UK visa centres around the World gradually reopening

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Comments by Sanwar Ali:

What may seem very surprising for many people is how dependent the UK visas and immigration system is on the US visa system for UK visa applicants based in the US.  Unless USCIS Application Support Centers open you cannot apply for an UK visa.  Even without the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic there have been serious problems with the service provided to UK visa applicants.  Private sector companies that provide services for the UK Government have been accused of providing a bad service and for taking advantage of visa applicants. The current situation is obviously even worse.

The coronavirus pandemic also exposes serious issues with both the UK and US visa system.  Is it really necessary to have such a bureaucratic and complicated visa system?  The US visa system is even more complicated and bureaucratic than the UK system.  Successive US Government must also be trying to win the award for creating the most difficult to understand and incomplete guides on how to apply for visas in the World.

Lets look at the UK Tier 2 visa system.  The main way in which employers bring in non-EEA workers into the UK.  The employer needs to have a Sponsor Licence.  Until 2008 this was not even necessary.  This has meant an additional complicated and bureaucratic step for employers.  Even in the US you do not need a “Sponsor Licence” or something equivalent to that.  You also need to have a “Certificate of Sponsorship” in the UK to employ each overseas worker and may need to complete the “Resident Labour Market Test”.   Then finally you apply for a Tier 2 visa.  Is UK visas at the Home Office trying to compete with the US Government on designing the most difficult, confusing and complicated work visa system in the World? 

All these steps no doubt increase the level of interaction between people and so increase the likelihood of catching coronavirus COVID-19.  Why is UK visas at the Home Office so obsessed with physical location when it comes to responsibilities for the Sponsor Licence system and for certain other things?   Why does the Home Office treat people who apply for a Sponsor Licence and do not have a physical office with greater suspicion?  Hasn’t the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic shown this to be a really bad idea? 

UK visa application centres around the world are gradually reopening after months of closure. At the beginning of June, visa centres in Australia, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand opened their doors. Meanwhile, as recently as this week, centres in Bahrain, India, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates resumed UK visa services.

However, centres across several other countries remain closed, including in the US, where no official date has been given for visa centre services to resume. The majority of people applying for a UK visa in the US typically enrol their biometric information at Application Support Centres operated by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

As part of the application process in the US, applicants are required to send their passport to the UK Visas and Scanning Hub based in New York, where a visa sticker is fixed into the passport.

USCIS Application Support Centers to reopen

It’s understood that a reopen date of July 13 has been set for USCIS Application Support Centers to reopen. However, this does not mean UK visa applicants will be able to schedule an appointment from this date. Meanwhile, the UK Visas and Scanning Hub in New York remains closed, with no date confirmed for its reopening.

The Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, has hinted at lockdown measures being eased in coming weeks. However, New York City – where the Scanning Hub is based – must meet strict criteria issued by the government for measures to be eased.

New York has been worst hit by the coronavirus in the US. As of July 1, the state had 417,836 cases recorded and 32,129 deaths.

Premium Application Centers

US Premium Application Centers – where some UK visa applications are made - also remain closed, and it’s unclear when they will reopen.

All UK visa application centres around the world are run by two private firms, TLScontact, which covers centres across most of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, while VFS Global operates centres outside of these regions. Each company is providing regular updates on their websites about UK visa application centres that are reopening.

UK-based application centres

Application centres based in the UK, operated by European tech consultancy firm Sopra Steria, are also gradually reopening for biometric appointments. It’s understood that emails are now being sent out in batches, inviting applicants to schedule a biometric appointment, with those who applied before 27 March given priority.

The Home Office has said that while centres are reopening for biometric appointments, availability will be limited. Applicants can expect delays and potentially having to travel to an alternative biometric centre for an appointment.

Priority UK visa services are currently suspended, meaning that applications can take up to three weeks to process. Some applications are being processed at a faster rate, but family-based visa applications are seeing lengthy processing times.

UK visa application centres opening around the world

Across the Middle East, UK visa application centres have reopened in the cities of Manama (Bahrain), Kuwait City (Kuwait), Al Khobar, Jeddah, Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) and Abu Dhabi and Dubai (UAE).

In India, visa centres have resumed services in the following cities:

  • Ahmedabad
  • Bengaluru
  • Chandigarh
  • Chennai
  • Kochi (also known as Kochin)
  • Hyderabad
  • Jalandhar
  • Kolkata
  • Mumbai (South)
  • New Delhi
  • Pune can help with Tier 2 Visa Sponsor Licence and Tier 2 Visa

If you need help with a Tier 2 visa, or a Tier 2 Sponsor Licence, including help with complying with your Tier 2 Sponsor Licence obligations, can help.

For more information and advice on Tier 2 Sponsor Licences, UK immigration law and UK visa applications please contact us on 0344 991 9222 or at