Home Office publishes new directions on investigation of marriages involving non EEA national partners

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The Home Office has today published new guidance for its decision makers and investigation officers covering:

  • the factors to be considered when deciding to investigate a proposed marriage or civil partnership which has been referred to the Secretary of State on the grounds that one or both or the partners is neither a citizen of the UK or another EEC country or Switzerland and who might be considered to be gaining an immigration advantage from such a marriage or civil partnership;
  • the conduct of an investigation in these circumstances; and
  • in deciding whether or not each of the parties to a proposed marriage or civil partnership subject to an investigation under the scheme has complied with that investigation (“the compliance decision”).

The guidance arises from provisions of the Immigration Act 2014 which, from 2 March 2015 have extended the marriage and civil partnership notice period from 15 days to 28 days for all couples in marrying following civil preliminaries or forming a civil partnership, and required all couples involving a non-European Economic Area (non-EEA)/non-Swiss national who wish to marry in the Anglican Church in England and Wales to complete civil preliminaries and give notice at a register office and be subject to the 28-day notice period.

The Act also provides the basis for the introduction of “a referral and investigation scheme for proposed marriages and civil partnerships across the UK involving a non-EEA national who could benefit in immigration terms”

This scheme requires that “All proposed marriages and civil partnerships in the UK involving a non-EEA national with limited or no immigration status in the UK, or who does not provide specified evidence that they are exempt from the scheme , are to be referred to the Secretary of State by the registration official.”

The guidance explains that “The Secretary of State will assess all referrals against intelligence- and evidence-.based risk profiles and other information to identify suspect proposed marriages and civil partnerships, and then consider in these cases whether there are reasonable grounds to suspect a sham marriage or civil partnership. Where the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds to suspect a sham and at least one of the parties is not exempt from the scheme, she may decide to investigate whether the marriage or civil partnership is a sham.”

In the event that suspicion does arise the official responsible for registering the marriage or civil partnership will service a direction on the couple which has the effect of notice period from 28 days to 70 days in order to  allow the Home Office “to investigate and take appropriate enforcement or casework action where a sham is established.”  During this time the couple will be unable to get married or enter into a civil partnership on the basis of that notice if they do not comply with an investigation under the scheme.

The guidance directs that an investigation will be carried out whenever:

A) One of the parties stands to benefit in immigration terms from the marriage/civil partnership; and

B) Where there is suspicion that “there is no genuine relationship between the parties”, and the proposed marriage/civil partnership is therefore a “sham”.

The factors to be taken into consideration to decide whether the proposed marriage might be a sham include assessment against risk factors which arise from reports by marriage registration officials on activities concerning these matters in their local areas with an additional review of the immigration record of the parties and any additional information concerning their criminal activity.

Where these facts are present and it is otherwise considered warranted the parties may be subject to additional scrutiny to determine whether there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the proposed marriage or civil partnership is a sham.The guidance goes on to provide further directions on the conduct of investigations, including, the purpose of investigation; the means by which it shall be conducted; the provision of information, evidence or photographs; and the interviewing of the parties.

User Pays Visa Application Centre fee frozen and changes to the network

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Visas and Immigration announces that it will hold fee at £59 for User Pays Visa Application Centres.

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) today announced changes to the User Pays Visa Application Centre (VAC) Network which will see the global fee stay at £59 across all locations. The fee was previously due to rise on 6 April to £70.

This change is possible because of the decision to convert a small number of currently free to use application points into User Pay centres in early May. In all these locations (Ikeja, Mirpur, Sylhet) applicants will continue to have access to at least one other free to use application centre in that country. Applicants at these centres will also benefit from service enhancements, including longer opening hours (where there is demand) and a courier return service saving customers the time and cost of returning to the VAC to collect their documents.

The changes we are making now are part of longer term strategy to increase the number and range of different ways that people overseas can apply for visas to the UK over the next couple of years.

Temporary passport extension stamp ends for British citizens living abroad

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Provisional measure to help British passport holders abroad ends as turnaround times improve

British citizens living abroad will need to apply to renew their passports online or at local offices as usual, as one of the contingency measures brought in to cope with the exceptional demand last year comes to an end.

The Home Secretary announced the introduction of the 12 month extension stamp for overseas customers in June last year. More than 20,000 customers benefited from the contingency measure, which was brought in to prevent the disruption of travel plans.

With passport demand returning to expected levels, the Home Secretary has reviewed the provision and from 10 April all British passport holders overseas will need to make their renewal applications online or in a local passport office, following the guidance for their country of residence on GOV.UK.

Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO) will be contacting all of those who hold a passport with an extension stamp, at least two months before the expiry of their stamp, to encourage them to renew their passports.

Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire said:

Following the significant demand for passports last year, the Home Secretary introduced 12-month extension stamps so that those British passport holders abroad whose passports were about to expire could travel.

This was a temporary measure to ensure that international customers were still able to travel during what was an exceptional period of demand.

Overseas turnaround times have improved significantly and are now well within service standards. But we still encourage all overseas passport holders to apply in good time to avoid disruption to their travel plans.

HMPO will provide a seven working day service for those customers with an extension stamp if they submit all the correct documentation to HMPO in the UK within a specified period of six weeks of being contacted.

Labour vows to ban indefinite detention of asylum and immigration applicants

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Labour has promised to introduce new time limits on the detention of people trapped in the asylum and immigration system in a move that would bring Britain into line with most other western countries by banning indefinite detention.

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, described the current system as inefficient and “deeply scarring” for those trapped in detention centres such as Yarl’s Wood.

The proposal is bound to be controversial, with critics claiming it would allow asylum and immigration applicants to abscond into the community once they are released. But the idea of a time limit has the broad support of the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick.

Cooper’s announcement is a response to growing delays in immigration and asylum processes over the past five years, with more people being detained for longer than three months, fewer decisions being made and fewer people being removed from the country. The number of people being held for three to six months has risen from 1,757 in 2010 to 2,385 last year. In 2014, 700 people were held for up to a year. A recent home affairs select committee inquiry found that two people had been detained for more than four years.

The chief inspector of prisons has said that “at least a third, and getting on for half, of all detainees are released back into the community” anyway. Cooper said Labour would launch a consultation on the appropriate limits to detention length and the appropriate safeguards for detention decision-making.

An all-party parliamentary inquiry has proposed 28 days and others less time. Many are detained for a few days and Labour does not want to put perverse incentives into the system so the new maximum time turns into the norm.

One option would be to increase reporting requirements for asylum applicants awaiting a decision. Labour has already announced that it will end indefinite detention for pregnant women and those who have suffered sexual violence.

In a bid to reassure voters that Labour would not leave thousands of asylum applicants to disappear into the community, she said her party would also recruit 1,000 additional border and immigration enforcement staff – paid for by levying a charge on non-visa visitors to the UK – to help speed up the process of decision-making, identifying breaches in the immigration rules, and enforcing removals.

Labour officials stressed that people with no right to be in the UK – through breaching the immigration rules or as a result of a failed asylum claim – should depart or be removed, with the minimum necessary detention and a fair, speedy decision-making process. It is widely accepted that the current system of removals is not working – leading to political gimmicks such as the Home Office’s “go home” vans touring the streets of Londonin a bid to persuade illegal immigrants to leave the country.

They also stressed that those who have committed criminal offences and were being deported because of their criminal behaviour, or those who posed a threat to UK national security or public safety, would not have recourse to the time limit.

Announcing the plans at an event in Birmingham on Thursday, Cooper will say: “The immigration detention system isn’t working.

“Immigration and asylum rules need to be enforced, but they must also be humane. Over the last few years we have seen growing numbers of people being detained for longer as a result of delays in deciding their case.

“Indefinite detention of people who have committed no crime – and without even any independent review – is wrong. It can be deeply scarring – especially for asylum seekers who have already suffered abuse. And it is extremely expensive for taxpayers. No other western nation does it. We don’t need to either.”

Zrinka Bralo, a Citizens UK campaign leader, expressed her delight, saying: “Indefinite detention is a stain on the character of Britain. Detaining people indefinitely in prison-like conditions without judicial oversight is unfair, unjust, ineffective and inhumane. It destroys lives and breaks up families. The current system has a high human cost, but it also has huge financial implications for the taxpayer, who have to fund holding people in expensive, prison-like conditions.

“This isn’t about an open-door immigration policy; it’s about establishing a time limit to help ensure that refugees and migrants are treated with dignity while they are here, on their way in and on their way out.”

Illegal immigrants will be kicked out of Britain BEFORE they can appeal under new plans

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ILLEGAL immigrants would be deported from Britain before they get a chance to appeal stopping thousands from prolonging their stay by lodging court reviews.

The reforms would mean that those who have entered the UK illegally or overstayed their visas would be sent home on a plane before any judicial review began.

