What happens if a fee waiver request has been withdrawn?

What happens if a fee waiver request has been withdrawn?

The answer to this question does not appear to be straightforward.

As a brief background, a fee waiver allows eligible applicants to partially or fully avoid the payment of the Immigration Health Surcharge and/or application fees. The fee waiver option was originally available to in-country applications only. In 2022, the Home Office changed the Rules to allow overseas applicants to apply but only in limited circumstances.

To become eligible, an applicant must demonstrate upon legitimate evidence that they cannot afford the visa application and/or Immigration Health Surcharge fees for a reason of being destitute or at risk of becoming destitute, or, the total income earned is not enough to meet the child’s additional needs. If granted, the actual visa application must be made within 10 working days from the date of the decision on the fee waiver request when applying within the UK or 28 calendar days when applying from outside the UK followed by the submission of biometric data. Important to note that only certain application types are eligible for a fee waiver and applications for Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK (also known as settlement), even those based on human rights claims, are not eligible for a fee waiver.

The processing times for a fee waiver request have recently been subject to increase, making many wonder what happens if a paid visa application has been submitted whilst a fee waiver request remains pending. This all comes down to section 3(c) of the Immigration Act 1971, or as commonly known “section 3(c)”.

To put it simply, section 3(c) extends one’s permission to remain in the UK lawfully whilst their in-time UK visa application remains pending decision at the Home Office or until all appeal rights associated with an in-time refused visa application are exhausted. In relation to a fee waiver request, without going into many technicalities, if the request has been made before the expiry date of a valid UK visa, the applicant’s rights to remain in the UK lawfully continue at the time when the decision on a fee waiver application has been made and at the time when an actual visa application has been submitted, even if the visa validity already came to an end. But what happens if a fee waiver request has been withdrawn or a paid visa application is made whilst the visa has already expired but a fee waiver request is yet to be decided?

The simple answer is that section 3(c) will not be triggered which means that the person will be an overstayer once their UK visa comes to an end. This is because a fee waiver is not an application for leave to remain in the UK – it is merely a request for the UKVI fees to be waived.

Case study

On 5 November 2023, Tom submitted a request asking the Home Office to waive the payment of the Immigration Health Charge and UKVI fees in relation to his UK Spouse extension application. Tom’s permission to remain in the UK expired on 1 January 2024 and his leave was transitioned to section 3(c).

Tom then realised that on 7 February 2024, he accumulated 10 years in the UK. Tom decided to not wait for the outcome of his fee waiver request and on 11 February 2024 he submitted a paid Indefinite Leave to Remain visa application under the 10-year Long Residence route using an expedited service.

On 11 March 2024, Tom’s application was refused. The reason is that to be eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain under the 10-year Long Residence, Tom had to demonstrate that he was lawfully present in the UK for a consecutive 10-year period. Unfortunately, making a paid visa application, Tom’s fee waiver request became void, making him an overstayer since 2 January 2024, and therefore, short of lawful 10 years of residence.

The wording in some of the Home Office operation policies might suggest that a fee waiver request submitted in time is treated as an application for leave to remain, however, since the fee waiver is not an application for leave, it cannot be varied.

In the wake of the incredibly high visa fees and legal costs, it is more important than ever to correctly interpret the Immigration Law and requirements to avoid any disappointment and unnecessary expenses. Our Immigration team can assist with very complex immigration matters including fee waiver requests. Contact us for a quick assessment.

This article is provided  for general information only. It is not intended to be and cannot be relied upon as legal advice or otherwise. If you would like to discuss any of the matters covered in this article, please contact us using the contact form or email us on reception@cnsolicitors.com