Migrants, Human Rights Groups Raise Concern Over The UK’s Rushed Transition to eVisas

| June 26, 2024
Migrants, Human Rights Groups Raise Concern Over The UK's Rushed Transition to eVisas

The United Kingdom (UK) is moving towards a completely digital immigration system by 2025.

The Home Office is currently replacing physical documents such as biometric residence permits (BRPs) and wet ink stamps or vignettes on passports with digital records, or eVisas.

These physical documents are given to all non-foreign nationals with permission to live in the UK for at least six months.

They are proof of an individual’s right to stay, live, study, access public services, and claim benefits.

The switch to eVisas aims to streamline the UK’s immigration process and improve its border security.

However, the government’s ambitious timeline raises concerns about its potential impact on millions living in the UK.

According to a report by The Guardian, more than 4 million people have BRPs that will expire on 31 December 2024.

This will be the case despite having a legal right to stay in the UK beyond that date.

To continue having proof of UK immigration status, they will need to have their BRPs replaced with eVisas.

The rushed transition to eVisas has been met with worry and criticism from immigration experts.

They fear it could lead to confusion, errors, and potentially even the loss of legal UK immigration status for some individuals.

Zoe Dexter of the human rights charity Helen Bamber Foundation said, “It is shocking that the Home Office is rushing through their digitization plan.”

“This will adversely affect people who are particularly vulnerable, including refugees and survivors of trafficking and torture,” she added.

Josephine Whitaker-Yilmaz from the migrant rights charity Praxis warns that “millions of people will find themselves unable to rent a property, get a job, or access essential services.”

The transition to eVisas

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), which is part of the Home Office, have started contacting individuals with BRPs.

Those with BRPs must create a UKVI account and link it to their eVisa and passport.

This online system will be accessible on the web and through a mobile phone app.

It will allow individuals to easily prove their immigration status and access services like healthcare and employment.

The Home Office has had difficulty contacting individuals with BRPs, as many registered email addresses belonged to migrants’ lawyers.

Migrant advocacy groups are worried many individuals will be unable to switch to eVisas on time.

Those with BRPs can still create a UKVI account after the 31 December 2024 deadline.

Still, they may only find out they need to transition to eVisas when they cannot prove their rights when returning to the UK from an overseas trip or when they try claiming benefits.

Additionally, the process of transitioning to eVisas becomes even more complex for those with a wet ink stamp or vignette sticker.

Those with a wet ink stamp or vignette sticker in their passport must apply a “no-time limit” (NTL) to be able to get a BRP first.

Other concerns about the UK’s digital immigration platform

While the move to eVisas might seem like a positive step towards modernization, significant challenges are ahead.

The December 2024 deadline already gives very little time for millions of people to transition to the new system.

The online system may be difficult for vulnerable groups to navigate. These include the elderly, those with limited digital literacy, or those without access to smartphones or the internet.

There are also concerns about the accuracy of the digital records and the potential for errors during the transition process.

These errors could lead to confusion, delays, and potentially even the loss of legal rights for some individuals.

The UKVI system, already being used by those granted settled or pre-settled status under the European Union Settlement Scheme (EUSS), has been reported to display broken records and errors.

An individual’s digital record or eVisa may show a different photo or a mix of correct and incorrect data.

“If you are abroad and cannot convince someone that you have the right to be in the UK, they will not let you board,” Monique Hawkins of The3Million said at a Justice and Home Affairs Committee inquiry about electronic border systems.

The3Million represents the European Union, European Economic Area, and Swiss citizens in the UK and campaigns for their rights.

Many immigrants are already facing difficulties navigating the UK’s complex immigration system.

The sudden switch to eVisas could exacerbate these issues, creating additional stress and uncertainty.

Recommendations for a smoother transition to eVisas

Hawkins urged the committee to convince the government to delay the widespread rollout of the ETA and focus on the transition to eVisas.

She noted that Australia took years to implement its own travel permission system before introducing digital records for residents.

Immigration experts and advocacy groups recommend extending the deadline to give individuals more time to transition to eVisas.

This would ensure that everyone has the opportunity to understand the process and obtain the necessary digital documentation.

Providing comprehensive support and resources to help individuals navigate the transition is also crucial.

This includes clear instructions, user-friendly digital tools, and assistance for those needing extra help accessing or using the eVisa system.

Hawkins also suggested that all individuals holding UK immigration status should have a travel credential instead of the share code system.

It could be a physical and original proof of immigration status or a digital representation, such as a 2D barcode.

This can alleviate concerns about the accuracy of digital records and ensure that migrants can easily prove their rights in various situations.

Hawkins added that there should be a 24/7 support line for people denied boarding due to system errors in proving their immigration status.

She said there must also be a clear compensation structure for the travelers’ troubles.

Some groups are also calling for the government to conduct a thorough review of the new digital immigration system before making it mandatory for everyone.

This would help identify and address potential issues or vulnerabilities before they cause widespread problems.