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Documents 3C Leave: A Landmark Judgment

What is Section 3C leave? 

Section 3C is a section of the 1971 Immigration Act, the legislation which underpins the UK Immigration Rules. It applies to all visa applications (importantly, this means it does not apply to British Citizenship applications).  

Where an in-time visa application is made to vary or extend leave to remain in the UK, section 3C extends the person’s existing leave until the application is decided (or withdrawn).  

 

Why has this become an issue? 

The case in question – RAMFEL & Anor, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2024] EWHC 1374 (Admin) – saw the Claimant argue that by not sufficiently documenting 3C leave, the Secretary of State for the Home Department was effectively restricting visa applicants from accessing certain entitlements which relied upon their ability to evidence status during periods of 3C leave. This creates hardship for individuals who were undocumented for a period of time in a system that requires documentation to access entitlements and rights.  

 

What was the judicial finding? 

The Court found that by not providing sufficient documentary evidence of 3C leave and, in particular, digital evidence, the Home Office was acting irrationally and unreasonably.  

The Court said that the purpose of section 3C was to provide those lawfully present in the UK the ability to continue to work and rent (amongst other entitlements) when a decision is outstanding with the Home Office. Hardship would be experienced by those on section 3C leave – and any dependants, including children – who did not have documentary evidence of their status.  

The failure to provide documentation to those with 3C leave results in hardship within the context of the hostile/compliant environment because the immigration system requires individuals to be documented to access rights and entitlements.  

 

What can we expect to change? 

The judgment compels the Secretary of State to take positive steps to give those on section 3C leave a means of proving their status. The Court asks the parties in the case to come to an agreement about what reasonable steps can be taken (and presumably within what timeframe) and asks the parties to confirm whether a mandatory order be made for the Secretary of State to comply with this agreement.  

The solution is expected to be the provision of a digital status, which could mirror the Certificate of Application issuance under applications for EU Settlement Scheme status.  

With a number of digital updates expected with the UK Immigration system this year, a further change to the digital documentation for the UK migrant community may represent a significant challenge for the Home Office.  

 

How does this impact you and your business? 

The impact of this case may well be far-reaching and should be beneficial for both employers and employees. The expectation is more confidence in an individuals right to work through a visa application process and, potentially, a simplification of compliance evidence throughout the processing period. 

The introduction of documentation of 3C leave should not necessarily mean employees and employers should become more relaxed about visa expiry dates or decision-making times. Individuals should remember that if there application is refused whilst they are on a period of 3C leave, the extension of their previous visa conditions under section 3C falls away and they may become an overstayer. It remains preferable to make applications as early as possible, with the aim of a decision being made before a visa expiry date, wherever possible.   

There is no indication nor expectation of a relaxation of two elements of a visa application operating around 3C leave that will continue to have a restricting impact on business. Both the ability to work for a new employer prior to a decision being made on a change of employment application and the restriction on travel outside the UK during a period will remain features of 3C leave, with any change of this amounting to a more substantial shift in the Immigration Rules. 

 

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