UKVCAS / Sopra Steria Guidance [STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE FOR 2024]

Who does this guide apply to?

This guide is relevant to those submitting their application from inside the UK.

Therefore, if you are applying for one of the following, this article will be relevant:

  • FLR(M) visa applications (including spouse visa extensions & switching into the UK partner visa route);
  • Other further leave to remain applications;
  • Applications to extend UK visas;
  • Applications to switch between one type of UK visa into another category from inside the UK;
  • Indefinite Leave to Remain/Permanent Residency; and
  • British citizenship.

Note: If you are looking to submit a spouse or partner visa application from outside the UK, check out this spouse visa UK 2024 guidance here.

If you are unsure if you can apply for a UK partner visa from inside the UK, check out our FLR(M) visa & Spouse visa extension 2024 Guidance here.

Banner for spouse visa UK videoFirst of all, let’s clarify a few things that you may be wondering about:

What/who is UKVCAS?

UKVCAS stands for ‘UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services’.

It is the system that the Home Office uses to process immigration applications that are made from inside the UK.

Who are Sopra Steria?

Sopra Steria is a profit-making French company.

They help the Home Office process applications that are submitted from inside the UK.

Where can I find the UKVCAS/Sopra Steria website?

You can find the link to the UKVCAS/Sopra Steria website here.

UKVCAS website

As promised, here are the 8 steps that you can follow to process your own visa application from inside the UK.

step 1Learn the relevant Immigration Rules

If you are going to submit your application yourself, this is without a doubt the most important step.

This is because the Immigration Rules are generally written in a way that, if you do not satisfy one requirement (even if it is seemingly small), the application may be refused.

It is important that you fully appreciate that a refused application will result in:

  • Not receiving a refund on the Home Office fees;
  • Having to submit another application (if you decide to re-apply); and
  • A chance of any UK visa applications that you subsequently submit after the refusal facing greater scrutiny.

Are you applying as a partner to a British or settled person?

If you are looking to apply for an FLR(M) visa (a spouse/partner visa that is made when the applicant is already inside the UK), feel free to read our FLR M application 2024 guidance here).

It is worth pointing out here that is usually the financial requirement which tends to cause partners the most difficulties.

For information about the financial requirement as they relate to partner visas and Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) on the partner visa route, we also numerous detailed articles which discuss this, including:

uk spouse visa full legal representation

step 2

Gather the supporting documents

After spending a rather significant amount of time reading the requirements as they apply to your application, the next step will be to ensure that:

  • You have gathered all of the documents that are required for your application;
  • You have gathered documents that are not strictly required but will still be helpful to include; and
  • The documents that you have gathered satisfy the document-specific Immigration Rules.

Gathering the supporting documents is one of the most time-consuming aspect of submitting an application, so please ensure that you give yourself enough time to do this properly.

“Why should I gather the documents before I submit the online application?”

You should gather the documents before you submit the online application because, in UK immigration law, the documents you submit normally must show the application satisfies the Immigration Rules at the ‘date of application’.

Generally speaking, the date of application for online applications (which is now close to all applications) is the date you pay the Home Office fees as part of the online application process.

step 3

Submit the online application

Once you have:

  • gathered the supporting documentation; and
  • ensured that all of your supporting documentation satisfies the Immigration Rules…

… the next step will be to submit the online application.

“Where can I find the correct online application?”

CATEGORY/VISA APPLICATIONONLINE APPLICATION
FLR(M) visa (otherwise known as a spouse visa)Follow the instructions in our spouse visa UK application 2024 article to ensure that you use the correct application.
Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) – 5 years as a married, civil or unmarried partnerSET (M) form here
Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) – 10 years long residenceSET (LR) form here
Indefinite Leave to Remain – (ILR) – refugee or someone who has been granted humanitarian protectionSet (P) form here
Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) – child of settled parentsSET (F) form here
Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) – 5 years in one of the following categories:

– Bereaved partner

– Business-person, innovator or investor

– Employment not requiring a work permit

-PBS dependant

-Tier 1 migrant

-Tier 2 migrant

– UK Ancestry visa

Set (O) form here
Investor visa (Tier 1)Link here
Innovator visaLink here
Start-up visaLink here
General student visa (Tier 4)Link here

Note:

If you are looking to apply for an out-of-country spouse visa, check out our spouse visa UK 2024 guidance – these applications are not handled by Sopra Steria/UKVCAS but rather VFS or TLS (depending on the country in which the application is being submitted from).

