"I have never welcomed the weakening of family ties by politics or pressure" - Nelson Mandela.
"He who travels for love finds a thousand miles no longer than one" - Japanese proverb.
"Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence." - Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
"When people's love is divided by law, it is the law that needs to change". -
David Cameron.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

How to handle phone calls from UKVI

In January 2015, there appeared to be a very deliberate policy by UKVI staff to phone interview Family Permit applicants and their sponsors.  These phone calls seemed to stop for a while and it appeared that with the McCarthy ruling, finally implemented by the UK from 6th April 2015 rendering a FP unnecessary for holders of Article 10 Residence Cards, the phone calls may have stopped for good.  However, just today heard of yet another phone interview request.

Note: FP applications may still be made by those who don’t hold the relevant residence card, and even those who even with a RC wish to go through a trial run for any future UK RC application. 

So with the beast rearing its ugly head, a reminder of how you may wish to handle phone calls from UKVI – some lasting for over two hours!  The calls used to cause a lot of panic, and hearing a few calls which were recorded by the sponsor I have put together some tips. 

How you take forward the call is your choice - you alone can judge whether a call will help or hinder your application.  The number they call is the number you put on the form - so only give them contact details that you don't mind them utilising to....contact you.

1) Stay calm. If it's not a good time for you or you find yourself panicking or you need time to set up the call recording, tell them it's not convenient for you, or the applicant is not available. Ask them to call back (or take their number if you want to call them back).

2) Ask them to identify themselves. Don't ask them 'Is this UKVI?' This shows you were expecting their call/have something to hide/are panicking. Ask them their name, have it spelt out and get them to specify which department they are calling from. Take a reference number. Remember you don’t know they are who they say they are and you're potentially providing a lot of personal info so it's okay to verify their identity!

3) Ask them what the purpose of the call is.

4) If you don’t want a phone call, tell them you're not comfortable with a phone call, that you have provided them with all the info required to under the EEA regulations (assuming this is the case).  If they want more, suggest they communicate with you in writing as this will allow you to consult your legal advisors (whether you do or not, fear of their practices being under legal scrutiny may ensure they abide by the law!).  One UKVI staff member suggested she was calling as a favour to the application because it would take far too long were they to communicate with the applicant in writing. Ahem. Yes because the Home Office is known for its speedy processing of applications!  UKVI then went on to say that if the applicant refuses to be interviewed over the phone they will consider the application based on info they already have – insinuating this would lead to a refusal, although that is by no means necessarily true.

5) If you don’t mind a phone call, then start recording, and get their consent (or maybe just inform them) you are recording the call. There are lots of apps which may be used - try them out first to ensure the quality is sound. If they say no to the recording, then you need to decide whether you should refuse to continue (what do they have to hide?) or proceed.  If they say okay to the recording, they may be more careful in what they ask you and how they speak with you. 

6) If they insist on speaking with the applicant (because on the FP application it has been indicated the applicant can speak English and is available to answer questions), but you as the sponsor want to liaise with them, explain you applied on their behalf and you are their representative. If they don't budge on that and it is okay for the applicant to speak with them, then I would suggest any question relating to the sponsor's activities, the applicant (especially where a dependent parent) should say something along the lines of: 'I'm afraid you will need to ask my son/daughter about that as they are the sponsor. I am dependent on them.'  Depends how comfortable the applicant is answering questions relating to the sponsor's activities.

7) UKVI state the purpose of the call is to ask supplementary questions - be familiar with the application form and perhaps any questions asked which are on the form already, refer them to the form, assuming what is on the form is correct. If your answer is now different, be able to explain any contradictions!

8) After every question from them, ask them whether you have to answer that question under the Directive/EEA regulations. They might say no you don’t have to answer this question and move on to another.  They might say yes you do.  They may well say if you don't want to we will have to hang up and make our decision based on information we have. It's a bullying tactic...like a salesperson who makes you think you're getting this great deal but if you don't pay immediately they'll sell it to someone else and you'll lose out, because by taking your money they're doing you a favour *rollseyes*.  However, if you're going to answer the question even if they say no you don’t have to, then don't bother asking whether you have to - it just makes you look weak. 

