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Consular news – Embassy 16 – April 2009

Consuls quiz PBS chief

Record numbers attended a recent Consular Corps meeting for a briefing by the UK Border Agency about the new points-based immigration rules and how they apply to embassy staff and foreign nationals.

Jeremy Oppenheim, regional director at UKBA responsible for the Points Based System (PBS) and Foreign National Identity Cards, explained to consuls that the new Australian-style system was introduced to simplify migration routes into the UK, to make the system responsive to skills shortages in the UK, and to prevent abuse.

New rules for missions
All diplomatic missions wishing to employ non-EEA workers are now required to register as a sponsor, at a maximum cost of £1,000, which will enable the mission to issue certifications of sponsorship to skilled locally employed staff (under Tier 2) or private diplomatic servants (under Tier 5).

Mr Oppenheim drew consuls' attention to new rules for Tier 2 sponsorship, introduced in response to rising unemployment, under which jobs at missions must now be advertised at a Jobcentre Plus and one other approved method of advertising.

Referring to the biometric identity card scheme for foreign nationals, Mr Oppenheim said the system would provide "universal simple proof of identity of those entitled to work in the UK." It is hoped that by 2015 about 90 per cent of all non-EEA foreign nationals will have identity cards.

A levy of £50 in addition to the visa fee will be charged to economic migrants which will contribute to the £70m Migration Impact Fund, created to help pay for public services used by migrants.

Responding to complaints by consuls about the difficulty of obtaining information from UKBA helplines, Mr Oppenheim admitted that the volume of calls had increased three-fold since the introduction of the new system, but he assured consuls that major improvements were underway.

Diplomats' dependants
Another concern raised was the problem experienced by diplomatic dependants once their diplomatic status had been revoked (due to parents being posted elsewhere) in which children wishing to extend their stay in the UK to complete their studies are required to return home to apply for a different visa reflecting their altered immigration status.

Mr Oppenheim explained that swapping of immigration status while in the UK was discouraged in order to keep the system transparent, but he agreed to investigate specific cases where short extensions of stay were required.

Mr Oppenheim told consuls there was "room for discretion, but not to the point where the whole system unravels".

Passport loss
Asked about measures to combat the loss of passports by the UKBA, Mr Oppenheim said the new system, in which passports are barcoded and stored in a secure facility in Sheffield, had virtually eliminated the loss of passports.

Consuls also inquired whether the UKBA could expedite the return of passports instead of being held during the entire application process. Mr Oppenheim said the UKBA wanted to avoid a two-stage process but promised to look into ways to speed up the return of passports.

Mr Oppenheim concluded his talk by saying he welcomed feedback from London's consular community: "We want to help colleagues in diplomatic missions to find solutions that are practical to all." 

For more information, contact Mr Oppenheim on: Jeremy.oppenheim@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk or
call 0114 207 1773.

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Jeremy Oppenheim and Consular Corps Committee member Julie Campbell
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