Transitioning to an eVisa for UK BRP Holders

transition to evisa

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Currently, the UK visa system relies mostly on physical documents such as the Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) to manage and prove immigration status for large numbers of migrants. The BRP card holds visa details and acts as proof of the holder’s immigration status and rights when in the UK.

However, as part of a wider Home Office strategy for an end-to-end “digital by design” immigration system, the UK is now in the process of transitioning proof of immigration status from physical documentation to digital proof of status, known as eVisas. As such, all BRPs will now expire on 31 December 2024, and eVisas will fully replace the current system from 1 January 2025. We are also aware that in October 2024, the Home Office intends to stop printing BRPs.

This is a huge undertaking as there are millions of people in the UK who will need to transition to eVisas.

Perhaps predicatably, the transition is in many ways proving problematic. Technical issues, as well as the sheer scale of the process, raise the question of whether the transition can be completed in time for the end of the year – which would potentially leave hundreds of thousands of migrants in the uK without proof of their valid status. The immigration industry representative, the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA), has stated in an open letter to UKVI that “We harbour no doubt that this will result in a second scandal, akin to Windrush, insofar as people will be unable to prove and enforce their ability to enter the UK, as well as live, work, and rent in it“, urging UKVI to take urgent action to avoid any such potential crisis.

The transition to eVisa primarily concerns individuals currently holding a BRP. If you fall into this category, you will need to understand the process of transitioning to the eVisa system.

In this practical guide to the eVisa transition, we update on the process visa holders will need to take to set up their eVisa account, and consider the issues currently plaguing the project, which may result in changes to the implementation plan to avoid any detrimental impact on migrants in the UK.

 

What is an eVisa?

 

Many migrants in the UK still have a physical visa or immigration document – in most cases, a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) or a visa/sticker/stamp in their passport.

The Home Office is transitioning to a fully digital system where everyone has an online immigration status, also known as an eVisa. They hope to achieve this by the end of 2024.

The eVisa system is a digital record of an individual’s UK immigration status. It is an online account that stores visa information that can be accessible anytime and anywhere, eliminating the need to carry a physical card. Information on the eVisa includes visa type, validity period, and any specific conditions attached to the individual’s stay in the UK.

With the eVisa, updates to immigration and personal information should become simpler, for example, changes in address or contact details can be made through the UKVI account, ensuring the information remains accurate and up-to-date. The digital format should also enhance security by reducing the risk of loss or damage.

 

Who needs to transition to an eVisa?

 

If you currently hold a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) in the UK, you will need to transition to the new eVisa system before 31 December 2024. This applies to all visa holders residing in the UK, regardless of visa type or nationality.

The BRP cards will no longer be valid after 31 December 2024, regardless of the visa validity period or approved period of leave.

Failing to transition to the eVisa system could result in a loss of your immigration status. Without a valid eVisa, you may not be able to exercise your rights to live, work, or study in the UK. Additionally, you might face difficulties when travelling or re-entering the country.

Some individuals may have indefinite leave to remain or indefinite leave to enter stamped in their passports and may not have a BRP. According to Home Office eVisa guidance, you should submit a No Time Limit (NTL) application to receive a BRP. Once you have a BRP, you can then apply for a UKVI account to obtain an eVisa. Until the end of the year, it is advised to continue travelling with both your BRP and passport.

We understand that later this year, the Home Office intends to issue eVisas to those who submit NTL applications, replacing the need for BRPs. However, the exact timing of this change has not yet been published, so it is recommended to submit the NTL application now to avoid disruption or gaps in your proof of status.

 

How to transition to an eVisa

 

The Home Office began the transition process in April 2024, by emailing and inviting visa holders, instructing them to set up a UKVI account which would hold their eVisa status.

If you have received an email from UKVI inviting you to open your account, you should do so without delay to ensure your eVisa is correct and accessible.

To access your eVisa, you will need to create an account with UKVI. To create the UKVI account, visit the UKVI website: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/online-immigration-status-evisa. Enter the required information and follow the on-screen instructions to complete the account creation process. You will need to have your:

 

  • Date of Birth: Ensure you have your exact date of birth readily available.
  • BRP Number (or Passport Details): If you hold a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP), provide your BRP number.However, if you don’t have a BRP, you can use your passport details instead.
  • Active Email Address: Choose an email address you regularly check to receive important updates and notifications from UKVI.
  • Phone Number: Provide a valid phone number that can receive SMS verification messages during account creation.

 

 

Once your UKVI account is set up, you can access your eVisa.

 

When should you set up your eVisa?

 

The Hime Office began emailing BRP holders in April 2024, inviting them to set up their UKVI account. If you have received this email, we recommend logging on as soon as possible – and certainly in advance of the end of the year when BRPs will expire – to check you can access your eVisa and that the information is correct.