9) A recurrent theme seems to be questions relating to activities in the UK prior to the move, the motive for moving from the UK and now back to the UK and the expected activity in the UK.  Bear in mind you do not have to answer these questions - read this: https://eumovement.wordpress.com/law-ecj-case-law/ecj-case-c%E2%80%916889-commission-v-netherlands-1991/ 

Any reason for move can simply be 'exercising free movement rights'.  This applies to the EU citizens and by extension their family members.  See case Akrich.

10) Another common question is the purpose and duration of stay in the UK. Another one you don't have to answer. See case Commission of European Communities vs Netherlands

11) NEVER EVER say 'so far I have been completely honest with you' or 'to be honest' etc it suggests you are hiding something or that you're not always honest!! (To keep in mind for job interviews too.)

12) NEVER lie. No matter what. Choose not to answer if you prefer. But lying is super bad.

13) Don't get defensive, and try not to be nervous. Remember, you are just relaying facts. Any sign of defensiveness is likely to be viewed with suspicion - as if you are trying to hide something.

14) In one call, UKVI asked the sponsor to leave the room so they could speak to the applicant in private. Now common sense guys. It's not a video call. So there's no point arguing the point with them if you're going to (even if seemingly so) give in anyway.  The sponsor in this case argued the point but then finally agreed to leave the room when UKVI said they'd have to hang up if he refused to leave the room, or if he helped the applicant in answering the questions.

15) There have been a lot of questions on whether the applicant/sponsor claimed any benefits in the UK and in the country they are now living in.  If you're feeling brave then question them as to how the answer impacts the FP application (it shouldn’t).   It may help in showing COL (at a push) but it's more likely to be used to show you are not gainfully employed, or that you’re a burden on the state for them to possibly use the public interest reason to refuse.  Who knows.  See however cases Levin and Lebon. 

16) One applicant when being interviewed mentioned she was feeling dizzy. UKVI then said if you're feeling ill I am going to have to stop this interview and hang up.  How did the applicant respond? "No no, no, please dont stop the interview'.

UKVI is playing on the fear factor. If you're not feeling well, reschedule or ask for their questions in writing.

17) Beware of answering instrusive irrelevant questions. Questions where the applicant was divorced led to a lot of questions about the divorce process and ex-husband when it should not have mattered - given he was not an applicant. Super painful.

18) Immigration history is also looked into - I'm not sure how relevant these questions are given I thought adverse immigration history was not supposed to be used against the applicant, but I can't find anything to verify that - if any of you do, please do send to me!

19) There are only a few grounds for refusal under this route which I'm aware of, including: i) public policy, health or security ii) circumvention iii) reg 9 / Centre of Life not being met iv) sham relationship  For the bulk it is probably ii) they will try and catch you out on.  Understanding what questions you must answer, and the ones you do not, can help eradicate this as a possible reason for refusal.

20) If you are refused a FP because you did not provide some info, you can always re-apply and provide more info.  If you are refused because you provided information which is subsequently used against you, it is impossible to take that information back. I know these calls are nerve wracking and no one wants a refusal, but bear this in mind.

21) Like in any interview, knowing when to stop talking is key. Answer the question if you want to but don't waffle on.  In waffling you are more likely to say daft things.  One sponsor said he wasn’t working in a specific job because the weather in Malta is very bad, which automatically led UKVI to ask 'you think the weather in Malta is bad, then how will you manage in the UK'...to which the sponsor replied 'well, UK is my country'.  It shouldn’t really matter but totally does not help the COL argument!

22) Ensure any answers you provide are rational, consistent, truthful and factual.  Don't state you are looking for a new job in Malta whilst also then going on to state you will look for a job in the UK. 

23) Don't lecture them on how you have the right not to answer the question if you're going to answer the question anyway. You come across weak, confused and argumentative.

24) Think before you respond.  They may question you on why you are not answering instantly - ignore that question or tell them you prefer to pause and think before answering, or ask them if they prefer you to answer without thinking (okay this is a little argumentative, but we are human). If you are taking notes and this slows the answering process that's fine...tell them you're making notes of your conversation (they pause to do the same).

Links to some of the above case law: https://www.scribd.com/doc/244311141/Free-movement-useful-references  Read Colin's SS guide here: https://www.freemovement.org.uk/shop/ and more in our FAQ: https://www.scribd.com/doc/231038768/BritCits-FAQ

Stay calm and carry on, as we say in 'our country' ;)

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