With the relaxation of quarantine restrictions on vaccinated travellers from amber list countries looking increasingly likely, the country will inevitably see an increase in interest from overseas visitors. Millions of UK residents with families overseas will be excited by the prospect that their relatives may soon be able to visit, depending on where they currently live. While travel to the UK is not an option for non-British or Irish nationals in red list countries, we can expect to see an increase in interest from visitors in amber and green list countries.
In addition to any Covid restrictions, visitors to Britain from countries without visa waiver agreements with the UK, such as Nigeria, Hong Kong, Russia, Vietnam and China, will also require a visa.
The UK Standard Visitor visa is available for those planning on coming to the UK for tourism, to visit family and friends and for certain business activities such as attending a meeting. A Standard Visitor visa can also be used by those engaged in certain academic studies or coming to receive private medical treatment.
The Standard Visitor visa allows the holder to stay in the UK for six months, during which they cannot do any paid or unpaid work for a UK company or claim benefits. Applicants must be able to show they will leave the UK at the end of their visit and that they have means of support while in the UK. They also need to provide dates of travel, details of accommodation, the estimated cost of the visit, along with home address, parents’ names and dates of birth, details of income and any criminal, civil or immigration offences committed. Applicants may also be asked to provide other details such as travel history, employer’s details and the name, address and passport number of any family members in the UK.
Applications must be made prior to travel either online through the government portal or via a reputable agent. Decisions are usually made within three weeks.
So far, so simple. However, there are no guarantees that a Standard Visitor Visa will be granted and figures show that prior to the pandemic, the number of refusals was rising. In 2016, for example, almost 300,000 UK Standard Visitor visas were refused by UK Visas and Immigration. In 2018 a Standard Visitor visa application was even refused for the cousin of Salisbury poisoning victim, Yulia Skipral, who wanted to visit his stricken relative in hospital. At the time the Home Office stated: “We have refused a visitor visa application from Viktoria Skripal on the grounds that her application did not comply with the immigration rules”.
While it’s impossible to predict whether this trend will continue as international travel starts to resume, it is reasonable to suppose that given the hostile immigration regime of the current Government, a high level of scrutiny will remain.
Refusals can be incredibly difficult for families separated for over a year by restrictions and frustrating for businesspeople with important meetings that have been put on ice for months. And unfortunately, there are no quick appeal processes or rights to administrative review.
That is not say a refusal is the end of the road, but the only appeal processes available are complicated and most who go down these routes will need to use the services of experienced legal professionals.
The first course of action available under the Pre-Action Protocol is to send UKVI a Letter Before Claim which should set out why the appellant believes UKVI was wrong in rejecting the application.
In many cases, UKVI will reverse their refusal decision upon receiving a Letter Before Claim.
If this is not successful, there are two other avenues available. Applicants can appeal if they can show a refusal breached their human rights or apply for a Judicial Review. The aforementioned legal professional will be able to ascertain which process, if any, is the most likely to succeed.
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Human rights-based appeals are rare as not all Standard Visitor visa applications engage human rights criteria. Home Office guidance explains under which circumstances applicant’s human rights claims can be valid. Most commonly, applications for appeals are made under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which is concerned with the right to respect for private and family life and states that: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence,” and that “there shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.
It is the responsibility of the judge at First-tier Tribunal to decide whether the visit that is being denied engages human rights and whether by denying a visa there has been a human rights violation.
As this avenue is rare and complex, a better area of appeal is usually a Judicial Review, which is concerned with the legality of a decision, not whether the decision was necessarily the right or wrong one.
In a Judicial Review the judge will consider whether the decision-maker acted legally, reasonably, and proportionally, rather than examine the merits of the decision. Judicial Review must be applied for, and the court will decide whether the case can proceed.
A Judicial Review is a remedy of last resort, all other possible dispute resolution methods and avenues must be explored before an application is made. Grounds for Judicial Review include illegality where an error of law was made in making the decision, irrationality, unreasonableness, procedural impropriety, and unfairness.
While few refusals get to Judicial Review stage, it remains an option and for families desperate for reunion after such a long and tough period apart, its not difficult to image an increase in such cases over the coming year.