The plans – which will be introduced by the Conservatives if they win the election – will stop thousands of immigrants from exploiting the court system to prolong their stays in Britain.

It is hoped that the crackdown will slash legal costs for lengthy appeal processes, saving taxpayers money.

The only exception would be for asylum seekers or foreigners who would face “irreversible” harm if sent back home to a dangerous country.

If they win the election, the Tories are also planning to put “rocket boosters” on current sanctions that remove benefits from immigrants who will not learn English.

Officials working for home secretary Theresa May have met with the Department of Work and Pensions to discuss how they could include housing and sickness benefits if the Tories are elected in May.

Doctors and nurses will also be forced to direct foreigners who cannot speak English to language courses.

Almost 800,000 immigrants in Britain admit they struggle with English or can’t speak it at all, official figures show.

They can currently claim up to £400 per week in housing benefits.

‘The best visa service in the world just got better’ – Sir James Bevan KCMG, UK High Commissioner to India

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Sir James Bevan KCMG, UK High Commissioner to India said….

I’m delighted to be here in Gurgaon to open this new visa facility. I have three messages I want to convey to you today.

  • First: the UK runs the best visa service in the world here in India.
  • Second: with the opening of this facility today, that service just got better.
  • And third: we’re going to make further improvements in future.

We run the best visa service in the world.

Let me start with my first proposition: that the UK visa service here is the best in the world. I say that because:

The UK visa operation here in India is the UK’s biggest visa operation in the world. In India we process over 400,000 visa applications every year.

The UK operation here in India is also the biggest visa operation of any country in India. With the opening of this facility in Gurgaon, the UK now has 13 visa application centres across India*.

Our visa operation is one of the most efficient in India. In 2014, the average time to process a UK visa was just 6 days.

Our service delivers what our Indian customers want most: their visa.

Many Indians think it’s hard to get a visa for the UK. Wrong: most Indians who apply for one get it. In 2014, 91% of Indian applications were successful. If you are a genuine traveller, you will get your visa.

Many Indians also think it’s impossible to get a work visa for the UK. Wrong again: In fact, we issue more work visas to Indians than we issue to any other nationality in the world. In 2014 the UK issued over 60,000 work visas to Indians, more than we issued to China, Australia and the US combined. And in 2014 more than two thirds of the Intra-Company Transfer visas we issued globally – visas for professional workers going to work for their company in the UK – went to Indians.

Our visa service also delivers a great deal for Indian students. We want India’s best and brightest to come to the UK for their education. So we have set no limit – no limit – on the numbers of Indian students who can come to Britain. If you have a place at a UK university, can support yourself financially and speak decent English, you will get your visa. The proof of that is that in 2014, 85% of Indian student visa applications were successful and we issued over 12,600 visas to Indian students.

And our service delivers a great deal for Indian visitors and business people too. Every year we welcome over 300,000 Indians to the UK as visitors, and over 100,000 Indian businesspeople. Those numbers continue to rise.

It just got better: Gurgaon

That’s why I say that the visa service the UK provides here in India is not just the biggest but the best there is. And today this service gets better.

Because here in Gurgaon we are launching a new facility, our first ever standalone Premium Lounge. From Monday (30 March) Indians who want to travel to the UK can apply for their visa in this new exclusive facility. It will allow our customers to apply for their visa more quickly, more conveniently – especially for those who work or live in and around Gurgaon – and in greater comfort. Gurgaon is an increasingly important business hub so I’m glad that we’ve been able to meet the requests of Indian and British business communities by opening here.

Those who choose to use this new facility will be able to submit their application and give their biometrics quickly. They will be notified by SMS when their visa is ready and their passport with visa will be couriered back to them. For all that they will pay a relatively modest charge of R2,500, on top of the cost of their visa. In addition should they wish they will be able to apply via the priority service and get their visa within three to five days.

Gurgaon is the latest in our expanding list of Premium Service Lounges which are now available in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, New Delhi and – from next month – Kolkata.

And we will continue to improve it.

But we know this is a competitive market. Which is why we are committed to constant improvement in our visa service. And we have made a lot of improvements over the last few years.

In 2013 when Prime Minister David Cameron visited India he announced our new same day visa service, the first of its kind anywhere in the world, now available in New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai.

Most recently we introduced our new passport passback service. This means that if you plan to visit other countries in addition to the UK, you can have your passport back while we process your visa application in order to apply for the other visas you need. We are currently running a pilot in Bangalore which has extended our priority visa service from visitors to student and workers. This means those applying for student or work visas can pay to receive a visa decision in just three to five days. We hope to extend this service more widely later this year.

