Concerns over UK’s transition to eVisas and the digital system’s shortcomings

The Home Office has been developing a digital immigration system to allow all migrants in the UK to view and evidence their immigration status online. This system will wholly replace physical documents such as Biometric Residence Permits. Instead, migrant’s immigration status will be evidenced with an eVisa

This system has been in place since 2018 for millions of EU nationals who applied for pre-settled and settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. The plan is for the system to fully come into effect on 1 January 2025 for all migrants in the UK. With only 6 months to go, there are many concerns about the transition to a wholly digital system. We will consider those concerns below.

Lack of a transitional phase

Currently, there is no transitional phase in plan to allow individuals to evidence their immigration status using their physical documents past 31 December 2024. If the digital system fails and there is no back-up system to allow status to be evidenced with a physical document, this could have detrimental impact on those who are unable to evidence their immigration status. 

Technical problems

There is apprehension over potential technical problems with new systems such as Electronic Travel Authorisation, Advance Passenger Information, eVisas, and View and Prove Immigration Status. These systems must work harmoniously and seamlessly to prevent severe impact on migrants’ rights to enter the UK, work, rent property, open a bank account, or access services such as the NHS. We have already seen issues with the system where the individuals cannot access their accounts, their accounts show incorrect information and even pictures of unknown individuals. 

Lack of public awareness

Although this plan has been in the pipeline for years, the Home Office has failed to take any effective steps to make the public aware of the system, the impact it will have on people, and how to ensure their status is protected through effective digital registration. 

Although the Home Office has now started to send emails to relevant status-holders to advise them to create a UKVI account to view and prove their immigration status digitally, the Home Office cannot be certain that those emails will reach the persons concerned. Many of these emails are being sent to legal representatives. The emails have no reference number and do not provide any information, such as a name, which would enable the legal representative to identify who is the intended recipient. Additionally, those emails do not explicitly explain the importance of creating a UKVI account nor do they outline any consequences a failure to register may have on a migrant. 

Some individuals may not be aware that they are required to set up a digital account to evidence their immigration status, and may not be able to do this themselves before the deadline. 

Vulnerable migrants

It can already be predicted that certain groups of people such as disabled people, people with language barriers, the elderly, children, young people in care, and those with lack of access to technology could be adversely affected by these changes. The Home Office appears to have failed to consider the effects a digital system would have on these groups. 

The Home Office has however introduced a ‘Transition to eVisa’ grant to social enterprises and charities to help vulnerable people through the transition from physical immigration documents to eVisas. This grant should help organisations support vulnerable people to set up their UKVI accounts, view and prove their immigration status, help them share their digital status to prove their rights and to maintain their up-to-date information, documents and images on their UKVI accounts. Again, no public awareness was raised about this grant, and a one-month deadline to apply for the grant was made, up until 19 June. This still does not guarantee that all vulnerable people will receive the help they need to ensure they register for their eVisa status.

The transition to a digital-only visa system has raised significant concerns. The absence of a transitional phase, the potential for technical problems, and the failure to effectively communicate the changes need to be resolved to prevent substantial risks to migrants.  

If you have any questions regarding the contents of this article, please contact our Immigration Team who will be happy to assist you with your queries.

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The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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