UK visas are assessed and issued by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), including visa extensions and switches made from inside the UK.
When you submit an application to extend a UK visa, it will be sent to one of UKVI’s processing hubs where a caseworker will assess your application, perform a number of background checks and then hopefully, issue you with a UK visa and an updated biometric residence permit (BRP).
In this blog post we’ll go into detail about what the 9 steps of the application process looks like and where you can get assistance if needed. If you’re looking for guidance on the process for applying for a UK visa from outside the UK, you can find it in this blog post.
DISCLAIMER: We won’t be providing anything that could be considered ‘advice’, we’re just sticking to the process!
STEP 1: Getting started
Generally, you’ll be doing one of two things:
- Extending an existing visa (e.g. extending a Tier 2 General Work visa)
- Switching to a different visa (e.g. applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain after completing the qualifying period from a different visa route)
Once you’ve confirmed you do need a UK visa, take a look at the guidance documents online for the purpose of your application to find out how to apply and what supporting documents you need to provide.
Almost 700k UK visa and British citizenship applications are made inside the UK each year and this number has grown significantly in recent years.
The most common category of application – extensions of temporary leave, such as using the Points Based System – rose 14% from September 2018 to September 2019 while British citizenship applications were up 18% over the same period. Settlement applications were flat in the year to September 2019 at around 90k, while there was a 6% drop in EEA family permit applications.
STEP 2: Getting help to extend a UK visa
In the UK, you can get qualified help to extend a UK visa from a registered immigration advisor or immigration solicitor.
Both immigration advisors and solicitors are part of regulated bodies: immigration advisors are regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) while immigration solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) or other competent legal body.
There are around 2000 registered immigration advisors in the UK, as well as hundreds of solicitors that also provide immigration advice.
Approximately third-quarters of immigration advisors are fee-charging, that is, they charge a fee for helping you prepare your visa application.
The remaining quarter of immigration advisors don’t charge fees for their services but are typically geared towards helping visa applicants in specific situations, such as refugees, asylum seekers, minority groups or other specialised service for vulnerable groups.
Immigration advisor and solicitor services include:
- Confirming you’re applying in the right visa category
- Telling you what supporting documents you need (and what they need to contain)
- Checking your supporting documents to make sure they meet the requirements
- Filling out your visa application form
- Scheduling an appointment at a UKVCAS service centre for you (see below)
- Responding to any clarifications from UKVI and providing you with status updates when available
A good immigration advisor makes sure your UK visa application is correct and all the supporting documents meet UKVI’s requirements. They can also fully answer your questions and advise on the different application options you may have. They’re well worth their fee if you absolutely need to make the correct UK visa application or are unsure of how to apply.
You can use a service like Help with my visa! to find a vetted immigration advisor and check out their customer ratings before you commit.
Help with my visa! lets you find an immigration adviser and book at appointment with them online at any time… and on any device, making it even easier to get help preparing your UK visa application.
STEP 3: Preparing your supporting documents
Supporting documents, or ‘supporting evidence’ as it’s also sometimes called, is everything you prepare to support your UK visa application. It includes your passport, the UK visa application form and everything else you need to submit according to the UKVI guidance documents.
You should prepare these documents well in advance as you may need information from them to complete your UK visa application form.
We’ll come on to what to do with your supporting documents after we’ve introduced the ‘UKVCAS service centres’.
STEP 4: Extending your UK visa
Virtually all UK visa extension applications made inside the UK now start with you making an online application.
UK visa application forms do differ depending upon your visa type, but now that you’ve confirmed what type of visa you’re applying for it’s a case of clicking through the instructions to reach the application portal.
You’ll be asked to set up an account and confirm your email address.
Keep this information safe as you’ll need it later on!
As UK visa application forms have now been digitised, filling out a UK visa application form is more a case of answering a bunch of questions rather than completing fields in a ‘form’. Subsequent questions may differ depending upon answers you gave in previous questions, so take care to answer each question carefully before moving on.
We won’t lie, this process may take you a while, particularly if you have an extensive travel history (you’ll be asked for the dates of everywhere you’ve travelled to in the last 10 years). You can easily spend 2-3 hours completing a UK visa application form, even if you have everything prepared.
At the end of the application form you’ll be given the chance to review and amend the information you’ve provided.
This is the last chance you have to change something before it’s locked!
So do take your time, even go and sleep on it and come back fresh the next day (using those account credentials you noted down for safe keeping) before confirming.
