UK visa processing times continue to be affected by the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.
The Home Office confirmed in January 2021 that although UKVCAS appointment levels are now above March 2020 levels, ie prior to COVID-19 disruption, high demand for all appointments and the requirement to maintain COVID-secure facilities is restricting the “ability to quickly expand capacity further at this time.. however, we are continuing to increase capacity and will do over the coming months.”
Visa applicants are advised to take guidance on the current processing timescales for their specific type of application as these may be longer than under normal circumstances.
UK visa processing during the Coronavirus outbreak
Are UKVCAS service centres open for in-country processing?
UKVCAS centres remain open for appointments during the current COVID restrictions.
However, in advance of attending an appointment, applicants are advised to check the UKVCAS Service Point News to confirm that the relevant centre has not been required to close.
Any changes to booked interviews will be notified to the application by email.
Biometric information changes
In response to the pandemic and resulting service disruption, UKVI has advised it intends to reuse biometric information provided in previous applications as part of the process to verify an applicant’s identity. This facility, where applicable, is expected to speed up processing.
Applicants eligible under the biometrics reuse policy will be invited to use UKVCAS’ IDV app to submit their application information to UKVI without the need to attend a UKVCAS Service Point.
Where applicants have completed their application online and been transferred from Access UK to the UKVCAS website, they have 240 days to submit their biometrics or their application will be closed.
UK visa processing overseas
Visa Application Centres have been reopening in line with local restrictions and guidelines. Those centres that remain closed are subject to ongoing review for reopening.
Applicants are advised to check the status of their country’s VACs on the VFS website, or contact us for guidance.
Priority and super priority visa services are now also available in some locations.
Where VACs are open, applicants attending interviews will be asked to observe local public health rules, such as social distancing, undergoing temperature checks or wearing a face covering/gloves.
Those with any COVID-19 symptoms on the day of their appointment will be helped to reschedule their appointment and advised to seek medical attention.
All the VAC customers are also strongly advised to purchase Courier Return of their documents, so they do not have to visit the Visa Application Centre again to collect their documents once a decision is made.
UK visa processing times
Ordinarily, the length of time it takes for your application to be processed can be an important factor in deciding when to apply and when to make your travel arrangements. COVID-19 restrictions continue to impact processing.
Even under ‘normal’ circumstances, UK visa processing times varied considerably, depending on factors such as the type of visa being applied for, the country or Embassy where the application is made and the applicant’s own individual circumstances and eligibility.
UK visa processing service standards
UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) is the Home Office department responsible for the UK’s visa system. UKVI specifies standards for processing times of UK visas. The pre-COVID pandemic standards were as follows (for current processing times, you are advised to take specific guidance on your type of application):
- Non settlement visa applications from outside the UK – 90% within three weeks, 98% within six weeks, and 100% within 12 weeks of the application date
- Settlement applications from outside the UK – 98.5% within 12 weeks of the application date and 100% within 24 weeks of the application date
- Applications to temporarily remain in the UK – within 8 weeks
- Persons from Turkey making their application under the European Community Association Agreement and right of abode – within 6 months
- Application for a residence card or permanent residence card from a non-EEA national family member – within 6 months
- Application from within the UK for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) or no time limit (NTL) – within 6 months
The processing date is counted from when UKVI receive your application.
Note that these standards do not apply to issuing Biometric Residence Permits (BRP). BRPs are usually received within 7 working days of the decision on your application.
Are fast track or premium services available?
Priority service and super priority services for certain applications have been resumed following suspension due to the pandemic.
Applicants for the Skilled Worker, Student, and Intra-Company visas and settlement (‘indefinite leave to remain’) applications can opt to pay an additional fee for fast-tracked processing with a biometrics residence permit within 7-10 days of the decision:
- Priority processing for a decision in five days at a fee of £500
- Super priority processing for a decision in 1-2 business days at a fee of £800
Change of Circumstances priority services
Following suspension of the Tier 2 & 5 Priority Service due to the pandemic, the service for submission of requests for Change of Circumstances Priority Service reopened from 5th October 2020, operating a limited capacity.
Only 10 requests are considered for priority each day. Demand for the service is high. Please contact us if you have a query about use of the service.
What are the different types of UK visa applications?
The type of UK visa that you apply for will be the main deciding factor in how long it takes to process your UK visa application. The UK visa that you choose will depend on your reason for visiting the UK and how long you wish to stay.
Holiday, family visit or business trip
The Standard Visitor visa is generally suitable for tourism, holidays, visiting and to receive short-term medical treatment. It replaces:
- Business visitor and prospective entrepreneur visas
- Family visitor visa
- Child visitor visa
- Sports and entertainer visitor visas
- Private medical treatment visitor visa
- Approved destination status visa
- General visitor visa
Under the standard visitor visa, you can usually stay in the UK for up to 6 months.
