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Alternatives to Enroling Biometrics in UK Visa Applications

When making a UK immigration or citizenship application, an applicant will usually be required to enrol their biometric information (fingerprints and facial images). Whether applying in-country or from overseas, this will require applicants to schedule and attend a physical appointment, unless they are able to use the UK Immigration: ID Check app

Complying with a requirement to attend an appointment and enrol biometrics is a condition of making a valid application, meaning that failure to comply with it may result in the application being rejected as invalid.  

This post will consider the Home Office’s guidance for cases in which an applicant for entry clearance claims that they cannot travel to a Visa Application Centre (VAC) because it is not safe for them to do so. Home Office guidance  also makes provision for other cases, such as where an applicant requires entry clearance to come to the UK for urgent life-saving treatment or where the applicant is inside the UK, but these scenarios are outside the scope of this article. 

When and How to Make a Request to Be Excused From Attending a Visa Application Centre

Individuals who consider that they are unable to attend a biometrics appointment at a Visa Application Centre can ask UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to either: 

  • predetermine their application before they decide whether to travel to a VAC to enrol their biometrics; or 
  • excuse them from having to attend a VAC to enrol their biometric information before they travel to the UK. 

When an application is predetermined, the Home Office gives an indication of whether the applicant meets the eligibility requirements so that their entry clearance application is likely to succeed. This can be a useful option where individuals can travel to a VAC, but the journey is unsafe and they wish to weigh the risks and benefits before travelling.

If an applicant is excused from attending a VAC and then granted entry clearance, they will exceptionally be allowed to provide their biometrics after arriving in the UK. 

The guidance makes clear that such requests are intended to be a measure of last resort, and applicants are expected to explore any alternatives, such as delaying travel until it is safe to do so, looking for alternative VACs, or paying for services such as Priority or Super Priority processing or the Keep My Passport option if they require  a quick decision or need to return to their home country while the application is pending. 

Where any of these alternatives are feasible, applicants are expected to pursue them, even if this means withdrawing their application and making a fresh application. The guidance also states that the additional cost of travelling to a third country to enrol biometrics will, in most circumstances, not be a sufficient reason for approving a request to predetermine an application or excuse the applicant from enrolling their biometrics. Any requests will not be considered by UKVI unless the applicant has completed the correct online application form for the type of permission sought and paid any fees due.

Once an applicant has completed the application form on, they will be taken to the commercial partner’s website (i.e., the company operating the VAC) to make an appointment. That website should contain information about contacting the UKVI Contact Centre if the applicant believes they will not be able to attend a VAC within 240 days of submitting their application online. In making a request to the UKVI Contact Centre, individuals must choose between asking to have their application predetermined and asking to be excused from enrolling their biometrics. They cannot request both, and if they later change their mind they must withdraw their application and submit a fresh application, with their new request.

How Requests for Excusal and Predetermination Are Considered

As the Guidance makes clear, the following are not considered valid reasons to accept a request: 

  • The applicant needs an urgent decision on whether they can come to the UK;
  • It is too difficult or expensive for them to travel to a VAC; 
  • The VAC is in an inconvenient location. 

The Guidance sets out four key criteria which UKVI will apply when assessing requests for predetermination or excusal:

  • Individuals must satisfy a decision maker about their identity to a reasonable degree of certainty before coming to the UK.
  • They must provide evidence they need to make an urgent journey to a VAC that would be particularly unsafe for them based on the current situation within the area they are located and along the route where they would need to travel to reach a VAC to enrol their biometrics, and they cannot delay their journey until later or use alternative routes.
  • They must demonstrate their circumstances are so compelling as to make them exceptional, which go beyond simply joining relatives who are living in the UK, for example, their UK based sponsor requires full-time care and there are no other viable alternatives to meet the sponsor’s or their young children’s needs.
  • They must confirm they are able to travel to any VAC if they want their application to be predetermined, or where they are requesting decision makers to excuse them from the requirement to attend a VAC to enrol their biometrics, they need to explain why they cannot attend any VAC, but are able to travel to the UK.

In addition to meeting these four criteria, applicants must satisfy UKVI that the circumstances which render them unable to enrol their biometrics are personal to them, so compelling as to be exceptional, and that no alternatives are available. This means that the factors relied on should be unique, rather than relating to the general conditions in a country or region. 