Paying your UK visa application (and other) fees
As part of the online application process to extend a UK visa you’ll be asked to pay your visa fees, as well as make payments for other mandatory and non-mandatory services.
The visa fees are calculated by UKVI and are charged per applicant. Unless you fall into one of only a handful of very specific application routes, you’ll need to pay the UK visa fee.
Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS)
When most people extend a UK visa inside the UK they need to pay the mandatory Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) fee. This fee goes towards covering the cost of your access to free public healthcare in the UK on the National Health Service (NHS). The fee calculation is rather complicated behind the scenes but thankfully after entering a few details, the website will tell you how much you need to pay automatically.
Priority and Super Priority Visas
Other optional services you can buy at this stage include paying for a Priority Visa or Super Priority Visa service.
These are both fast-track services that give you a decision on your visa quicker than usual.
A Priority Visa service brings the turnaround time down from what can sometimes be months to 5 working days, while a Super Priority Visa service gets you a decision the next working day.
You should check your eligibility (and the pricing!) on the UKVI website before you set your heart on using one of these services as they aren’t available for every visa application route. It’s worth doing your homework in advance if you plan to use one of these services so you fully understand what’s available.
These aren’t the only potential fees you’ll pay when making your UK visa application, so don’t put that credit card away just yet!
STEP 5: Booking an appointment at a UKVCAS service centre
At this point you’ll be asked to do one of two things:
- Book an appointment at a UKVCAS service centre
- Download the ID Verification app for your smartphone
You don’t get a choice which route you can take, UKVI will notify you before you go any further.
The UKVCAS services centres are a network of offices run by a commercial partner on an exclusive basis within the UK that provides visa application services on behalf of UKVI. These services include collecting biometric data, digitising supporting documents and electronically transmitting everything to UKVI for a decision.
The UKVCAS (UK Visas and Citizenship Application Services) network is run by Sopra Steria, a commercial company that specialises in providing digital services to governments and the private sector. There are around 60 UKVCAS service centres throughout the UK, including at least one centre in each of the Home Country capitals.
Appointment availability at UKVCAS service centres is very limited so make sure you leave plenty of time to book your appointment.
UKVCAS service centres are located in commercial buildings (including Sopra Steria corporate offices), managed office spaces and libraries.
After you’ve completed your online UK visa application you’ll be asked to book an appointment at a UKVCAS service centre to continue the process to extend a UK visa. This means creating another, separate account with UKVCAS that is used to manage your appointment and account.
You can apply at any UKVCAS service centre you like, and as they’re pretty evenly spread throughout the country there should be one located a manageable distance from your home or office.
There are charges for using some UKVCAS service centres, while others are free to use. Make sure you checkout the UKVCAS website to confirm if there’s a charge or not. Only UKVCAS will charge you for an appointment – no other organisation or intermediary should charge you for this. You pay the appointment fee on the UKVCAS website when you book.
Once you’ve booked your appointment at a UKVCAS service centre you’ll be sent a confirmation email with a pdf attachment.
It’s super important that you keep this email safe and we’d thoroughly recommend printing the pdf file pages for all members of your party.
The pdf file contains your QR code, which is used to check you into your appointment, enrol your biometric data and link your supporting documents to your file. You can use the QR code on your phone but it’s generally less hassle if you just print out the pdf file.
Now that your appointment is booked you’ll be given the option to upload your supporting documents. It’s strongly recommended to do this in advance of your appointment, especially if you have a lot of documents, as there may be charges for UKVCAS to scan these for you at the service centre and the process can take half an hour or more.
You don’t need to upload your supporting documents in one sitting – you can come back later and amend or add to what you’ve already uploaded – but do complete everything in advance of your appointment to avoid delays and potential charges.
Types of UKVCAS service centre
There are four main types of UKVCAS service centre: core service centres, enhanced service centres, premium lounges and on-demand mobile application services.
Core service centres
UKVCAS has a network of six core service centres. Located in Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Croydon (London), Glasgow and Manchester, core service centres have two or more service desks and can handle dozens, hundreds or even more than a thousand visa applicants per day. This means core service centres can become very busy at peak times, but as there are multiple service desks the queues tend to flow reasonably fast.
Appointments at core service centres during core hours (10:00 to 16:00 Monday to Friday) are free of charge but they typically sell out very fast.
You can still book appointments outside of these times – many core service points are open late on at least one evening per week and also at weekends – but there is a charge for these appointment slots. Charges vary based on demand and may vary from £50 per person up £100+.
