I am an immigrant married to a British citizen and two months ago I paid £2,000 to extend my spouse visa for two and a half years. My application has not been processed because, despite their importance to people’s lives, the visa offices have not been operational as this is not deemed an “essential service”. The official advice is that if I leave the country at any time before my application is approved, the extension granted to applicants because of the delays will be terminated. I am therefore trapped in the UK on a visa that does not allow me to access public funds. I did not qualify for furlough payments.
The last communication I received from the Home Office was an email containing personal details of another visa applicant – an unacceptable breach of data protection rules. The visa service is run as a for-profit business, but it’s a monopoly with no ombudsman which delivers a service so bad it would go bankrupt in a commercial market.
Hundreds of foreign nationals living in the UK have been left in limbo after the government’s privatised visa application process effectively shut down for three months. Some have been unable to take up new jobs or visit dying relatives abroad because of their uncertain status. Applications for new or extended visas require biometrics to be submitted for free at one of half a dozen centres across the UK, or for a fee at 51 other locations, and when these were closed, the government promised that previously submitted biometrics could be reused. However, there have been delays in contacting applicants who qualify for this temporary measure, and those who don’t face a scarcity of available appointments to submit their data.
The Home Office contacted you after I questioned the delay and the data breach, and your application has been granted. It stated that those on visas which permit them to work and access public funds will still be allowed to do both while awaiting approval for extension, provided the application was made before their visa expired.
“We operate with a reduced capacity to observe social distancing, but we’ve adapted our working practices to minimise waiting times,” it says. “We’ve taken extensive action to support those with no recourse to public funds, and encourage eligible migrants on human rights or family visas to have their conditions lifted.”
Immigration concerns during the pandemic can be addressed to a special helpline via [email protected] or 0800 678 1767.
UK nationals are also trapped in the country because of a similar backlog at the Passport Office. Currently, those needing to obtain or renew a passport are being advised to wait until September before applying, unless it’s an emergency, and there’s no timeline on how long the turnaround will be.
MS of London writes that relatives in Australia are in a high-risk group for Covid-19 and he may need to travel at short notice. “I explained all this to the passport office and was told I don’t fit the criteria for compassionate or emergency applications,” he says. “A passport is also essential ID for job applications, among other things, as well as travel. I didn’t stop working during lockdown as I am a NHS employee and I do not understand why this government organisation is not back at its desks, as I am sure they can do so in a safer environment than my workplace.”
Government plans to return staff to passport offices in April were suspended when union officials raised safety concerns, but it says it has now expanded its premises to allow social distancing. “We have been very clear it will take longer than usual to receive a passport,” it says. “Her Majesty’s Passport Office continues to process standard passport applications, and you can continue to apply online, but we would encourage those who are able to do so, to apply at a later date. As is always the case, we also strongly advise people not to book travel without a valid passport.”