THE current application process for a settlement visa for entitled family members to join their soldier is complicated, contradictory and confusing. Faced with an increase in enquires – particularly from those on overseas assignments – the F&C team set out to find a solution.
What are the problems?
- No Armed Forces option on the online form
- Families given wrong length of visa
- Families having to pay the health surcharge and request a refund
- The international enquiries helpline giving out wrong information
- Lack of back-up for overseas units
- Lack of knowledge about the requirement to keep visas valid at all times and the renewal process
- Lack of understanding about the initial ‘call forward’ procedure
- Confusion about payment of visas overseas.
What is the Home Office doing?
UKVI has been promising military families their own online form since 2013. This would prevent spouses from being given the wrong length of visa and having to request a correction. It would also stop spouses having to pay the immigration health surcharge up-front and then waiting six months plus for a refund.
AFF F&C Specialist Katherine Houlston went to the Home Office in March this year for an update on this and other issues.
She explained: “Unfortunately we were told that it could be another year at least before this issue is resolved, this is because UKVI is overhauling the whole online form.
“Our contacts have assured us that there will be an Armed Forces option on the new form. They also promised us that they would contact the international enquiry helpline to provide them with training on Armed Forces rules. We will monitor progress.”
Until then it is likely that many spouses will continue to be issued visas for two-and-a-half instead of five years and will continue to have to pay for the health surcharge. If you are in this position, go to the AFF website for information on how to request a correction or refund.
What is the Army doing?
It is clear from recent enquiries that there isn’t enough information about the visa renewal process for spouses on overseas assignments – particularly those who are not living in BFG.
The AFF F&C team and AFF Regional Manager Overseas met with Maj Dave Coward from Army Personnel Services to discuss the way forward.
Katherine added: “He informed us that the new iHIVE overseas location guides will include information relevant to F&C families and that a new F&C guide is being produced specifically for families.
“We also requested that all overseas units be provided with guidance about visas, costs and information on how to apply.”
What is AFF doing?
AFF Chief Executive Sara Baade has raised this with the covenant reference group and, as a result, the MOD will liaise more closely with the Home Office. The F&C team is working closely with its overseas teams to improve the information available to those families on overseas assignments.
The team has produced a simple step-by-step guide on how to complete the online form. We also plan to produce short video guides to further assist families through the process.
If you are experiencing F&C issues whilst stationed overseas, contact the AFF F&C team via aff.org.uk/fc
NATALIA Forrest (pictured above) had to apply to renew her visa whilst stationed in Turkey. She described how she found the process:
“The online form is not fit for purpose for people like us who are in slightly unusual situations and there is no advice what to do.
“I am a native English speaker with a post-graduate education who has now gone through this situation more than once and I still find the whole process incredibly confusing, frustrating and stressful.
“How people who are not native English speakers or do not have much experience filling out complicated forms are meant to cope I don’t know.”