Enhanced service centres
Enhanced service centres are smaller, typically one service desk operations based predominantly in libraries or managed office spaces, such as Regus offices.
There are over 50 enhanced service centres around the UK, from as far southwest at Taunton up to Aberdeen in northeast Scotland. There are also several enhanced service centres in Central London and around a dozen in surrounding counties.
There is a charge for using an enhanced service point, around £70 per person, and this fee rises if you book an appointment outside of core hours (10:00 to 16:00) to over £120 per person.
UKVCAS has two premium lounges: one in the City of London, and the other in Birmingham. These premium lounges provide exactly the same services as core and enhanced service centres, just in a more comfortable and private environment.
The UKVCAS premium lounges are similar to business lounges at airports. They offer more comfortable surroundings, free hot and cold beverages, wifi access and a selection of magazines and newspapers.
Premium lounges aren’t cheap (typically c.£200 per person for an appointment) but if you’re based in London or Birmingham and your company is footing the bill for your visa they’re a great way of getting seen to quickly.
On-demand mobile application services
UKVCAS also offers on-demand mobile application services where they take a service centre to you. This service is aimed at high-net-worth individuals or organisations that have many people renewing a UK visa at the same time and don’t want so many people out of the office all at once.
To use an on-demand mobile application service you need to book an appointment on the UKVCAS website and pay the fee (which can run into the thousands of pounds). UKVCAS will then bring all the equipment they need to your home, office or other location, and run a visa application service just for you and your fellow UK visa applicants.
ID Verification App
In Summer 2020, UKVI and Sopra Steria introduced a new ID Verification app. Where UKVI could re-use previously collected fingerprints, UK visa applicants renewing their visas could download the ID Verification app to their smartphone, confirm their identity and submit their supporting documents without having to attend a UKVCAS service centre.
STEP 6: Attending the UKVCAS appointment
It’s mandatory to attend a UKVCAS appointment if you’ve been advised to do so by UKVI.
You should aim to be early for your appointment at the service centre to avoid any issues. While you may not be let in until a few minutes before your appointment, you do risk being turned away if you’re late.
Make sure you have your QR code to hand for all members of your party as you’ll need this several times throughout your visit. If you forget your QR code and it’s not available on your phone, you’ll be in for a long wait while UKVCAS retrieves it for you!
At the service centre you’ll go through five, sometimes six steps:
- Reception: upon arrival you’ll have your appointment confirmed with a member of staff scanning your QR code (and the QR code for anyone else applying with you), and may also go through a security screening process
- Waiting Area: you’ll be asked to wait your turn and will be called to the next step when ready
- Biometric enrolment: you’ll have your biometric data enrolled (passport biographical details page scanned, 10 fingerprints enrolled, digital photograph taken and a digital signature collected). This may be done at a self-service biometric enrolment kiosk or you may have your biometric data collected at the Service Counter if you’re using a smaller enhanced service centre location. You’ll need your QR code to use the self-service biometric enrolment kiosk and it speeds things up at the Service Counter as well
- Service Counter: you’ll be called to a service counter where a member of staff will scan your QR code again and briefly check any supporting documents you’ve uploaded prior to your appointment. If you used a self-service biometric enrolment kiosk, the member of staff will check that data for quality. In smaller enhanced service centres, the member of staff at the Service Counter will also enrol your biometric data.
- Document scanning: if you didn’t upload your supporting documents prior to your appointment, or if you paid for the document scanning service when you booked your appointment, the member of staff at the Service Counter will scan and upload your documents for you.
- Next Steps: you’ll be given information on how and when to follow-up and what the next steps are (if any)
A major difference between the UKVCAS process and the process you’ve used overseas (or several years ago in the UK) is that you don’t need to submit your passport when you make your UK visa application. The UKVCAS service centre will scan your passport during your appointment and send a digital copy to UKVI. This digital copy includes all the passport security features the UKVI caseworker needs to check its authenticity, and as UKVI issues you with a biometric residence permit (BRP) and not a visa vignette in your passport, the caseworker no longer needs to see your original passport.
Two activities that UK visa applicants typically ask about in the service centre are if their supporting documents are okay and what happens to the biometric data they’ve enrolled.
Here’s a high-level overview on those activities.
The major thing to point out about supporting documents is that UKVCAS can’t provide any advice on whether the documents you provide are ‘good enough’ – that’s your responsibility (and why using an immigration adviser to help you prepare can be invaluable).
