Speaking for Ourselves

e-Visas: find out what they mean

e-Visas: find out what they mean


 Migrant Voice - e-Visas: find out what they mean

A dramatic change in the visa system is coming in December, one which risks leaving migrants without status. Despite having five years to plan for it, the shift to digital visas in December is still in chaos, with little to no information having been shared by the Home Office, and many migrants unable to even start the process of setting up their accounts.

Ahead of this shift from physical to digital visas, on Tuesday 25 June we organised a national network meeting with an expert panel, from across different regions and specialisms, to look at the potential implications of this change on people’s lives, and what needs to be done to make it safer.

Opening the webinar, our Director, Nazek Ramadan, set out the stark reality facing migrants with this switch: “From the beginning of January, we no longer be able to use any physical proof to evidence our visa, or right to stay, immigration status in UK. Those stamps in our passport, the biometric residence permit, they all will disappear. We all are meant to have this online e-Visa,” continuing by saying: “lots of people will be confused, because now we're going to have too many different systems”.

As explained by our first speaker, Zoe Bantleman, Legal Director at the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA), the current system allows for many migrants to hold hard copies of the physical proof of their status. In 2020 though the government made the decision to “short date” Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs) so that they end on the 31 December 2024.

As Zoe explained: “In this hostile culture that we have in the UK, that produces fear, really, for all of us migrants, it's important to be able to prove your right to be here… However, all of these BRPs are going to expire in just over six months, even if migrants have permission to be in the UK in 2025 and 2026 and beyond, even if they have permission to be here indefinitely.”

The risks of people losing the ability to have physical proof of status are clear. All our speakers highlighted this. These are not hypothetical risks either though. As Monique Hawkins from The3Million set out: “The EU Settlement Scheme really was like a guinea pig for the whole digital only trial.” As Monique explained, the ramifications, and significant problems, of this policy started to really become noticeable in July 2021, after a grace period ended: “That was the first time that people had to rely on this digital only status.” This scheme has already been faced with multiple issues, issues which are still not resolved.

Supporting that assessment was Bethan Lant, from Praxis who explained that not only have we seen significant problems with existing digital schemes, but how these issues will be exacerbated by rolling digital only visas out to the wider migrant communities, some of whom may not have the “digital literacy” or technology to be able to manage them. “We have seen it used for the EU settlement scheme cohort, we have seen it for the Hong Kong British National Oversees (BNO) visa, and we know already that even then there have been significant difficulties for people in accessing the system, or in setting it up in the first place, because they have problems accessing passports or ID documents in order to actually get their status sorted out. Yet, if you think about it, the EU cohort and the Hong Kong cohorts generally have significantly better digital literacy than a lot of the other groups that we're working with who the digital scheme will now be extended to. The digital divide is very real.”

“I've also noticed that many of my clients who are dealing with these kinds of things also are very vulnerable to hacking and fraud issues with their digital systems, because they struggle to recognise phishing attempts … malware and these kinds of things. So they're often very prone to downloading malware and things onto their devices, because they're just don't recognise the issues and their security for bank accounts and all kinds of things is breached. Extend that to having the security of your immigration status, breached, and someone getting into it and changing the details there so that they can access it from different devices, and with different documents, and it gives you a kind of idea of some of the possible exploitation and issues which might come when people who are not digitally experienced have to start using digital status.”

Reece Colley, from the Refugee and Migrant Centre, added that there were serious issues surrounding people not being informed about the need for a digital visa, or being unable to access them for young family members. “It does feel quite ridiculous that effectively we're six months away. The vast majority of people can't sign up without using a link that they maybe shouldn't have access to yet… One issue we have noticed is when you try and set up an account for a child, after you've already set up an account for a parent, you can't use the same phone number and email address. Obviously a very small child doesn't have their own phone and their own email. I don't know if there's a way around it. But we'll have to see”.

As Reece highlighted, along with other speakers, there is a high degree of absurdity that, despite the plan to shift to digital being five years in the making, we are six months out from the implementation of it and yet even the most basic information of the steps needed to apply are unavailable for many.

Reaffirming many of the issues raised, Olivia Ndoti, of the Women’s Integration Network, added about the risk of what happens if someone’s phone battery dies, or they cannot access the internet, when returning to the UK, thereby preventing them accessing their accounts and proof of status. With a mixed hope of optimism and concern, Olivia talked about dealing with the Home Office Community Engagement Team in the past, who may be able to help in some situations with more information.

“Team leaders are coming from the (Home Office) community engagement team, which I had never heard about until about six months ago, since we started like communicating with them. There's a good thing and a bad thing, communicating with a community engagement team. The good thing is that they've been helping our members who are actually very vulnerable… the bad side is the enforcement. They're doing dawn raids, which wind up removing people and anyone that's going to be signing up, everything's going to be digital.”

We have already seen the devasting impact of people losing their status due to issues with a lack of physical proof with the Windrush scandal, this was why it was important to hear from Ramya Jaidev from Windrush Lives. Ramya explained that even now those affected are still being plagued by IT errors and issues with the Home Office, something which directly relates to potential problems further down the line with the digital visa scheme.

“The Home Office appointed an agency to provide digital application support to Windrush victims in order to enable them to make the applications to the Windrush compensation scheme online…The second you ask one or two questions, you find that that data doesn't exist, they don't record these things, they won't give you the answers to this and that, so there's an accountability problem with them in general anyway… We are seeding problems for ourselves twenty or thirty years down the line. When we think about tackling each of these individual policies, whether it is EUSS, electronic visas, or Windrush compensation, I think one of the things which is helpful, and starting to happen, is a joined-up view of how the Home Office is making life difficult for certain types of people.”

One of the solutions proposed by many of the speakers was that there needed to be some form of offline ability to demonstrate people’s status, something which did not require a smartphone, or internet connection. As our final speaker, David Forbes, from Lifeline Options, said: “The principle of having a digital, (physical) certificate of application for everybody who has an application underway is absolutely vital…join up the certificates of application with the digital certificates of application. Let’s have both, as a status validation.”

The same issues kept cropping up as our speakers explained the implications of the new digital system, but so to did the same solutions. It is clear that whether it is some form of downloadable certificate, a scannable QR code, or a physical piece of evidence of some kind, migrants must have the ability to demonstrate their status without having to log into the e-Visa portal.

Next steps:

Migrant Voice will keep members updated on developments. When the process for the e-Visa application is clearer and opens officially, we will communicate this to all our members. Do watch our channels and sign up to our mailing list here.

We will be collaborating with partner organisations to monitor the impact of the implementation of the visa and will arrange follow up meetings to discuss the impact.

To watch all the speakers, and hear all of the points and solutions raised, please check out the video of the webinar here.

Additional resources:

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Phone: +44 (0) 207 832 5824
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