“Can I start completing the online application but then submit it at a later date?

This is not a problem and is generally a good idea.

 

“When is the correct time to submit the online application?”

This depends on:

  • The visa (or leave) that the applicant currently has; and
  • The application being applied for.

#1 First of all, for applications that are made from inside the UK, you should apply before the expiry of the applicant’s current visa or leave.

Applying after the expiry date of the applicant’s current visa (as stated on the BRP or vignette) can prove incredibly problematic.

Although there are some exceptions, generally speaking, those who apply in the UK after the expiry of their current visa will normally become an ‘overstayer’. This can severely detriment not only the application that you submit, but also any future UK visa applications.


#2 Second of all, you do not want to apply too early.

This is particularly relevant to applicants who are either:

  • currently on a visa that leads to Indefinite Leave to Remain; or
  • are applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).

This is because of the 5/10 year ‘qualifying period’ requirement for Indefinite Leave to Remain.

Applying too early may result in the applicant being short of the required 5 or 10-year period. This may mean that the applicant will have to submit an extra, unnecessary visa.

Note: Those in the UK on a UK fiance visa (or proposed civil partnership visa) can submit the FLR(M) application as soon as they have married (or have entered into a civil partnership). They do not have to worry about applying too early as the time spent in the UK on a fiance or proposed civil partnership visa does not count towards the 5-year period to Indefinite Leave to Remain.

“I am applying for a different type of visa that I currently have. So I do not have to worry about applying too early?”

Those who are ‘switching’ into a different visa category do not generally have to worry about applying too early because switching into a different visa category resets the qualifying period for Indefinite Leave to Remain.

In other words, the qualifying period for Indefinite Leave to Remain generally requires 5 or 10 years of continually being on the same type of visa.

Example

Henry is in the UK on a Skilled worker visa.

He works for a corporate bank in Leeds that provides him with the required sponsorship for his visa.

Henry recently married Sarah, a British national.

Since Henry wants to stop working for his current employer and wants to switch to the partner visa category. This will allow him to quit his job and will provide him with greater freedom with where he works.

Henry can apply for an FLR(M) visa (a spouse visa from inside the UK) at any time whilst his Skilled worker visa is valid – he does not have to worry about applying too early.

This is because, although he has accrued 2 of the 5 years required for Indefinite Leave to Remain, this will reset once he is granted the FLR(M) visa.

step 4

The Sopra Steria/UKVCAS website

Once you have paid the and Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) (if applicable) & the Home Office fee, you will be redirected to the UKVCAS website as part of the online application process.

It is on this website that you will book the appointment as well as pay for any additional services (such as the document scanning service).

To register, you will need the UAN, which stands for ‘Unique Application Number’.

At this point, you will already have been issued a UAN, as it will automatically be generated when the online application is submitted.

It is normally visible on:

  • the top left-hand corner of your online application form PDF (available on the online application website); and
  • the first page of the application form’s checklist.

“I have paid the Home Offices fees on the online application but I have not received the information that I need to create an account.”

Since these are normally automatically emailed to the email address you provided in the online application form, you should check your spam or junk email folders.

If, after checking these, you have not received such an email, you should be able to request a new access code on the account creation page of the UKVCAS website (this sometimes takes up to 1 working day or so).

If you have tried the above but, after several working hours, you have not received the access code after requesting it on the account creation page, you can try sending an email via the UKVCAS general enquiries website form which can be found here.

step 5

Learn more about the Sopra Steria/UKVCAS process

#1 What is the UKVCAS website used for?

The UKVCAS website is where you will:

  • Book your appointment at a local UKVCAS centre in the UK;
  • Self-upload your documentation (if you choose this method – we discuss this in more detail below); and
  • Pay for any additional services (such as document scanning – as discussed below).

#2 Where are the UKVCAS Service points?

If you are not yet at this stage but are reading ahead, you can find the list of locations here.

If you are at the appointment booking stage, you will be provided with a list of service points closest to you after you state your postcode.

After selecting the particular centre, you will then see the availability of the various types of appointments.

“Can I just turn up at the service point and expect them to deal with my application?”

Unfortunately, no – you will need to book an appointment before you attend the visa centre.

The UKVCAS in-country process should not be confused with the UK walk-in service that is generally available for out-of-country applications that are processed by VFS.