What UKVCAS does do is make sure that all supporting documents you provide are in English (or Welsh) and are legible. They’ll then tick-off on a high-level checklist where documents have been provided in a particular category. For example, if you provide bank statements they’ll put a tick in the box against you providing ‘proof of financial means’ but they won’t check if your finances are sufficient. You can find out the best ways to prepare your supporting documents in our blog post so that you’re confident what you submit is correct.
You also need to take care that you sign and submit any consent forms – for both you and anyone else who is named on your supporting documents – otherwise UKVI won’t be able to process your application. UKVI may use ‘evidential flexibility’ and write to you to request these documents, but there’s always a risk your application could be straight up refused.
If you’ve previously uploaded your supporting documents on the UKVCAS website, these checks will be performed on your uploaded documents.
If you didn’t upload your documents, UKVCAS will scan and upload the documents for you at the service centre. There may be a charge for this service so do check in advance if a payment is needed as there are no payment facilities at the service centres – you’ll have to make the purchase online using your phone.
You don’t need to submit any hardcopy documents as part of your application – everything is scanned and submitted digitally, including your passport – so any documents you bring to your appointment you’ll get to take home with you.
Biometric data enrolment
You’ll be familiar with the drill for enrolling your biometric data from your original UK visa application made overseas, and when renewing or switching in the UK the process is broadly similar.
The UK collects four pieces of biometric data:
- Passport biographical details page: the biographical details page of your passport will be scanned and the security features checked
- Digital photograph: a live digital photograph of you will be taken – this photograph will appear on your biometric residence permit (BRP, see below) when you’re issued with one
- 10-fingerprint enrolment: all 10 of your fingerprints will be enrolled using a digital enrolment scanner (so no messy ink!) and will be used to identify you when you arrive at the UK border, as well as being used for background checks performed by the UKVI caseworker when assessing your UK visa application (see below)
- Digital signature: your digital signature is another piece of data used to confirm your identity and also printed on your BRP if you’re issued with one
All UK visa applicants will have their passport biographical details page scanned and a digital photograph taken at the service centre. You may not need to provide your fingerprints or digital signature if you’re under a certain age, or due to other circumstances, but by and large most adults will provide all four pieces of biometric data.
The UKVCAS service uses one of two different sets of equipment of biometric data enrolment:
- Self-service biometric enrolment kiosk: located in all core service centres and many larger enhanced service centres, these kiosks are self-service and prompt you to enrol your biometric data following instructions displayed on-screen after you’ve scanned your QR code. These kiosks are very quick and easy to use for most people, but they aren’t build to handle exceptions so if you’re missing fingers, usually have difficulty enrolling your fingerprints or may struggle to have an ICAO-compliant photograph taken it’s best to ask a member of staff if you can use the assisted biometric enrolment service.
- Assisted biometric enrolment: this service is identical to what you experienced overseas when applying for your original UK visa, you sit at a desk and a member of UKVCAS staff guides you through the biometric enrolment process. The staff have a much greater level of control over what quality standards they can accept for your biometrics so the assisted biometric enrolment service is best for young children or if you fall into any of the exception categories listed above. You’ll also need to use an assisted biometric enrolment if you’ve forgotten or don’t have your QR code.
STEP 7: UKVI decides
After you’ve attended your visa application centre appointment, UKVCAS will securely send your biometric data and supporting documents to the UKVI processing hub. Here, a UKVI caseworker will assess your application.
Each UK visa application is assessed on its own merits using information drawn from a number of different sources. Your UK visa application form, supporting documents and biometric data all contribute to the caseworker’s decision, but they’ll also use other decision-making tools and background checks to come to a final decision.
This is a big reason why UKVCAS can’t comment on your application – they don’t see a lot of what goes on behind the scenes.
When a decision’s been made, you’ll receive an email from UKVI. If your visa was issued, you’ll receive your biometric residence permit (BRP) in the post within 7-10 days. If your visa was refused, you’ll receive a letter from UKVI outlining why and what options you have for appeal (if any).
STEP 8: Receiving your biometric residence permit (BRP)
Your BRP will be sent through the post to the home address you specified on your visa application form. UKVI advises it takes about 7-10 days from receipt of your visa decision letter to receiving your BRP.
You must keep your BRP safe and take it with you if you leave the country as you’ll need it at immigration control when you come back to the UK.
STEP 9: Enjoy your stay!
So that’s the process you need to go through when renewing or switching for a UK visa from inside the UK.
The crucial thing is making sure you’re well-prepared at the start, as once you have everything to hand is a matter of following these 9 steps in order until your BRP arrives.