03/05/2024

Are You Ready for a Digitised Immigration System? | What You Need to Know

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) are developing a digital immigration system, which means replacing physical documents with an online record known as an ‘eVisa’. This process is already underway and will deliver a border and immigration system that will be ‘digital by default’ by 2025. Alex Christen and Nina Holmes report below.

In the move to digitisation, those who currently prove their immigration status using a physical document will now need to take steps to create a UKVI account to access their eVisa, which will be the new method for providing their right to live and work in the UK. For example, BRP holders are currently being emailed directly by the Home Office in phases, with instructions on how to create their free account and access their eVisa.

Which immigration documents are being replaced by eVisas?

  • Biometric Residence Permits (BRP).
  • Biometric Residence Cards (BRC).
  • Passport endorsements, this may include an indefinite leave to enter a wet ink stamp.
  • Vignette stickers in passports, such as entry clearance or visa vignette.

Who needs to take action?

  • Those who evidence their immigration status using physical documentation.
  • BRP holders who are living in the UK and whose immigration permission expires before 31 December 2024. Note that if they intend to remain in the UK after their permission expires, they should apply to extend their visa in the usual way.
  • BRP holders whose immigration permission expires on 31 December 2024 but have permission to stay in the UK beyond this.

Migrants with leave extending into 2025 will notice that their card expires on 31 December 2024, despite their permission extending beyond this date. This is part of the Home Office’s plan to phase out all physical proof of status by the end of 2024. Transitioning to an eVisa will not affect a migrant’s immigration status or the conditions of their permission to enter or stay in the UK.

Those who already have an eVisa (including anyone granted status through the EU Settlement Scheme), as well as British passport holders and Irish citizens do not need to do anything. However, eVisa holders should ensure that their account is kept up to date with their latest contact information and any passport which they intend to travel with using the ‘Update your UK Visas and Immigration account details’ service here.

If an individual is unsure if they already have a UKVI account and an eVisa can either check here, or refer to their original grant email or letter.

It is important to note that until the end of 2024, the individual will still need to continue to carry their physical document when they travel, if they have one.

What should paper document holders do?

Those who have Indefinite Leave to Remain and prove their rights using a passport containing a wet-ink stamp or vignette sticker, or another type of legacy paper document should make a free ‘No Time Limit’ (NTL) application here. As part of the process, they may be asked to attend a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services Centre (UKVCAS) to provide a photograph, and sometimes fingerprints. Successful applicants will be issued with a BRP which can be used to create a UKVI account.

The Home Office intends to launch a revised NTL application process later in 2024, which proves an eVisa directly rather than issuing a BRP first.

Action points for employers

There are no immediate changes to how you carry out your right to work checks and you should continue to accept a ‘share code’ to check someone’s immigration status through the right to work online checking service.

It is important to note that throughout 2024, employers will notice an increase in the number of employees using a share code to prove their right to work as employees move towards creating their own digital accounts.

Moving forward, employers should help raise awareness about the move to eVisas and direct those individuals who use physical documentation to prove their right to work to the GOV.UK Guidance note on eVisas to find out what this means for them and how they can prepare. It is important to remember that these changes affect all migrant workers, not just individuals who are sponsored by the business.

Encourage employees to ‘get on the front foot’ and activate a UKVI account as soon as this becomes possible, rather than waiting for a reminder to arrive.

Employers can register for updates on the GOV.UK page as the position on eVisas progresses. There is also a stakeholder partner pack available to download which contains factsheets and other guidance.

The future

There have been many arguments advanced in favour of digital status, including efficiency, security and convenience.

However, there will be instances where individuals may experience problems when creating an account meaning they’re unable to prove their status. There have also been concerns raised about individuals who are limited in accessing the system owing to difficulties with the English language, computer literacy and access to the appropriate technology. Many organisations and watchdogs continue to call upon the Government to make allowances for the use of physical proof of immigration status to overcome these issues, but if not, individuals will be forced into a position where they are unable to prove their status which will come with significant consequences.

If you need help with performing your right to work checks, or have any further queries about how the move to digitisation may affect your organisation, please get in touch with our immigration team.

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