And we plan to keep on improving. I can announce today that next month we will open a 14th Visa Application Centre, in Jaipur. And we are looking at plans for more in the future.

So don’t believe the myths. The UK is open – for business travellers, for visitors, for students, for qualified workers. Indians who visit the UK have a good time and leave with a good impression. We aim to make that good impression on you before you even leave India – with the best visa service there is.

*Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chandigarh, Chennai, Gurgaon, Hyderabad, Jalandhar, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai (North), Mumbai (South), New Delhi, Pune.

Tier 2 Sponsorship CoS Allocation Renewal

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As the end of financial year approaches, companies who are registered as sponsors for Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (Intra-company transfer) visas should look to renew their annual unrestricted Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) allocation.

Existing allocations will expire on 5 April 2015 and before that date businesses should consider their sponsorship requirements for the upcoming year. Companies will need a CoS for any existing sponsored employees whose visa is due to expire, for any existing employees they may wish to sponsor to remain in the UK, for any potential migrant workers they may wish to hire with salaries over £150,000 per year and for any employees based abroad they may wish to bring to the UK in the next twelve months on a short or long term basis.

In the last 12 months we have seen a change in approach from the Home Office when dealing with these requests. Previously most applications were granted without further enquiries. However, in recent months, the Home Office has been asking for further information about the potential roles that the certificates will be used for.

When considering the number of certificates required, we recommend providing the Home Office with as much detail as possible. This can include details of the roles that will be filled by migrant workers, the salaries that the migrant workers will be paid and details of any employees who will need to have their visas extended.

If a company misses the deadline for requesting an annual allocation, or not enough certificates are granted, the company can make a further request at any stage during the course of the next 12 months. There is no application fee for requesting a CoS, but processing times can vary and we recommend applying as soon as a potential need is identified.

Visit http://citylegalservices.co.uk/sponsorlicense/ for more details or call us on 020 3695 4626.

Marriages and civil partnerships in the UK

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James Broken-shire, Minister for Security and Immigration announced that Part 4 of the Immigration Act 2014 is to be brought into full effect on 2 March 2015. This amends the procedure for marriage and civil partnership for everyone (not just foreign nationals) and creates new powers for duties to report sham marriages and the investigation and preventing of sham marriages.

The Home Office estimates that under the new provisions, 35,000 marriages per year will need to be referred to the Home Office for potential investigation and that 6,000 marriages will be investigated.

For most marriages or civil partnerships you must give at least 28 full days’ notice at your local register office. Your notice will be publicly displayed in the register office for 28 days.

You may also need to give notice here if you plan to marry or form a civil partnership abroad. Ask the overseas authority if you’ll need a ‘certificate of no impediment’.

You can only give notice at a register office if you have lived in the registration district for at least the past 7 days.

Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) rollout to overseas applicants

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From March, 2015 any non-EEA national applying from overseas for permission to stay in the UK for more than six months will be required to apply for a BRP and then to collect it within ten days of their first arrival in the UK. This change will be delivered over a 4 month period between March and July 2015, subject to parliamentary approval.

The basic visa application process will remain largely unchanged but the applicant will be required to provide their intended date of travel, a UK address and post code. The UK post code submitted as part of the application process will be used to identify the branch of the Post Office to which the Biometric Residence Permit will be sent for collection by the applicant. Help will be provided as part of the application process to guide the applicant in selecting the most appropriate Post Office collection branch.

Successful applicants will receive a letter informing them of the decision, which will also include notification that they must collect their BRP from the designated Post Office branch within 10 days of arrival in the UK. The passport or travel document will also be endorsed with a 30 day short validity (travel) vignette – which will be valid for thirty days from the expected date of travel provided by the applicant – to enable them to travel to the UK and to collect their BRP.

There is no additional fee for the applicant. The visa application fee remains the same.

Any applicant who does not travel to the UK within the 30-day period of their vignette must apply to the Entry Clearance Officer for a replacement short-term visa to enable them to travel to the UK.

H&R Firm Awards Announced

Many colleges and universities already have MOUs in place with local law enforcement authorities covering a variety of areas.  Our conversations with campus administrators, campus police, and law enforcement have underscored the need for additional tools and strategies that are specifically tailored to the dynamics of sexual assault on campus, as well as the needs of sexual assault survivors.  The task force is providing this sample MOU with that in mind.

Continue reading “H&R Firm Awards Announced”