The following guide will help you gauge the likely UK visa processing times for your application, including an update on UK visa processing in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
UK visa processing times during the Coronavirus outbreak
Due to the pandemic, all applications are being held for 240 days to allow time for biometric data to be submitted once application centres reopen. The Home Office has also suspended the use of Priority and Super Priority service.
UK Visa and Citizenship Application Centres (UKVCAS) and Service and Support Centres (SSCs) are temporarily closed because of coronavirus (COVID-19). The Home Office has stated that “an individual’s immigration status will not be negatively affected as a result of them not being able to attend an appointment”.
Anyone who has already made an appointment to attend a UKVCAS service point, or a Service and Support Centre (SSC) will be contacted and advised what to do next. Again, their immigration status will not be negatively affected if not able to attend an appointment due to the outbreak.
Once an applicant has submitted their application online, the terms of their leave will remain the same as they were at the point of application. Applicants will be in the UK lawfully and no-one will be subject to immigration action if they are unable to attend a biometric appointment or if there are delays in processing their application.
Pending in-country applications
Those who are not able to extend their visa in-country will need to rely on new emergency provisions and inform the Home Office, as indicated in its guidance.
They may use the opportunity to switch into another category, however, they will need to meet all the requirements for the visa, which in some instances may be difficult, i.e. they need evidence of English language requirement, but are currently unable to take a test as the test centres are closed. We understand the Home Office is considering whether it will approve alternative ways of assessing English language, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
Individuals who are in the UK with a visa nearing its expiry, and who are able to extend their visa or switch into a different category can still submit their applications online, although they will not be able to attend biometrics appointment.
Following the submission of an in-time application to extend leave or switch category, the applicant’s leave in the UK would be extended under Section 3C of the Immigration Act 1971 until the application is decided by the Home Office. Section 3C of the Immigration Act 1971 prevents an individual from becoming an overstayer while they wait for a decision on their application by extending a person’s leave in the UK where an in time application to extend or vary leave is made and the application is not decided before the person’s existing leave expires.
Therefore those individuals should not need to apply again under the emergency extension provisions.
Visas for NHS doctors, nurses and paramedics will be automatically extended for one year where those are due to expire before 1 October 2020, they do not need to apply themselves. This provision includes their dependants.
Applications outside the UK
The Home Office have now included the following note in all draft applications:
“Due to the impact of COVID-19 and the worldwide border, travel and public health restrictions, including Visa Application Centre (VAC) closures in many countries, UKVI services are limited and we are unable to meet our usual service standards. Therefore, we are not encouraging applications at this time and cannot say when your application will be decided if you do decide to apply. We continue to keep the situation under review and hope to resume normal services when we are able.”
UKVI have to date been unable to advise when the VACs will re-open. This means entry clearance visa applications are not being processed at the moment and there is currently no ‘work around’ for UK entry clearance applications.
We look at what this currently means for UK entry clearance applications.
Pending UK entry clearance applications
The Home Office is sending emails to visa applicants and/or their legal representatives to inform that the application has been placed on hold and to reassure that this is due to the operational impacts of COVID-19 rather than concerns or delays due to issues with their application.
For individuals with pending visa applications, it is in effect a waiting game with no indication of timescale as to when processing of applications will resume.
As a result, employers may be considering furloughing those individuals i.e. if they worked for them with another visa category and left the UK for the sole purpose of applying for a Tier 2 visa.
The Home Office have confirmed that employers can furlough migrant workers under the Job Retention Scheme in cases where they cannot pay the salaries of sponsored employees because of temporarily reduction or cessation of trading:
- You can temporarily reduce the pay of your sponsored employees to 80% of their salary or £2,500 per month, whichever is the lower.
- Any reductions must be part of a company-wide policy to avoid redundancies and in which all workers are treated the same.
- These reductions must be temporary, and the employee’s pay must return to at least previous levels once these arrangements have ended.
In some ‘new hire’ cases employers have decided to withdraw the job offer, or postpone employment, leading to cancelled applications.
New entry clearance applications
Although the VACs are currently closed and applicants are unable to book appointments or submit their biometrics, applications can technically still be submitted online. But again, there is no indication of timescale for resuming processing.
We should also note the Home Office’s request on the application form, discouraging applications from being made at present. Depending on volumes that are submitted, we could even see the online application disabled.
Importantly, the Home Office has also confirmed that those who were issued with a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) but were unable to apply for a visa due to the current circumstances, will be able to use that CoS for their application even if the start date of their employment has changed. The Home office will not automatically refuse those applications – they may accept a CoS that has become invalid because the employee was unable to travel as a result of coronavirus, but will consider each application on a case by case basis.
30-day vignette expiring
In guidance published at the end of April 2020, the Home Office has advised what to do if a 30-day visa vignette has expired or is about to expire.
Where a 30-day visa to travel to the UK for work, study or to join family has expired, or is about to expire, the individual can request a replacement visa with revised validity dates free of charge until the end of this year.
To make a request, the applicant should contact the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre. They will need to include their name, nationality, date of birth and GWF reference number with ‘REPLACEMENT 30 DAY VISA’ in the subject line. Any applicant who has already contacted the CIHC about this issue should state that in their email.
The applicants will be contacted when the VAC centres reopen to arrange for a replacement visa to be endorsed in their passport.
The guidance also confirms that migrants will not be penalised for being unable to collect their BRP while coronavirus measures are in place.
This measure will be in place until the end of 2020.
Employers hiring from overseas
It is possible to hire and onboard workers remotely with a view to coming over to the UK once restrictions lifted, but we are advising undertaking careful immigration due diligence before signing an employment contract, to ensure the individual (and any dependants) would be likely to secure a visa.
DavidsonMorris’ immigration lawyers are on hand to take any queries you may have relating to UK visa application processing for either you, your employees or family.
UK visa processing times under normal circumstances
When you apply for a UK visa, 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. But UK visa processing times can vary 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.
- 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). BRP are usually received within 7 working days of the decision on your application.
Are fast track or premium services available?
You may be able to receive a faster decision if you use the priority option offered by UKVI. This is only available with certain visas and does require an additional payment over and above your application fee. Should you be eligible, a decision will generally be made within 5 working days.
There is also a ‘super priority’ service, costing £800 on top of your application fee, but again this is only available with certain visa applications. Should you be eligible, once you have attended your appointment you will receive a decision by the end of the next working day if your appointment took place on a weekday or within 2 working days if your appointment took place at the weekend.
For both the priority service and super priority service, the service standard will start when you complete your appointment to provide your biometric information and supporting evidence.
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: 29 April 2020