A new Statement of Changes - the Home Office document that announces changes to the Immigration Rules - was published recently. Weighing in at over 500 pages, it brings sweeping changes to the rules for workers, tweaks most other visa categories, and brings in a new Appendix V from 01 December 2020. That's V for Visitor.
Appendix V as it exists at the moment has appendices of its own, and one of the changes that will come in from 01 December is that Appendix 1 to Appendix V, which contains definitions for visitors, will be removed. All definitions will now be contained in Paragraph 6 of the Immigration Rules - this means that the current inconsistency between some definitions for visitors, and as they are elsewhere in the Rules, will end.
There is currently a long list of reasons why an applicant may not be "suitable" for a visa - criminal convictions or an adverse immigration history are prime reasons. All the several reasons in the current Visitor rules are being replaced by a requirement to not fall for refusal under the general grounds for refusal set out in the Immigration Rules. Many of the previously mandatory grounds for refusal - failing to provide biometrics, attend an interview, provide information including medical reports - are now discretionary grounds for refusal, which is of course a positive step. Anyone who overstayed a visa between 24 January 2020 and 31 August 2020 will also not be subject to a re-entry ban (this recognises that Covid-19 and the global lockdown left many people who would otherwise have left the UK unable to do so).
The new Visitor rules make it much more difficult for anyone with a criminal record to visit the UK. It will be mandatory for anyone who has been convicted of a criminal offence within the year before their application to be refused, even if they received a non-custodial sentence or an out of court disposal. This applies to convictions anywhere in the world. Anyone sentenced to a custodial sentence of 12 months or more now faces a lifetime ban, regardless of how long ago the offence was committed, or the nature of the offence - this is a significant change from the current regime, where only custodial sentences of four years or more lead to a lifetime ban, with lesser sentences leading to bans for a set number of years.
In keeping with the general tightening of the rules around criminality, a previously discretionary ground for refusal - if a person is a persistent offender who has shown a particular disregard for the law, or has caused serious harm - will now become a mandatory ground for refusal, and a customs breach (such as carrying a prohibited item) can also lead to refusal of a visa, whether or not the person was prosecuted for it.
On a positive note, there is increased flexibility for people who wish to come to the UK for a short course of study - it will now be permissible for this to be the main purpose of a visit for a course of up to six months. Volunteering for up to 30 days will also be an acceptable reason for a visit (volunteering currently has to be incidental to the main purpose of the visit).
A new Appendix Finance also comes into being from December. Visitors, who are all required to demonstrate that they have sufficient funds to cover the costs of their visit, will only be able to rely on funds held in financial institutions permitted under the new appendix, which excludes financial institutions that are not appropriately regulated or where satisfactory verification checks cannot be made.