#3 What are the different types of appointments?

The following are the different types of appointments that you can choose from:

#1 Free-of-charge appointments

Free-of-charge appointments are available at all service points except Premium Lounges.

If you would like to obtain a free-of-charge appointment, I would strongly recommend that you keep on checking the booking system at 9 am as this is when they are normally released – the availability of these free appointments are often limited.


#2 Premium lounge

The Premium Lounge appointments, which are available Monday to Friday, offer a “comfortable business lounge environment” in the “spacious” Premium Lounge site in London.

This is a chargeable service which are released into the UKVCAS booking system at midnight.


#3 Express appointments

Express Fast track appointments, which are a chargeable service, are for those wishing to minimise the time spent at the visa centre.

They aim to last only 30 minutes.


#4 Flexible appointments

The benefit of this chargeable service is that the applicant is allocated a more flexible time slot that they can attend.


#5 VIP and Business appointments

This chargeable service is a bespoke service for individuals or multiple applicants that allows the selection of date, time and location of the visa centre appointment.


#6 Meet and Greet Plus appointments

This chargeable service aims to guide the applicant through the appointment process from start to finish. The fee for this includes document scanning, document checking (the check only goes as far as ensuring the documents are legible – not that they satisfy the relevant requirements) and SMS text updates.


#4 How do I submit the supporting documents?

There are two main document submitting procedures.

Out of the two options, we generally recommend option 1 – self-uploading the supporting documents.

OPTION 1 – Self-uploading the documents

If you choose to self-upload your documents rather than go with the document scanning service (discussed below), then you can do this via the UKVCAS website.

Please note: If you choose to self-upload the documents, you should upload your documents before you attend the appointment.

“How should I prepare and format the documents to upload them on the website?”

  • The documents should either be in PNG, JPG or PDF format (PDF format is preferred);
  • The files that you upload should not be password protected in any way as they will not be able to open such files (even if you provide them with the password);
  • The files should have simple file names (for example, “p60.pdf”); and
  • The files cannot have a file size that exceeds 6MB (to help with this, the resolution should be between 150 dpi (dots per inch) and 300 dpi. It is fine for the copies to be in black and white or colour).

Once a document has been uploaded, it should be visible in the document upload dashboard.

On the document dashboard, you should also be able to see the description that you provide as well as the filename.


“I cannot look at the documents that I have uploaded?”

You will only be able to see how the digital files look once (when you first upload them).

If you do choose to upload the documents, it is therefore strongly advised that you check how it looks on your computer before you upload.


“Can I delete a file that I accidentally uploaded?”

Yes, you can do this by clicking the ‘Remove’ link which will delete it from the online application.

“The uploading part of the website is playing up and not working as intended?!”

You can either:

  • Seek support from the UKVCAS support team at the phone number provided in your confirmation email; or
  • Send an email to UKVCAS using the contact form here.
 

METHOD 2 – UKVCAS/Sopra Steria Document scanning service

We will now discuss the document scanning service.

“What is the UKVCAS/Sopra Steria Document scanning service?”

This service involves:

  • The applicant bringing the supporting documents with them to the appointment at the UKVCAS centre, along with the application checklist that was automatically generated on the online application website (you should also remove any staples or paperclips before attending the UKVCAS centre);
  • The documents being scanned by a UKVCAS staff member (all of the documents will be scanned in front of you); and
  • Your documents being returned to you once the scanning has been completed.

If the applicant brings original documents with them to the appointment, these will be returned once they have been scanned.


“How much does the UKVCAS document scanning service cost?”

This is the recommended option that is worth the additional cost of £56 (per applicant).

This is paid for on the UKVCAS website and like the other fees listed on the UKVCAS website, this can change according to supply and demand.

FLR M visa uk DIY Application packstep 6

Book the UKVCAS/Sopra Steria appointment

“How far in advance can I book an appointment?”

Appointments are generally available 4 weeks in advance.


“Do I have to book the appointment straight away after paying the Home Office fee for the application?”

Not necessarily.

If you prefer not to book your appointment straight after submitting the online application, this is fine.

You will be able to finish the appointment booking process by logging into your UKVCAS account on the UKVCAS website (link here).

log in UKVCAS

 

“There are no available appointments that suit me. What shall I do?”

