Home Office Processes

Briefing: How to apply for a Home Office fee waiver by Charlotte Rubin

The UK is well-known for its sky-high immigration and visa fees. These fees, which have risen steeply up to 20-25% per year since the early 2000s, are big business for the Home Office. In fact, in 2018, the Home Office made over £500m from immigration fees alone. In addition to immigration and visa fees, individuals may be liable for the immigration health surcharge, which is currently priced at £400 per person per year, but set to rise to £624 this fall. On average, an applicant will have to spend over £2,000 to get leave to remain in the UK (rising to £2,500 in a matter of months with the planned surcharge increase), and that is excluding potential legal fees. In short, living in the UK on an immigrant visa is an expensive ordeal.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone who needs a visa can afford these fees. The courts have ruled that for human rights based applications, charging fees which the applicant cannot afford is unlawful. Thus, if you are facing a bill for visa fees that you cannot afford, and are considering borrowing money in order to be able to extend your stay in the UK, it may be worth considering an application for a fee waiver. Here, we go over how to go about it.

Unfortunately, the fee waiver is only available in limit circumstances. The first limitation is that only applicants with a human rights claim are eligible to apply for a fee waiver, and only where their human rights claim constitutes “a substantive basis of their application.” Examples of applications that fall into this category are applications for leave to remain under the five-year parent route, the ten-year partner, parent or private life route where the applicant claims that refusal of that application would breach their rights under Art. 8 of the ECHR, applications based on other ECHR rights, applications from victims of human trafficking or modern slavery, and some applications for leave to remain under the five-year partner route.

Additionally, applications for indefinite leave to remain are never eligible for fee waivers, no matter the basis on which they are being made (human rights or not), limiting the scope of fee waivers further. Applicants are advised to extend their temporary leave to remain until they can afford the indefinite leave to remain fee independently.

Fees waivers do not necessarily cover all fees. It is possible, for example, for an applicant to pay their own fee but apply for a fee waiver for one or more dependant. It is also possible to ask for a waiver of the Immigration Health Surcharge only, and not the main application fee, if the applicant can only afford one of the two.

If the application in question is eligible for a fee waiver, then applicants for fee waivers will have to show that one of the following applies to them:
- They cannot afford the fee
- They are destitute
- They are at risk of imminent destitution
- Their income is not sufficient to meet a child's particular and additional needs
- They are faced with exceptional financial circumstances

Whether you can or cannot afford the fee is a hard thing to prove, and the Home Office tend to only accept fee waivers based on affordability arguments in exceptional circumstances. Generally, officials are instructed to look at applications very restrictively and their point of departure seems to be that an applicant should be able to afford the fee. As such, they will also consider funds from friends and family, or non-liquid funds, when assessing if an applicant can afford the fee.

Applications are made through an online form. After an applicant submits their fee waiver application, the procedure is quite restrictive as well. If waiver is granted, the applicant will be issued with a Unique Reference Number to be used when applying for leave to remain online. The application for leave to remain must be submitted within ten working days of the date of the decision (careful, not the date that the decision is received, but the day it was made). The person must then make an appointment at a Service and Support Centre within 17 working days. If the applicant fails to make the application within these timescales, they may need to make a new fee waiver application. If their leave has expired in the meantime, they may become an overstayer.

If the waiver application is refused, the status of an applicant will depend on whether the applicant had valid leave at the time of the application. The guidance states that there are no service standards in fee waiver applications, meaning they do not provide a standard timeframe in which an application must be decided. However, caseworkers are urged to make reasonable efforts to decide applications requests promptly, especially those involving a child or an applicant who is street homeless, disabled or otherwise in vulnerable circumstances.

Those who have valid leave at the time of application will be told about the refusal and be given ten working days to submit additional evidence to challenge that decision. If the new evidence submitted satisfies the caseworker that they are in fact eligible for the waiver, their application will be accepted, and they will be given another ten working days to submit the application for leave to remain.

If the new evidence does not satisfy the caseworker that they are eligible for a fee waiver, however, their application will be refused, and they will be given ten working days to submit an application for leave to remain and pay the application fee independently. If they do not do so before their leave expires, they will become overstayers.

So, in summary – fee waiver applications are only made online, which poses its own challenges. It is very important that applications for a fee waiver are made before the expiry of leave, to maximise one’s chances. And finally, the requirements are quite restrictive but it is always worth a try. The fact that fee waivers are available is a good development in and of itself.