The guidance goes on to elaborate on each of the four criteria in detail. The below is a summary of the key points and should not be considered a comprehensive description of the guidance. 

Proving Identity and Nationality

Applicants wishing to have their applications predetermined or be excused from attending a VAC to enrol their biometrics must still satisfy UKVI that their identity is as claimed. The standard to which they must do so differs between the two options. 

For predetermination, applicants need to satisfy decision-makers of their identity and nationality to the standard of balance of probabilities (i.e., it is more likely than not that their claimed identity and nationality are true.) Typically, this will require a valid travel document to be submitted. 

Those requesting excusal from the requirement of attending a VAC must satisfy decision makers to a reasonable degree of certainty of their identity and nationality, and therefore meet a higher standard.

Unsafe Journey

Applicants must show that: 

‘they would personally face an immediate and real risk of significant injury or harm if they were to attempt to travel to any VAC because of personal circumstances that are unique to them when compared to the circumstances faced by the general population’

Relevant individual circumstances can include that the applicant is a lone woman, frail, or a young child and no protection is available to them from relatives, the government or NGOs to undertake the journey, or that there are mental or physical health issues which prevent the individual from travelling to the VAC (but not from travelling to the UK). 

The guidance is clear that no arrangements will be offered to applicants which would be impractical or place the safety of staff or third parties at risk. Similarly, requests are likely to be refused if the applicant had an opportunity to make an application and submit their biometrics in a safe location, or where individuals have placed themselves at risk of harm by travelling to a country that does not have an operational VAC.

UPDATE: In a judicial review decision promulgated on 04 April 2024, the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) held that, insofar as the guidance required applicants to show that the danger/risk they faced was unique to them as individuals and separate to the level of risk faced by the wider population/posed by the general conditions in the country in which they are, it was incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (which protects the right to respect for private and family life) and therefore unlawful. The Upper Tribunal refused the Home Secretary’s application for permission to appeal. It remains to be seen whether this litigation will continue and how the policy may change in the near future.

Compelling Circumstances

The guidance states that ‘in most circumstances’, decision-makers should not consider an individual’s circumstances to be compelling unless they are applying to join a family member in the UK (the sponsor), and the sponsor’s Article 8 right is potentially engaged. In addition, the Sponsor should be a British citizen or settled in the UK or have been granted protection status, and the applicant should demonstrate an urgent need to travel. 

The Guidance makes clear that this is a separate assessment to that of whether a refusal of entry clearance would breach Article 8. In other words, it may be the case that, while compelling circumstances are found so that an individual is excused from providing biometrics or allowed to have their application predetermined, the Home Office ultimately takes the view that refusing their entry clearance application would not result in a breach of their, or the sponsor’s, human rights.  

In addition, as described above, there must be an urgent need for the applicant to travel, which can arise from either their situation or that of their Sponsor. Examples given in the guidance include where the sponsor or their young children require urgent care due to significant illness or acute disability (and no alternative care is available), where the applicant is an unaccompanied minor requiring the sponsor’s care and no in-country alternatives are available, or where the applicant is a victim of transnational marriage abandonment and is being denied access to their young children who remain with their partner in the UK. 

Ability to Travel to the VAC/to the UK

Where an applicant is requesting predetermination of their application, they must confirm that they will be able to travel to a VAC within 240 days of submitting their online application. Approval of a request for predetermination does not guarantee that entry clearance will be granted, nor that the applicant will receive any assistance in making their way to the VAC.

Applicants wishing to be excused from attending a VAC must show that they face insurmountable barriers to attending a VAC, that they have exhausted all other options available to them, and that they are able to travel to the UK if granted entry clearance.


As the Home Office sets out in its guidance, biometrics ‘underpin’ the UK’s immigration system by enabling ‘comprehensive checks to be made against immigration and criminality records to identify those who pose a threat to our national security, public safety, immigration controls or are likely to breach our laws if they are allowed to come to the UK.’ It is therefore only in exceptional circumstances that an applicant will be granted special arrangements because of their inability to travel to a Visa Appointment Centre. In particular, as the guidance makes clear, the general conditions prevailing in a territory or country will rarely be sufficient to make such an application. 

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