanned prior to the consideration of applications and that they continue to receive scanned documentation from a large number of entry clearance posts. They also have the ambition, in due course, to reduce the amount of original documentation which needs to be submitted for at least some applications by creating more direct links to obtain relevant information held by HMRC, applicants’ banks and their employers.
They indicated that, in the meantime, they would hope to address the issues raised in our report by seeking to ensure that reliable information is contained about the entry clearance procedures of different VACs on the gov.uk website. You will see that this was in fact a major recommendation of our report. They indicated that, according to their own policy, this website should be the definitive repository of information about entry clearance procedures and not the websites of individual VACs. They also made clear the individual VACs ought not to be setting their own unique individual procedural requirements (e.g., about the number of pages which may be scanned in an individual application) but that such policy decisions are a matter for UKVI.
They suggested that the collection of information about individual VACs’ procedures on the gov.uk website would not happen immediately but should be seen as the ‘medium term solution’ to be carried out once they felt that they had negotiated the challenges they are facing in their current transition period.
They also indicated that, in their view, a ‘longer term solution’ to the problems raised would be the fact that, in due course, they are aiming to prescribe clearer and more consistent procedures throughout the system so that the procedures to be followed will be more consistent at all entry clearance posts.
You should also be aware that we have also provided to the UKVI officials a comprehensive list of all the problems and issues you raised with respect to particular entry clearance posts. They indicated that, where it seemed appropriate, they would be raising with the individual entry clearance posts problems which have been identified.
We are very grateful to everyone who participated in the survey which we conducted. This made it possible for us to prepare a much more convincing and authoritative report which, we hope, may have some small impact in effectuating positive change in the system.