If you want to know more about how to apply for a fee waiver please do not hesitate to contact us here or send us a question on WhatsApp.




Coronavirus factsheet: COVID-19 impact on your visa and immigration matters by Charlotte Rubin

Measures taken to fight the COVID-19 pandemic are causing major societal and governmental upheavals not only in the UK, but everywhere around the globe. Individuals who are applying for a UK visa, and those who already hold one, are naturally concerned about various challenges posed by the pandemic. This post is an attempt at giving you an overview of the most significant ways in which the coronavirus affects immigrants in the UK, up to date as of 1 June 2020. Information changes frequently, so make sure to keep an eye on the government website, but also our twitter page and the freemovement website to stay fully up to date.

If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact us here or book an online legal consultation with us here so that we can help you further.

Visitors and short-term stays

The Home Office has stated that “no individual who is in the UK legally and whose visa expired after 24 January 2020, or is due to expire before 31 July 2020, will be regarded as an overstayer or suffer any detriment in the future if they cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions related to COVID-19

Which measures have been taken to ensure this in practice?

- If you’re in the UK and your leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020, your visa will be extended to 31 July 2020 if you cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus (COVID-19). All you have to do is request an extension (which will be granted automatically) by updating your records with the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) and the extension will be granted. You will be expected to return to your home country as soon as it is safe to do so.

- If your visa was previously was previously extended until 31 May 2020, it will automatically be extended further until 31 July. You do not need to do anything further – this additional extension is automatic.

- If you plan on staying in the UK longer-term, and the visa you are currently on expires before 31 July 2020, you can apply to switch to a long-term UK visa that date. This includes applications where you would usually need to apply for a visa from your home country.

You should apply under these temporary concessions if you are currently stuck in the UK and had leave to remain as a visitor, or under any other short-term category of the rules, which expired after 24 January 2020.

Visa Appointments

Are Visa Application Centres open?


After 10 weeks of lockdown, some UK Visa Application Centres (VACs) are starting to resume services, where local restrictions allow. However, ongoing global restrictions mean some UKVI services will remain closed. Contact your local VAC to find out the latest status:

- TLS contact if you’re in Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East
- VFS global for all other countries

How do I schedule an appointment at a VAC?

If you had an appointment scheduled before lockdown measures came into force, you should receive an email from UKVCAS rescheduling your appointment. Due to the volume of appointments that will need to be rescheduled, it may take UKVCAS some time to contact you.

Anyone needing to make a new appointment will need to wait until these become available. People with previously scheduled appointments have priority.

What happens if I cannot get an appointment before my leave expires?

If your online immigration application was submitted when you had leave to remain in the UK, you will continue to be lawfully in the UK whilst waiting for a rescheduled or a new appointment. The same conditions of stay will remain in force.

Workers

Can I start working if I have not received a decision on my Tier 2 or Tier 5 application due to coronavirus-related delays in application processing?

If you’ve applied for a Tier 2 or 5 working visa and are waiting for a decision on your application, you can start work before your visa application has been decided if:

- you have been assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)
- you submitted your application before your current visa expired and you show your sponsor evidence of this
- the job you start is the same as the one listed on your CoS
If your application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused your sponsor will stop sponsoring you and you will then have to stop working for them.

What if I am an NHS worker?

Some frontline health workers and their families will get their visas automatically extended because of coronavirus. There are also changes to the conditions of visas for some frontline health workers. These changes will apply to you if you work for the NHS or independent health and care providers as a:

- biochemist
- biological scientist
- dental practitioner
- health professional
- medical practitioner
- medical radiographer
- midwife
- nurse
- occupational therapist
- ophthalmologist
- paramedic
- pharmacist
- physiotherapist
- podiatrist
- psychologist
- social worker
- speech and language therapist
- therapy professional

Check with your employer if you’re not sure whether you work in an eligible profession.

Can I volunteer or work with the NHS if I do not have a working visa?

