The UK Border Agency announced on 10th January 2011 that they are considering offering a fee paying premium service for certain applications for residency under European Law. Applicants will be able to submit their application in person at the Public Enquiry Office in Liverpool.

The service would apply to those applying for permanent residence, a residence card or a family member residence stamp to confirm their right of residence under European Law.

The UKBA have not yet made proposals for the level of fees, although the survey on the UKBA website aimed at potential applicants suggests a fee of £300 plus an additional fee of £175 per dependant.

The UKBA are required by European Law to provide all documents to confirm a right of residence under European Law free of charge and further, they must issue family member residence stamp 'as soon as possible' after the application is made and permanent residence cards or residence cards 'no later than six months' after the date of application.

Further, the UKBA are required to provide a 'certificate of application' immediately upon receipt of a valid application, and this document allows the applicant to live and work in the UK whilst their application is being decided.

At present it is the experience of many practitioners that the UKBA frequently fails to keep to these requirements. It appears to be routine for the UKBA to exceed the six month maximum processing time for European applications by a significant period.

Further, the UKBA often disputes the validity of an application, often entirely in error on their part, and will reject and return the entire application resulting in a time lag. In the meantime the applicant faces unemployment in the UK until such time as their application is resolved.

As a result of these difficulties, in practice, many applicants may seize any chance to circumvent the often inefficient and protracted administration of the European Casework Directorate, regardless of the cost and the inconvenience of going to Liverpool in person or paying a legal representative to do so.

However, the introduction of a fee paying service for the speedy and competent resolution of European applications can only undermine the principle that European Law imposes a duty on the UKBA to achieve these aims and arguably, this service would not be necessary if the UKBA complied with this duty.

Whilst the UKBA may seek to justify the introduction of a premium service as one which provides a significant benefit above and beyond the six month deadline required by European Law it is our view that this service, provided at a not inconsiderable cost and inconvenience, entirely circumvents the legal responsibility of the UKBA by European Law.

Rather than setting a dangerous precedent of charging for European applications, the UKBA would do far better to recap on European legislation and to examine and revise their procedures for the administration of European applications accordingly. We will continue to monitor progress on the availability of premium processing and update our readers as soon as new information is released.

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