New UKBA backlog - symptomatic of systemic delays and damaging to the UK economy

24 January 2013

The media has widely reported today that the UKBA has a backlog of around 16,000 cases, some of which date back a decade, as uncovered by John Vine, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. For those of us representing clients in this arena, this news is hardly surprising. The UKBA is racked with delays across many of its areas of operation and these are bound to increase as limited resources are spread ever thinner across the agency.

John Vine’s inspection of the processing of applications for leave to remain or entry clearance to the UK based on marriage or civil partnerships found that 14,000 such cases were awaiting a final UKBA decision at the end of September 2012 and this figure was rising by 700 cases a month. There were another 2,100 cases where the UKBA had made no initial decision at all, some of which had been submitted around ten years ago. These delays place applicants in limbo-land, being unable to travel and in many cases unable to live with their family members while their cases are assessed by the UKBA.

This finding echoes our experience with applications submitted by post within the UK and with complex applications in particular. It is not unusual for an application submitted by an individual in a complex factual situation or against a complicated legal background to sit with the UKBA for many months, if not years. Indeed, our advice to clients in this situation would be to expect to be kept waiting for the medium-term and certainly not to make any commitments outside the UK until word is received from the UKBA. The quantity of cases subject to these delays is astounding, but the fact that these delays exist is not in itself surprising.

Delays in UKBA processing exist widely in other parts of the UKBA. See our blog from September 2012 on delays in processing of sponsor licence applications and on the issue of the delays in removals that have now been handed to Capita. The UKBA now also has on its plate for the first time applications from UK businesses to renew their Tier 2 sponsor licences (see also PLC article “Immigration update: Managing compliance and sponsor renewal”) and initial indications are that these renewal requests are entering another black hole as sponsors are not being informed of a decision on their applications months after they are made. Sponsor licences do continue in effect until a decision is made on the renewal, but the uncertainty of not knowing when to expect a decision is the last thing that British businesses need in these worrying economic times.

In other areas, largely as a result of pressure from global businesses struggling with the UK’s immigration administration, improvements have been made in recent months. Tier 2 sponsor licence applications are now dealt with much more quickly in many cases and the pilot Tier 2 priority postal application route is a roaring success. It allows Tier 2 applicants to have their leave to remain applications dealt with within a week or so without having to attend one of the Public Enquiry Offices and pay the premium service fee – attendance being at one of three London Post Offices instead. The dedicated UKBA phone line set up for businesses has also been welcomed. But these improvements demonstrate the somewhat erratic approach taken by the UKBA. There is an inconsistency in service levels that renders dealing with immigration matters confusing at best for those unaccustomed to the system.

One reason behind the delays in the family based applications is that the system itself is now so complex. Since the spouse rules were amended in July 2012, applications are so complicated to deal with that Entry Clearance Officers at UK embassies are referring cases back to the UKBA in the UK for guidance as they cannot interpret their own rules with any certainty.

Perversely, when applicants rely on a human rights based claim, a delay in the processing of their applications can actually be to their advantage if they are already in the UK. As long as they maintain suitably regular contact with the UKBA, the extra years spent here with their family members or spent building their business in the UK, can add weight to their claim that to remove them from the UK would be a disproportionate interference with their human rights.

Immigration practitioners can feel some sympathy for UKBA officials trying to do battle with this volume of applications across such a wide range of matters. Their staffing and resources are being cut at a time when media attention to their activities is high and the UK economy needs them to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. The politicians set their priorities, moving these limited resources from one crisis point within the UKBA to another according to the political agenda prevailing at the time. In summer 2012, the priority was border control to smooth the way for the Olympic visitors to enter the UK without hitch. The focus will now be shifted to this latest backlog of family based applications. But this just means some other UKBA unit will most likely suffer staff cuts and another class of applicants will bear the brunt. Will it be the UK businesses awaiting decisions on their Tier 2 licence renewals? Perhaps those UK employers awaiting advice from the UKBA via their Employer Checking Service on whether applicants for their jobs have the right to work in the UK (delays of around six months are now common)? Or Tier 2 licence holders awaiting action on their change requests made via the UKBA’s online Sponsor Management System? Whoever loses out, there is likely to be an impact on the UK economy as businesses and highly skilled individuals lose faith in the ability of the UK to properly administer our immigration system.

The government needs to re-examine its pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands and concentrate on developing a comprehensive immigration policy and operations function that is capable of dealing with the applications it receives within reasonable time frames. These latest delays are an embarrassment to the UK and cannot help our economic recovery.