There is no longer a limit on the number of hours you can work or volunteer each week if you are a Tier 4 student, Tier 2 worker with an NHS job as a second job, visiting academic researcher, or a holder of a short-term visa which normally holds working/volunteering restrictions

Access to public funds (and the Furlough Scheme)

The “no recourse to public funds” (NRPF) rule is imposed on people with limited leave to enter or remain in the UK. It prohibits the person holding limited leave to remain from accessing certain defined public funds, such as Universal Credit or benefits. A person who claims public funds despite such a condition is committing a criminal offence. Such an offence may well carry future immigration effects, as any existing leave can be curtailed, and any future application refused as a consequence. Recently, the High Court has ruled that the government must make it easier for migrants to access the welfare system if they are about to become destitute, declaring part of the no access to public funds unlawful.

What does this mean for the Furlough Scheme? Can I get furloughed if I have limited leave to remain?

The Home Office has confirmed that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can be used for migrants. They have to meet the same eligibility requirements as other employees.

This is because Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is not defined as ‘public funds’ in the Immigration Rules (Part 6 ‘Interpretation’). Therefore, migrants who are placed on furlough will not be in breach of their conditions of stay. However, it is important that they do not also claim any benefits which are defined as public funds.

New overseas applicants

Most visa application centres overseas are currently closed. The websites of VFS Global and TLScontact contain further information on specific locations.

Can I come to the UK I I obtained my visa before lockdown measures came into force?

Unlike other EU countries, the UK has not closed its borders – although flights and trains are limited – so you can travel to the UK if you already have a visa or you do not need one.

You should be advised that from 8 June 2020, people travelling to the UK (except from Ireland) will need to provide their journey and contact details by filling in an online form before they travel. After arriving in the UK they will need to self-isolate for 14 days. There will be exemptions for diplomats, transport workers and others.

Can I apply for a new visa?

It depends. UK visa application centres in most countries are closed but they are gradually starting to reopen.

You can still submit an online visa application, which is the first step of the visa process. You can also prepare your application so that it is ready to submit as soon as the visa application centres reopen in your area.

What if I am a Tier 4 student and my course is starting before I receive my visa?

You can start your course or studies before your visa application has been decided if:

- your sponsor is a Tier 4 sponsor
- you have been given a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS)
- you submitted your application before your current visa expired and you show your sponsor evidence of this
- the course you start is the same as the one listed on your CAS
- you have a valid Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate if required

If your application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused you must stop your course or studies.

Before I submit my Home Office application I have to pass an English language test and/or the Life in the UK test but the test centres are closed. What do I do?

Test centres are gradually starting to reopen but it may not be possible to get an appointment before your visa expires.

Even if you cannot get an appointment in time, you should still submit your Home Office application before your visa expires. Do not book your UKVCAS appointment until the English language / Life in the UK test centres have reopened and you have been able to pass the test(s). You may not have met the English language / Life in the UK requirement on the date you applied but if you meet it on the date of your appointment it would be unreasonable for the Home Office to refuse your application in the current circumstances.

Absences from the UK due to COVID-19 and their impact on residency (Indefinite Leave to Remain Applicants, EEA citizens, etc.)

What if you have a long-term UK visa (with a view to get indefinite leave to remain), but you are stuck outside the UK for several months?

If you have a visa which leads to indefinite leave to remain you cannot normally spend more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12-month period during the five-year qualifying period. This rule does not apply to every visa category and the way it works depends on the date when your visa was issued.

The 180-day limit is usually strictly enforced. However, the Home Office considers granting indefinite leave to remain if your absences are over the limit but justified due to serious or compelling reasons. According to the Home Office guidance, serious or compelling reasons will vary but can include serious illness of the applicant or a close relative, a conflict, a natural disaster, for example, volcanic eruption or tsunami.

The Home Office has not confirmed that the coronavirus pandemic qualifies as a serious or compelling reason in this context, but it seems logical that it will.

However, note that this is at the Home Office’s discretion and therefore, if you stay abroad for too long, there is no guarantee that the excess absences will be accepted.

What if I have pre-settled status and I need additional years of residence in order to qualify for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme?

For EEA citizens wanting to obtain indefinite leave to remain under the EU Settlement Scheme, the same thing applies as for other applicants wanting to obtain indefinite leave to remain via other routes. Normally, if you want to obtain settled status, you cannot spend more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12-month period during the five-year qualifying period. The Home Office has not confirmed that the coronavirus pandemic qualifies as a serious or compelling reason justifying exceptions for this rule in this context, but it seems logical that they will as it will be in accordance with EU law principles.

However, note that this is at the Home Office’s discretion and therefore, if you stay abroad for too long, there is no guarantee that the excess absences will be accepted.













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