UK Visas and Immigration is piloting significant changes to U.K. visa processing operations and will be rolling them out to business users over the next six months, as the agency continues its push to digitalize. UKVI intends to make ever greater use of online platforms to deliver services, process visa applications and audit sponsoring employers. This move toward great digitalization should ultimately provide employer-sponsors and U.K. visa applicants faster turnaround times and consistency of service, but may also lead to greater levels of scrutiny.

Key changes are highlighted below:

  • UKVI is committed to moving all U.K. immigration processing onshore, centralizing case-working expertise in Sheffield, and taking decision-making work away from U.K. overseas posts. This reverses the previous Home Office policy of requiring “local expertise” and physical examination of documents and applicants on a country-by-country basis as the best means of preventing visa fraud.
  • UKVI’s visa processing capacity in New York, the former case-working hub for all U.S. applicants, is due to close in October. This coincides with the introduction of online services that will allow U.S. customers to upload their visa applications electronically and have their cases reviewed digitally from the U.K.
  • Onshoring will be facilitated by scanning technology that will allow evidence and supporting documents to be submitted electronically rather than physically at a visa processing center.
  • Electronic compliance audits of employer sponsors are being piloted by UKVI to allow auditors to oversee and regulate the terms of sponsor licenses. The future of employer compliance is likely to involve more frequent electronic communications between sponsors and the UKVI over the course of a sponsor license, rather than focusing solely on site visits to enforce compliance. Digital uploading of compliance records should allow UKVI to expand the number of U.K. employers audited and frequency of audits, based on assessment of risk.
  • UKVI plans to unbundle its premium services which should give employers greater choice and flexibility in choosing which aspects of the enhanced services they are willing to pay extra for. (Currently, employers are required to make a single substantial payment for premium services.)
  • Customer service for applicants in the U.K. should improve as the introduction of online application and payment continues. Starting this fall, in-country applicants should experience a service similar to overseas visa applicants, whereby they will apply and pay online and then attend various outsourced service centers in the U.K. to scan their passports and documents to allow digital case working by UKVI in Sheffield. This submission approach will replace current priority postal submissions and means that documents do not need to leave the individual. It will also purposely cut in-person visits at UKVI’s public-service centers as applicants have greater choice to attend local outsourced centers (as is currently the case for biometric enrollment).

BAL Analysis: BAL supports UKVI’s commitment to digitalization, as online systems will generally improve efficiencies to deliver a better overall experience for corporate and individual visa applicants. U.K. employers should be aware, however, that digital technologies will also provide UKVI with greater means to audit and monitor sponsor compliance with license-reporting and recordkeeping requirements on a more regular basis.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group in the United Kingdom. For additional information, please contact

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