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On June 3rd 2013 Ilda de Sousa commented:

Dear Gaynor,

Thank you for your question. Please note that we are unable to provide you with any formal legal advice as the information provided is not sufficient enough for us to do so. The FLR(O) is a form which is widely applicable to various categories of persons seeking leave to remain in the UK, such as long residence in the UK, private life in the UK, 10 year family route and other purposes and reasons not covered by other application forms. Should you wish to receive specific advice in relation to the situation, please do contact our immigration team by completing our short online enquiry form, which can be found at the bottom of this page.

Kind regards,
Ilda de Sousa

On April 29th 2013 Gaynor Brown commented:

Dear Helen
a family memeber is currently waiting for a decision from the UKBA regarding FLR(O). I feel quite strongly as a lay person that this is the wrong application as she has been in the uk since 1970 and was put into the care system became a registered nurse and was unaware that her status was not settled. More importantly she has been waiting for a decision for over a year. During this time her employer has kept her job open. She would like to go back to work in order to pay her legal fees and support her daughter who is undergoing treatment for throat cancer. I have tried to research permission to get back to work bearing in mind the delay. Can you point me in the direction of any relevant legislation and as I have researched and can find no pointers.

On April 15th 2013 Helen Smith commented:

Dear Mary,

Thank you for your comment.

If your application was based purely on private and family life and not on being the family member of an EEA national, I am afraid it is not surprising that it is taking so long to be dealt with. I assume you looked into the possibility of applying as an EEA extended family member instead?

Kind regards,

Helen Smith

On April 9th 2013 mary commented:

Hi Helen,
Need your advice please..I sent my application to the UKBA on the 20th of sep 2012 based on private and family life and I have got 3lovely kids and their dad as got a EEA2 family member residence permit .will like to know why my application is keeping long as its over 6months now and I haven't heard from them.the last letter received from the is the Biometric letter on the 2nd of feb.thank you and waiting impatiently to hear from you.

On April 2nd 2013 Helen Smith commented:

Dear Sumaya,

Thank you for your comment.

I am afraid that applications for discretionary leave to remain are likely to take longer than most other types of application to be processed. The UKBA might agree to expediting your application if there were business-related or compelling compassionate reasons for you needing to travel, but a family wedding would not normally be sufficient, I’m afraid.

If there are other reasons why you need to travel, please let me know and I can help you put together a request for expediting to the UKBA.

Kind regards,
Helen Smith

On April 2nd 2013 Helen Smith commented:

Dear Naseem,

Thank you for your comment. I assume you have applied for entry clearance under the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) category and it has been refused.

Requesting administrative review of a refusal is always an option, but it might be quicker and more effective for you to resubmit your application taking account of the reasons for refusal. If you send me a copy of the refusal notice I would be happy to have a look at it and see what I think the best course of action might be.

Kind regards,
Helen Smith

On April 2nd 2013 Naseem commented:

Dear Helen,
nice to read. i had applied for Tier1, in february 13, but at the time of interview i couldn't get success, and ECO comments were that he is not satisfied with me. pls. confirm can we go to the administrative review?? for challenge. because all documents & payments record are ok. and without any objection. and also this is to inform you that i hhad provided them my business plan in UK and market summary also.

Thanks to advice me the suitable response.

Thanks & Regards


On March 22nd 2013 Sumaya Mahomed commented:

My application for discretionary leave to remain was posted in July 2012. My children are British Citizens, and I share custody with my ex husband who are all settled in the UK.
My Biometrics letter came in February 2012. Have been chasing them as I need to travel urgently for my only siblings wedding, have been unsuccessful in getting a response from them. I am told to be patient and wait.

On March 15th 2013 Helen Smith commented:

Dear Penny,

Thank you for your comment.

If you submitted your application using the postal route, I am afraid it is not surprising that the UKBA are taking so long to case-work it. How much longer they are likely to take depends upon what type of lave to remain you have applied for and whether there are business or compassionate reasons why your application should be prioritised. If you could let me have further details I might be able to help more.

Kind regards,

Helen Smith

On March 11th 2013 Penny commented:

I applied for a work visa in the beginning of Nov 2012, I did my biometric a week or so later but have not heard from UKBA. My life is on hold at the moment, what should I do?

On February 4th 2013 Helen Smith commented:

Dear Ivan,

Thank you for your comment.

I am afraid your situation is not unusual but that is not to say there is nothing that can be done about it. If you get a letter from your employers confirming why you need to travel for business, you can use that as the basis of a request to have your application prioritised.

I would be happy to help with this – please contact me if you would like details.

Kind regards,

Helen Smith

On January 31st 2013 Ivan commented:

My wife and step daughter are Russian and I am British, our appication for il was submittedin October 2012.Both of our jobs are now being effected bt the holding of documents and slow processing of our visa applications.

We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

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