In the ever-changing field of UK immigration, most visa applicants who are already in the country follow a common practice of retaining their passports while their application is being considered. This established procedure has been in place for quite some time and continues to raise concerns about international travel while waiting for a decision. Thus, this post aims to shed light on the frequently asked question: “Can I travel while my UK visa application is being processed?” By delving into the relevant rules and implications, we seek to provide visa applicants with a clear understanding of the potential impact of travel during this crucial phase of their immigration journey.
The typical answer to the question, “Can I travel while my visa application is being processed?” is usually “NO.”
I have my passport, so can I travel?
To make a visa application in the UK, you are required to provide proof of your identity under paragraph 34(5) of the Immigration Rules. This proof of identity is necessary for various types of applications, such as leave-to-remain extensions, switching between visas, settlement applications, and citizenship applications. In most cases, this proof of identity comes in the form of a valid passport or other travel document.
Since October 2021, paragraph 34J of the Immigration Rules allows for the return of any proof of identity provided by the applicant while their application is under consideration. So, if you submit your application through the UKVCAS system, you can retain your passport during the processing period, unless the Home Secretary deems it necessary to retain it.
However, the Rules, particularly outlined in paragraph 34K, state that if you have applied for further or indefinite leave to remain, and you choose to travel outside the Common Travel Area (CTA), which includes the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man, your visa application will be treated as withdrawn.
It is essential to remember that if you do travel outside the Common Travel Area before a decision is made on your visa application, it could lead to severe consequences. Your application may be considered withdrawn, potentially resulting in the need to reapply and facing complications during your travel or re-entry to the UK. Therefore, it is advisable to exercise caution and refrain from travelling outside the CTA until you have received a response on your visa application.
Do different rules apply to citizenship applications?
For those who have applied to naturalize as a British citizen, the rules regarding travel are different. Applicants in this category can travel outside the CTA while their application is pending, given that they have the intention of remaining settled in the UK. This exception exists because citizenship applications are not processed under the Immigration Rules. To be eligible for citizenship by naturalization, applicants must already have indefinite leave to remain (ILR). With ILR granted, applicants are generally allowed to travel in and out of the UK freely for up to two years, as long as they maintain an intention to settle in the UK.
What is 3C leave?
Section 3C of the Immigration Act 1971 serves as the legal provision that enables individuals to maintain lawful status in the UK even after their original permission to stay has expired, on the condition that they submitted a new immigration application before the previous permission lapsed.
Furthermore, if you applied for further leave before your previous visa expired and transitioned to section 3C leave (as your visa expired while awaiting a decision), your section 3C leave would have also expired when you left the UK. Re-entering the UK with section 3C leave is not possible, as it automatically lapses if you travel outside the UK during the decision-making period.
It’s essential to note that having an outstanding visa application and travelling outside the CTA will not grant you the right to re-enter the UK for a decision. The application will be treated as withdrawn, and you may be refused entry unless you have different leave (e.g., your existing leave has not yet expired or you’ve successfully applied for another immigration category before returning to the UK).
I need to travel, should I cancel my application?
If you urgently need to travel overseas or have any other reason to withdraw your application, you can request UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to cancel or withdraw it online.
If you cancel your application before UKVI makes a decision, you will be entitled to a refund of the immigration health surcharge. However, whether you can get a refund of the application fee depends on the stage of your application. You should receive a fee refund if you have not yet attended a UKVCAS appointment or enrolled your biometric information. Similarly, if you were eligible to use the IDV app for identity verification and have not yet uploaded your documents, you can cancel your application and receive a fee refund.
However, it’s essential to be aware that if you decide to withdraw your application and leave the UK, there is no guarantee that you can re-submit the same application later. If your existing leave is due to expire or has already expired, you may lose your permission to stay in the UK. In such cases, you would need to make a fresh application from outside the UK before returning. Leaving the UK while your application is pending could also impact your eligibility, such as breaking your continuous residence period for an indefinite leave application.
Once you request to withdraw a visa application, you cannot stop the cancellation process. It’s important to note that if you have applied for permission to stay or leave to remain, or indefinite leave to remain, you must remain in the UK until your application has been decided. Leaving the UK while your application is pending carries a high risk of it being treated as automatically withdrawn, as information collected by the Border Force is shared with the Home Office, especially as the UK border becomes more digitized.
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Frequently asked questions
Immigration Rules, Part 1, para 34BB(1) very clearly provides that: ‘An applicant may only have one outstanding application for leave to remain at a time’
If you have applied to naturalize as a British citizen, you may be able to travel temporarily overseas while awaiting a decision from UK Visas and Immigration. However, it is crucial to maintain the intention of settling in the UK.