COVID-19 - Criminal justice at the coalface
Foreign migrants are being forced to take time out from work or study for up to nine hours in order to register with the police.
Many foreign migrants arriving in Britain to study or take up employment are required to register with the police within 7 days of arrival in the UK. For any police registration national living in the Metropolitan Police Area in London, this means a visit to the Overseas Visitors Registration Office (OVRO) for the initial registration, which costs £34. A further trip to OVRO is required to update any changes to details shown on the certificate (with the exception of a change of address which can be updated at the local police station).
A simple enough procedure you would think? Then think again. Office hours at OVRO are normally 9am – 4pm Monday to Friday. However, the last weeks have seen unprecedented numbers of people trying to register or update their certificates. Two weeks ago, the queue to register for a certificate or have details updated started at 5am. Last week, the first people arrived at midnight (sparking requests from the police to not queue so early in the interest of health and safety). This is a nine hour wait until the doors open, plus as long as it takes for the process to be completed.
Whilst in other situations, individuals could avoid the crush by waiting until a quieter time, the time limits of seven or eight days imposed on registration mean those who are unwilling or unable to queue, or unlucky enough to arrive after sunrise, will be committing an offence by not registering in time.
The consequences of not registering as required are felt at the next attempt to make an application for leave to remain in the UK. A discrepancy on a Police Registration Certificate may result in a refused application. Furthermore, although we have not known this to happen, failing to register as required is punishable with a hefty fine or a prison sentence.
Such a crush has never been seen before at OVRO and the reasons are unclear. We suspect that the beginning of the academic year and the beginning of graduate programmes has contributed. 26% of the student population in London is 'international', with China (a police registration nationality) being the top sending country. In addition, the media coverage of the problems faced by many international London Metropolitan University students may have encouraged those who would otherwise not bother to register, to comply and queue.
Joining the students in the queue, however, are also employees and the self-employed. High calibre graduates retained for accelerated promotion usually start their employment in autumn; young lawyers start their training contracts then, too. Yet the nationals requiring registration are missing a morning of training to tell the police about their new visa.
For those established in employment in the UK, but who have recently extended their stay or got married (or divorced), they too must spend nine hours queuing; a lost morning of potentially economy-bolstering work for thousands of highly skilled workers.
With the advent of Biometric Residence Permits the question arises, do we still need a system of police registration? We are sure the 'brightest and the best' have better things to do with their time than queuing for nine hours.
Tips for registering
Firstly, check the UKBA website to see if you are required to register.
If you need to update your address, you can visit your local police station.
If you live in the London Metropolitan area and you need to register with the police for the first time or you need to update your details (apart from address), we can only advise that you attend the OVRO within the appropriate seven or eight day timeframe. If you are planning to attend the OVRO today, check the police website first for updates on queue length, and to ensure that the queue has not already been closed.
The UK Border Agency has also issued guidance on Police Registration.
Whilst a recent UKBA announcement confirms that students will be given the option to register in bulk through their University, or to obtain a slip confirming they attended the OVRO without actually updating their certificate (to try to shorten queuing times), it is still a requirement that your Police Registration be up to date in order to make an application. Therefore, if you plan to make an application shortly, please ensure your Police Registration Certificate is updated.
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