If, after checking the appointment availability at your preferred service point, you find that there are no suitable appointments, you can either:

  • Look at the availability of appointments at other service points; or
  • Look at the availability of appointments for the same service point at another time (e.g. the day after).
 

“How can I book a free appointment?”

If there are no free appointments at your preferred visa centre, you can try checking back later.

New appointments are released at 9 am so that would be the best time to check.

“I’ve already booked the appointment at the visa centre but I want to add an additional service. Is this possible?”

You will normally be able to log into your UKVCAS account before your appointment and purchase the additional services via that website.

 

“I’ve booked an appointment on the UKVCAS website but I have not received an email confirmation?”

First, check whether it has gone to your spam or junk email folder.

If it is not there, you can try contacting UKVCAS using their website form here.

step 7

Attend the UKVCAS centre

The applicant attending the UKVCAS centre is an administrative process only. The staff at the UKVCAS centre should not affect the decision-making of the application.


#1 – On the day (before arriving)

“Who should attend the appointment”

UKVCAS request that only named applicants should attend the visa centre appointment.

“What shall I bring with me to the appointment?”

#1 Your QR code

This is something that you should not forget.

You will be able to find this in the appointment confirmation email that will have been sent to you.

If you are applying with dependant children, they will have a separate QR code.


#2 The applicant’s passport

Again, it goes without saying that you will not have an enjoyable experience if you forget your passport.

With this being said, if you have lost your passport or if it is stolen, all is not lost because there are other acceptable forms of identification, including:

  • UK photographic driving licences (it’s fine if it is a provisional licence);
  • National ID card (if you are from a country that issues them);
  • Old, expired passports (as long as they are not cancelled);
  • Old, expired Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs) (as long as they are not cancelled);
  • Immigration Status documents that have been issued to you by the Home Office; and
  • A full, birth certificate.

If you would like to speak with a UKVCAS staff member to check that your alternative ID document is fine, you can call the UKVCAS Support Line on 0900 165 6600. Like other Home Office-related phone lines, these are relatively costly at £2.50 a minute.

“My passport is not lost – the Home Office have it. What should I do?”

In this case, providing an alternative form of identification (as discussed above) should be fine.

If you do not bring an alternative form of identification, you will not be allowed to attend your appointment.


#3 The supporting documentation (if you opt for the document-scanning service)

If you self-upload the supporting documentation before the appointment, you will not need to bring copies of these to the visa centre appointment.

“I am applying with a dependant (i.e. children or a dependant spouse). Shall they also attend the centre with me?”

It is very important that dependants listed on the application also attend.

Those who are applying with dependants should be given an appointment together at the same time.

If the dependants do not attend, you may have to cancel your appointment and rebook for a time when all of the dependants can attend.

Note: In terms of UK immigration law, a dependant is not the same thing as a sponsor.

To use the example of an FLR(M) application, or an Indefinite Leave to Remain application on the basis of being in a relationship with a British or settled spouse:

  • The British partner (or settled person) will not be classed as a dependant;
  • A child of the applicant who is applying for a visa will be considered a dependant and will need to attend the centre;
  • A child who is not applying for a visa (e.g. because they are already British), will not need to attend the centre.

#2 Attending the visa centre appointment

Applicants are asked to not arrive early for the appointment and may be asked to queue outside the Service Point to prevent over-crowding.

“So what happens at the UKVCAS centre?

This will depend on a few factors such as:

  • The type of application you are submitting;
  • The additional services that you have purchased;
  • Your personal circumstances…

… but in summary, the following will take place:

#1 The applicant will confirm their identity.


#2 The applicant will then provide their biometric information.

The majority of UKVCAS centres have self-service kiosks that will take the applicant’s biometric information.

The recording of ‘biometric information’ here basically involves:

  • The self-service kiosk taking a photograph of the applicant’s face;
  • The self-service kiosk scanning the applicant’s fingerprints;
  • The self-service kiosk scanning the applicant’s passport; and
  • The self-service kiosk capturing a digital signature.

Not all types of applicants will have to provide their biometric information.

Those who are applying for an FLR(M) visa and Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) will have to provide their biometric information.

Those who are applying for certain types of European law-related applications will not have to.


#3 The applicant will provide their supporting documents to be scanned and checked (if they are using the document scanning service).

If you opted to submit the supporting documents by uploading them via the website, you will not need to submit the supporting documents at the centre.


#4 The applicant will confirm that they are happy and consent to the application being sent to UKVI.

