Why is there an increase in visit visa refusals?

If you are planning a visit to the UK, whether for yourself or for someone in your family or a staff member you are willing to sponsor, brace yourself. The UK Home Office's latest available statistics show a spike in visit visa refusals in 2016.

While 2.2 million applications for these visas for short-term “general” or business visits were made, which is about the same as in 2015, only 1.9 million were granted in the year to September 2016. That is 300,000 refusals – 41,981 more than a year earlier.

If the British authorities are getting tougher, in general, on foreign visits, they are also getting much tougher on certain nationalities in particular. Although in 2016 the UK gave more visitor visas to Chinese and Indian nationals (up 15% and 6% respectively), what it gave with one hand it took away with the other. So 27% fewer visit visas were granted to Nigerian nationals, 20% fewer to Russians, 17% fewer to South Africans and 15% fewer to Pakistanis.

Why is this happening?

The most optimistic answer would be that that it may be nothing more than a bit of statistical levelling-out. 2015 was a record year for visitors to Britain, with a grand total of 9.4 million people welcomed for a short-term stay. (This figure is more than four times higher than the number of visas applied for because nationals of many countries - including the United States, Brazil and Japan - don’t need visas to visit the UK). That last 2015 rise came on top of four previous years of increasing visitor flow. Before that, the figures had been stable at around 5.5 million between 2004 and 2010. So it’s possible that 2015 may just have been a toppy blip, with a downward adjustment perhaps inevitable in 2016.

But the political background shows that the rise in visitor visa refusals is probably part of a general hardening of approach. The UK government makes no bones about wanting more control over migration (without being explicitly influenced by the populist “foreigners-out” nationalist agenda of right-wing parties such as UKIP). The Home Office, which handles immigration, has spent the past few years creating what it calls a "hostile environment" for illegal migrants under Home Secretary Theresa May. Following the Brexit referendum in June 2016, Theresa May is now Prime Minister and Britain is on track to leave European Union within two years, at least partly because of popular hostility on both the political right and left to the EU’s championing of free movement within the bloc. Mrs May recently confirmed that she would like to see foreign migration to Britain radically reduced, to the “tens of thousands”.

This shouldn’t apply to visitors, in principle, since visitors - who on the whole can’t work and can’t stay longer than six months in the UK – are not the same as migrants. But the latest immigration rules on visitor visas, published in April 2015, have made it harder to keep visitors separate from other kinds of incomer. On the plus side, the new Appendix V tidied up several old categories of visitor into one neat set of rules governing all visitor visas. But, on the negative side, the publication of Appendix V also saw the loss of the right of appeal against negative visitor visa decisions.

What are the potential consequences for visit visa applicants?

The loss of the right of appeal puts visitor visa applicants in a much weaker position than before.

If a Home Office Entry Clearance Officer assessing your application doesn’t believe you are genuinely a short-term visitor, and suspects you don’t intend to leave the country after your short visit is over – the key part of the definition of “visitor” is that you plan to go home at the end of your holiday - he has wide discretionary powers to refuse your application.

Refusal can result from almost any niggling suspicion. You might come from a conflict zone, or a politically unstable country, or simply somewhere poorer than the UK. You might not have made a convincing case in your form that you genuinely have funds in place for your trip, a job to go back to afterwards and a home and family waiting for you at home. You might have made a simple administrative mistake - left out a document, article, mention of a relevant relative or important set of circumstances; you might have mis-emphasised something in an interview that isn’t in your first language. Or you might just be unlucky enough to be applying from one of the countries with a high rejection rate. (For instance, a 2015 report from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and immigration of the Amman Visa Section in Jordan showed that more than 10% of decisions made by officers there were “not reasonable” - they overlooked or misinterpreted evidence - and that 43% of refusal notices were “not balanced,” failing to show that consideration had been given to both positive and negative evidence).

Once refused, there is a limited appeal you can still make on human rights grounds, or you can claim the law has been misapplied and seek judicial review of the faulty process. This will be long and costly. The best and simplest way forward, for people unlucky enough to be in this situation, is usually simply to start over again with a new application (though bear in mind, if you do, that the Home Office will go on taking into account previous refusals when considering new applications).

How can we assist?

Applying for a visitor visa, if you are from a visa national country, is a job for the experts.

Whether you are applying for the first time, or have already fallen foul of the UK’s increasingly complex rules, been refused, and need to apply again, you would be very well advised to have a team of professionals on board to advise.

The Home Office will seek answers to a long checklist of questions. This includes details of visits to the UK and other countries; the duration of previous visits and details of any overstaying; financial circumstances; family, social and economic background; the cumulative total of previous visits to the UK in the past year, and whether this amounts to de facto residence in the UK.  The Home Office will be asking whether an applicant has a good reason to return to their home country. The strength of the evidence provided in relation to this area of the application will be crucial in determining its outcome.

OTS Solicitors’ team of experienced lawyers and immigration caseworkers have the expertise to help you make this case. Based on discussion with you, they will help you to assess the relevant factors and then both argue and back up with evidence all aspects of your application, gathering the necessary documentary evidence and testimonies. We will show you how to identify evidence of full-time employment or full-time study, financial documents showing access to the required funds, proof of earnings, proof of financial support from a third party in the UK and travel history both to and from the UK and to and from other countries.

Engaging a professional to guide you through the complexities of UK Immigration Law may not always guarantee success, especially if you are applying from one of the countries where the rate of refusal is high. But, in the current climate, with refusal rates going up, it is important to reduce the chance of being turned down to a minimum. Putting your application in expert hands, to make the best possible presentation of the facts of your case, is the key to success.    

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