Your application for a Standard Visitor visa should be made no earlier than 3 months before you intend to enter the UK, and it will generally take no more than 3 weeks for the visa application to be processed and a decision made after your appointment.
Should you wish to study in the UK, there are 3 visas available for this purpose, depending on your individual situation:
- A short-term study visa is suitable for a 6 month stay in the UK to attend a course. For students over 16 who wish to attend an English language course, it may be possible to use a Short-term study visa for a stay of up to 11 months.
- A general study visa is suitable for a longer course of study in the UK as long as the student has a confirmed place on a course and is sponsored by a licensed university or college.
- 4 to 17 years old wishing to study at an independent school should apply for a child student visa.
Apply for the appropriate student visa no earlier than 3 months before you intend to enter the UK. Once you have attended your appointment, it will generally take no more than 3 weeks to receive a decision.
Work in the UK
There are many types of short-term and long-term work visas including:
- Temporary worker visas
- Domestic workers in a private household visas
- Intra-company transfer visas
- Sportsperson visas
- and the General work visa
Each type of visa will carry its own eligibility, conditions and application requirements.
The Tier 2 General work visa, for instance, is open to persons who come from outside the EEA and Switzerland, and have a job offer from a licensed sponsor for skilled employment in the UK.
The processing time for a General work visa is generally no longer than 3 weeks once the applicant has attended their appointment.
Entrepreneurs & investors
There are three main routes for people coming to the UK to do business:
- The Investor visa allows persons from outside the EEA and Switzerland to invest at least £2,000,000 in the UK.
- The Start-up visa is suitable for persons wanting to establish a business in the UK, who are from outside the EEA and Switzerland and are endorsed by an authorised body.
- The Innovator visa is for persons who wish to start or run a viable business in the UK that has been endorsed as innovative in that it is a new idea, are from outside the EEA and Switzerland, and have a minimum of £50,000 to invest.
Processing for business visas can take longer than other categories due to the complexity of the application documentation and evidence. Again, the earliest you can apply is 3 months before you travel.
Join family in the UK
The Family visa will generally allow you to join certain family members who already live in the UK if you wish to remain in the country for more than 6 months.
If the visa application is made from outside the UK, the processing time will generally take up to 12 weeks. Applications made from within the UK, will generally take up to 8 weeks to process.
To get married
If you intend to visit the UK to get married, you should generally apply for a Marriage Visitor visa. This visa is also suitable for civil partnership ceremonies in the UK.
This visa doesn’t allow you to remain or settle in the UK after the marriage or civil partnership ceremony.
Processing, once an appointment has been attended, should take no more than 3 weeks.
Travelling through the UK
If you intend to travel through the UK to a non UK destination, you may need to apply for a Transit visa unless:
- you have a Standard Visitor or Marriage visa
- you are from a European Economic area (EEA) or Switzerland
- you hold an EEA family permit
There are two types of Transit visa. If you will be passing through UK border control and staying in the UK no more than 48 hours, then you should apply for a Visitor in Transit visa. If you will not pass through UK border control, then you should apply for a Direct Airside Transit visa.
If you will be staying in the UK for longer than 48 hours, it will be necessary to apply for a Standard Visitor visa.
What is the difference between UKVCAS and Home Office processing?
One factor that may affect the UK visa processing time is whether the application has to be made through UKVCAS.
UKVCAS (UK Visa and Citizenship Application Service) was introduced in November 2018 to handle certain UK visa, settlement and citizenship applications made from persons already in the UK. Since its introduction, there have been continued reports of delays in application processing and difficulties for applicants to schedule an appointment at a UKVCAS centre.
You will be advised when making your application if you must go through UKVCAS in order for your application to be processed.
How might the time of year and other factors affect your UK visa processing time?
There are other factors that may affect the processing time of your UK visa application. These include:
Summer is generally the busiest time for UKVI, but applicants should also note that, given the current changes in the UK immigration system, particularly resulting from the recent introduction of the EU settlement scheme, processing is taking longer than in previous years due to the surge in UKVI workload.
Where you apply from
The country that you apply for your UK visa from may affect the processing time for several reasons, including the relationship and arrangements between the UK and your country, the administrative systems within each country, current conditions within either country, endorsing documents from your country or finding their equivalent in the UK, whether that country is part of the EEA and so on.
It is always advised to check with the UK embassy or consulate in your country for any such issues that could lead to visa processing delays.
Insufficient or incorrect information
Where your application includes incorrect information or the documentation you supply is insufficient, the processing time may be longer than expected if UKVI pause processing to request further information from you in order to make a decision.
The best way to avoid this is to check your application thoroughly and ensure that you have all the necessary documentation to hand before you apply.
At DavidsonMorris we have the experience to advise you on the most appropriate UK visa for your circumstances and have the insight to make the process as smooth as possible.
As a team of immigration lawyers and former Home Office employees, we have an established reputation for effective and efficient management and processing of visa applications, and for providing expert visa-related advice to suit your needs.
Last updated: 28 January 2021