Applying for a visa in the UK is extremely expensive. The government has recently massively increased immigration visa fees – by as much as 35% in some cases – meaning that the process has now become unaffordable for many people.
However, it is possible to apply for a fee waiver, which means that if you are successful in your application, you can get a visa for free.
Because of the recent increases to immigration visa fees, more people will now be eligible for a fee waiver. It is very important that people have information about who is eligible for a fee waiver, and the process of applying for one, as it could save them huge expense.
This short blog explains how to make a fee waiver application, and what is currently happening with fee waiver applications. Please note that this blog is about the process of applying for a fee waiver from inside the UK. It is possible to apply for a fee waiver from outside of the UK in certain (limited) circumstances which are not covered here. Read more about this here.
Who is eligible for a fee waiver?
You will be eligible for a fee waiver if:
- You cannot afford the visa application fee
- You are destitute
- You are at risk of being destitute
- Your income is not enough to meet a child’s additional needs
For example, if you are on the 10 year route to indefinite leave to remain, and you are applying on the basis of family or private life, you may be eligible for a fee waiver. If this is successful, you do not have to pay the whole application fee.
You can apply for a fee waiver for just the Immigration Health Surcharge if you are able to pay the fee for making your immigration/human rights application. If you cannot afford to pay the application fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge, you can apply for a fee waiver for both.
Do I need a lawyer to make my fee waiver application?
You do not need to have a lawyer to submit a fee waiver application. The reality is that there is a shortage of lawyers who can help with these applications for free, and if you need a fee waiver you will likely not be able to afford a private lawyer.
However, if your fee waiver application is granted, you have 10 working days to make your application for leave to remain. You will be given a code that allows you to apply for a visa without paying the application fee, and this code will only be valid for 10 days.
This means that when you apply for your fee waiver, you must also be prepared to make your application for leave to remain. If you do not submit your application within 10 days, your fee waiver will expire, and you will have to make a new application for a fee waiver. It is important that your leave to remain does not expire, otherwise you will become undocumented.
We know that there is demand for more information about doing the fee waiver application and the application for leave to remain yourself. With the right guidance and preparation, it is possible to make the application yourself.
How do I make the fee waiver application?
You can apply for a fee waiver application yourself online here. It is free to apply for a fee waiver.
There is an application form which you will need to fill out with information about your financial and family situation, explaining clearly why you cannot afford to pay the fee. Try to put as much information as possible in the application form itself. If you do have some income, write a cover letter clearly explaining why you can’t afford the fee.
Once the application form is submitted, you have 10 working days (this means all weekdays except weekends and public holidays like bank holidays) to upload your documents. It is a good idea to have all your supporting documents ready before you submit your application, so that you do not miss this 10 day deadline. You will have a link to an online portal where you have to upload supporting documents, such as 6 month bank statements, and letters from charities who have supported you. Remember, the evidence you provide must clearly show why you are destitute. You can ask a friend or supporter that you trust to help check your application and supporting documents with you.
Read more in the Home Office’s fee waiver policy here. For a detailed guide to making a fee waiver application, read our fee waiver section on our 10 year route Toolkit page here.
What is happening with fee waiver applications currently?
During COVID-19, fee waiver applications were being granted quickly, and the process was quite straightforward. Recently, the Home Office has become stricter with fee waiver applications. There have been more explanatory emails and more requests for further information. More fee waivers applications are also being rejected than before.
There are also more delays for the outcome of fee waiver applications. We have heard that some people are waiting as long as 5 months for a decision. Sometimes, in cases of a long delay, the Home Office might ask for updated information from you – such as your most recent bank statements. Be prepared for this, and try to respond to any requests for more information from the Home Office within 10 days.
One possible way to speed up a decision on your fee waiver application can be to upload a cover letter into your online portal explaining how long you have been waiting, why this wait has been difficult, and that you are expecting a decision to come soon. In some cases, uploading a letter speeds up the Home Office decision making. Please note – this will not necessarily be a positive decision, but it might make a decision come quicker. Some people have been contacting the Home Office about a long delay on this email address: FeeWaiversEntryClearance@homeoffice.gov.uk or FHRDecisionService@homeoffice.gov.uk, or email@example.com.
Section 3c Leave
If you have submitted an application for a fee waiver before the expiry of your previous leave, your permission to stay in the UK will continue because of something called Section 3c Leave. This means that your previous grant of leave will continue.
Sometimes employers do not know about Section 3c Leave, which can cause a problem for your work. In fact, when you have Section 3c Leave, you are still entitled to work exactly as before. However, there is no legal obligation for an employer to carry out right-to-work checks to confirm that a person is eligible to work, so sometimes they will not do so. You may be able to use a ‘share code’ to prove your status to others, which you can access here. You can send a letter to your employer asking them to use the Employer Checking Service to see your right to work.
If you experience a long delay in hearing from an application for a fee waiver, you might find it harder to prove eligibility to work. This is because the Employment Checking Service is only valid for 6 months: the employer sometimes (wrongly) thinks that at the end of that 6 months, that you are no longer eligible to work. In these cases, it is worth explaining to your employer that the delay is outside of your control, but that you still have Section 3c Leave because you submitted a valid application for a fee waiver or extension of your leave to remain in time.
Remember, Section 3c Leave only applies if you have existing leave. This is why it is so important to make an application before the expiry date of your leave. Otherwise you will become undocumented. The deadline is midnight on the expiry date.
It is important to plan ahead for your fee waiver application, as well as for your application for leave to remain. It is a good idea to start preparing for your fee waiver application at least 4 weeks before the expiry of your leave to remain. Even if your visa renewal is not yet due, it is a really good idea to plan ahead for your fee waiver application if you cannot afford the fee, or do not think you will be able to afford the fees when the time comes. Remember that because of the recent visa fee increases, more people will be eligible for fee waivers than before.
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