If your visa application was managed by a legal representative and the Home Office has their email address as the contact email on your matter, the Home Office may contact them directly. However, one of the key criticisms of the Home Office communications is that the emails do not contain any information that can help to identify the visa holder. This issue has been raised by ILPA to UKVI, and a resolution will hopefully be forthcoming to avoid visa holders missing their invitation to transition.

 

What information does your eVisa display?

 

Your eVisa will display important details about your immigration status in the UK. This includes:

  • Visa Type: This clarifies the specific type of visa you hold (e.g., work visa, student visa).
  • Expiry Date: This indicates the date your visa becomes invalid.
  • Conditions (if applicable): Your eVisa might outline any specific conditions attached to your visa, such as limitations on work or travel.

 

Challenges and Issues with the transition to eVisas

 

Under the Home Office’s current implementation plan, there is no scheduled transition period allowing individuals to present expired BRPs to carriers, ensuring safe travel back to the UK for those abroad. No contingency plan exists to provide offline proof of status. If a physical immigration document is required for an unexpected reason, such as a malfunction in the View and Prove system that fails to display correct personal or immigration status, the severe consequences of such a sudden change will be exacerbated.

 

The Home Office is in the process of emailing status-holders who need to set up a UKVI account to access their status. The Home Office currently sends emails without any identifying information, such as application numbers or individual names. This has proven problematic in practice as in many cases, these emails are being sent to legal advisers who represented the applicant, with no way for the advisers to identify which client the email refers to. The Home Office has responded to complaints about this issue, stating their intention to include an identifier in emails, although no timeframe has been given for this change.

 

Those who are expected to be most impacted and vulnerable when the abrupt change occurs on 1 January 2025, include those with disabilities, learning difficulties, language barriers, age-related challenges, limited access to technology, children and young people in care, and those who have experienced abuse or other crimes. These groups are less likely to have access to smartphones or the internet, which are essential for the eVisa system, making them more susceptible to the UK’s “hostile environment” policies. There has been inadequate engagement with these vulnerable groups.

 

ILPA recommendations

 

ILPA has written to UKVI highlighting a number of issues and concerns, and making the following recommendations to avert a potential Windrush-style crisis:

 

Immediate Action

 

The Home Office must ensure that every person can prove and access their status without technical error in any circumstance by allowing expired physical evidence of immigration status to be acceptable, and/or issuing new physical evidence of immigration status. This would prevent affected individuals being in unable to prove their rights when technology fails or is inaccessible.

Engagement must be meaningful. We recommend using informative, personalised, and tailored as well as mass forms of communication across a wider range of media, including advertisements, extensive email campaigns, and direct engagement with charities and community groups. Most importantly, the lessons from EUSS and Windrush must be learned, and mistakes must not be repeated.

A helpline that can be contacted in the UK and abroad for free, available 24/7 with translation services, should be established for migrants, carriers, employers, landlords, and others for:

a. Obtaining certified on-the-spot confirmation of a person’s UK immigration status where the normal mechanisms fail;
b. Providing one-off assistance with transferring to eVisa; and
c. Addressing ongoing problems accessing status.

 

Medium Term Action

 

The Home Office should introduce digital tokens similar to the QR codes used for COVID-Status Certification, which could be accessed either without an internet connection and/or be printed out. This secure QR-based alternative aligns with recommendations from the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

 

Advice for BRP Holders

 

If you have received an email from the Home Office inviting you to access your eVisa, it is advisable to do this as soon as possible. If there are issues, such as incorrect information on your eVisa, you should raise these with the Home Office immediately.

If you have not yet received your eVisa email, you may wish to sign up for updates from the Home Office on the roll out, https://www.gov.uk/email/subscriptions/single-page/new?topic_id=online-immigration-status-evisa, and review the official general guidance here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/online-immigration-status-evisa.

 

Advice for Employers

 

BRPs have not been acceptable for proof of right to work since April 2022. However, there may be instances where the new eVisa system impacts proof of status. For example, if an employer performed an original document check on a BRP set to expire on 31 December 2024, they might not know the actual visa expiration date. In such cases, where the employer has recorded 31 December 2024 as the right to work expiry date, Home Office guidance instructs that a follow-up online right to work check must be completed before the year ends. Even if the employer has seen the UKVI approval letter indicating the visa’s end date, they may still opt to perform an online check, as relying solely on the original document check will not provide a statutory excuse beyond 31 December 2024.

As an employer, if you are in doubt when verifying someone’s status, consider using the Home Office’s Employer Checking Service to establish their status in compliance with your obligations.

Some employers are also taking steps to inform their workforce of the new system, to raise awareness and help avoid situations where those affected no longer have proof of their status from 1 January 2025.

Remember also that workers are protected from unlawful discrimination at work, and any move to discipline or dismiss someone on the grounds of not being able to prove their right to work should be fully considered in light of the legal implications.

 

Need assistance?

 

We are providing specialist advice and training to employers about the implications of the new eVisa system on immigration compliance, including right to work checks. We are also on hand to support with queries relating to individual visa holders’ transition to the eVisa.

Contact us for specialist advice.

 

Author

Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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