 

step 8

The next time that you likely hear from the Home Office will be in an email which will state that “a decision has been made”.

The email will normally state whether the application has been granted or refused.

“How do I follow up on my application?”

Whilst you can contact the Home Office and try asking for an update about your application, realistically, if the Home Office has not exceeded their ‘service standard’, it is unlikely that you will get a helpful response.

The following are the Home Office service standards:

FLR (M) Visa applications·      8 weeks for non-priority applications

·      5 working days for priority applications

·      The next working day for super-priority applications

Further leave to remain applications as a worker, Tier 1 general and entrepreneurs, student and organisations seeking to sponsor a worker & other partner applications·      8 weeks for non-priority applications

·      5 working days for priority applications

·      The next working day for super-priority applications

Organisations updating their sponsor licence details·      18 weeks
Individuals from Turkey applying under the European Community Association Agreement and right of abode·      6 months
Non-EEA national family members applying under the European Regulations for a residence card or permanent residence card·      6 months
Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or no time limit (NTL)·      6 months (for standard applications)

·      The end of the next working day for super priority applications

 

“What about my Biometric Residence Permit (BRP)? When will I get that?”

The applicant will normally receive their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) within 7-10 days of the decision being made.

biometric residence permit

This will normally be sent to the address that you provided in your application.

 

“I no longer want my BRP to be sent to the address stated in the application. What should I do?”

You will have to update your address (instructions regarding this can be found here (before a decision is made).

If the BRP does not arrive after this time frame, you should report it as missing here.

 

“How can I cancel my application?”

If you want to cancel your entire UKVI application, there are two things that you will have to do.

Firstly, if you have already got a UKVCAS appointment, log into your UKVCAS account via the official UKVCAS website here and cancel the appointment by following the instructions given on the website.

Secondly, visit this gov.uk webpage in order to cancel your UKVI application.

Please note that cancelling an application, depending on the applicant’s particular circumstances, may result in the applicant overstaying – something which should be avoided if at all possible.

 

“I would like to rearrange or cancel my UKVCAS appointment. Is this possible?”

Yes, in most cases you will be able to rearrange or cancel your UKVCAS appointment.

You can either contact the UKVCAS call centre by calling 0900 165 6600 (from inside the UK) or +44900 165 6600 (from outside the UK).

Like all UKVCAS numbers, these are premium phone lines and will cost £2.50 per minute. These phone lines are generally available from 9 am to 5.30 pm Monday to Friday.

If you would prefer to cancel the appointment online, this can be done on the UKVCAS website here after clicking ‘Manage Services’ and then ‘Cancel appointment’.

The Terms and Conditions regarding the cancellation of appointments can be found here.


Frequently asked questions

What will happen if I do not attend the UKVCAS visa centre?

Attending the visa centre is one of several requirements that must be satisfied in order for your application to be valid. Therefore, you will not be able to submit your application without attending the UVCAS centre.

Will the Home Office fees be refunded if my application is refused?

Unfortunately, the Home Office fees will not be refunded if your application is refused. This is one of the several reasons why it is important to get it done right.

How long will I have to wait for a refund for a cancelled, paid appointment?

You will have to wait 5 to 10 working days for the refund. This refund will only be able to be refunded into the same card that you used to pay for the appointment.

Will young children be expected to use the self-service kiosk?

Young children and those with physical impairments can have a UKVCAS staff member assist with the recording of the biometric information.

 

Want help?

We help applicants go through the UKVCAS/Sopra Steria process every day of the week.

As an OISC-registered UK immigration law firm, we specialise in helping partners secure their FLR(M) visas, whether they are extending their spouse visa or switching to the partner visa category for the first time.

If you would like full legal representation, we offer this for a fixed fee of £2,250. Our full legal representation service is primarily offered by Ed Lowe (who worked in the Home Office for 20+ years, with many of those years as a Senior Home Office executive). Ed is assisted by Wendy Foy and Matthew French – both of whom also worked for the Home Office for many years.

On the other hand, if you would like to deal with your application yourself but would like assistance doing so, our £435 DIY Application Pack Service can help by providing you with:

  • Detailed & tailored written guidance;
  • General email support;
  • A detailed, tailored document checklist(s); and
  • A set of tailored letter templates.

Since the feedback of the hundreds of customers who have taken advantage of this service has been so incredibly positive, this service includes a 100% money-back guarantee.

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