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Once you've found the first level of a particular weapon upgrade, you can apply it to any weapon of that type. However, it's possible to find weapon upgrade upgrades which replace the original version with a better one. For instance, "Assault Rifle Magazine Upgrade" will be replaced with "Assault Rifle Magazine Upgrade II"

My question is, do I have to go to the weapon selection screen in order for these improved upgrades to take effect? Or is the change immediate if I'm using that upgrade and I find an improved version mid-mission?

Sometimes I'll find a weapon bench or another weapon that gives me the option mid-mission to visit this screen, and if I need to in order to benefit from the upgrade, then I should, even if I don't plan on changing my loadout.

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Yes, they are applied immediately. You can check this by picking up an upgrade that is easy to test, such as extra ammo capacity.

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