In 2008 and 2009 the UK introduced a Points Based System as the route to working or studying in the UK for all non-EEA foreign nationals.
Prior to this system, all UK visas were issued or refused at the discretion of the immigration officers assessing the cases. The immigration officers would assess each application against the Immigration Rules, but ultimately would use their discretion as to whether the case was an 'issue' or a 'refusal', on the 'balance of probabilities'.
The Points Based System (PBS) was introduced as an alternate, transparent system – discretion has now been taken away from immigration officers for all PBS applications. As long as an applicant provides the correct documentation in the correct format to demonstrate that they have the required points the visa will be issued (barring any grounds for refusal such as the use of deception in the application or a criminal background).
However, therein lies the rub! Preparing an application correctly so that it succeeds has become a difficult task.
There are currently four tiers to the Points Based System in operation:
Tier 1 – Highly Skilled Migrants
Tier 2 – Skilled Migrants with a sponsor (i.e. job offer from an employer licensed under PBS)
Tier 4 – Students
Tier 5 – Temporary Workers
Tier 3 is for Low Skilled Workers, but is currently not in use.
Each Tier has a Policy Guidance giving full details of the points required, how to gain these points, and which documents are necessary as evidence.
However, most applicants do not want to study a 65 page Policy Guidance before submitting a visa application! Hence many applicants are being refused – not because they don't qualify, but because they didn't provide the right documents to demonstrate that they do. Refusals under PBS (for applications made outside the UK) do not come with appeal rights, so if documents were not correct, the only choice is to start over. And yes, this includes paying the visa fee again!
I recently worked with an applicant who applied as a Highly Skilled Migrant (Tier 1) twice on her own and was refused both times - costing her approximately $2000 in visa fees alone, not to mention time and stress, whilst her employer was waiting for her in the UK. And this is a typical story!
The recent change of government in the UK (May 2010) might also add a hitch for potential applicants – the new Prime Minister David Cameron stated prior to election that he would implement a cap on the numbers of immigrants into the UK. Details of what this might affect and entail are yet to be announced. However, if applied to all or any Tiers of the Points Based System it will make it all the more imperative that applicants present properly prepared applications first time round – if not, they might miss out altogether if the cap gets reached before they can reapply.
Applicants who want to get it right first time might wish to consider using the services of an immigration advisor, or immigration lawyer. A list of advisors can be found on the website of the Immigration Services Commissioner www.oisc.gov.uk
The Points Based System is easy to navigate when you know how, and provides great opportunities for foreign nationals to work or study in the UK – but if you don't know how, either get hold of the relevant Policy Guidance (www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk), or find someone who does!!