Comments by Sanwar Ali:
The expensive, confusing and overly bureaucratic UK visa processing system makes things even worse when there is a pandemic. Further bad news is that the infection rate appears to be increasing in parts of the UK. The worry is whether there will be another lockdown. If so, unfortunately, there will be further disruption to visa applicants, and pretty much everyone else.
As the effects of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic continues, more and more migrants in the UK and others are losing their jobs. Currently the Government job retention scheme is due to continue to the end of October 2020. Unless the scheme is extended it is likely that there will be a huge increase in unemployment after this date. Tier 2 visa holders sponsored by a UK Tier 2 sponsor will be affected by this.
According to a report published by The Independent, delays in UK visa processing are leaving people unable to work or travel to see relatives who are dying, despite being legal residents in Britain. UK visa gridlock has sparked further criticism of the Home Office privatised visa and immigration services.
The Independent report states that hundreds, maybe even thousands, of foreign nationals in the UK have been ‘left in limbo’ after being told that while UK visa centres have reopened, they still need to wait before they can submit their biometrics.
People from overseas need to submit their biometrics, including fingerprints, as part of their UK visa application. Biometric submissions tend to take place in UK visa centres across the country, which are operated by French firm, Sopra Steria – an information technology company who the Home Office has contracted to deliver UK visa and immigration services.
Local post office previously used for biometrics for visa applicants
Prior to Sopra Steria delivering biometric services, foreign nationals could visit their local post office to provide the necessary data. However, under Sopra Steria, people now have to attend one of six ‘core centres’ across the UK in order to access free services or attend one of 51 other centres that typically charge fees starting from £69.99.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Sopra Steria operated centres were temporarily shut down in March, putting the UK visa application process on hold for many people. Centres began a phased reopening on 1 June, but two months on, many people are still unable to complete the application process.
At the beginning of July, the Home Office notified applicants who had previously applied for a UK visa that they would be subject to a new process that would reuse biometric data that they had provided previously. Applicants were told that they could not book an appointment at one of the visa centres.
Since this announcement, there has been no further update on when the new process will start. Meanwhile, new applicants, who can still book an appointment at a visa centre, are struggling to secure an appointment, despite the fact that all core centres should be providing slots without charge.
This has left people unable to pay for their biometrics or having to travel a long distance to attend a free appointment.
Devastating lives of migrants
Delays in UK visa processing are devastating lives. The Independent report lists several cases of those affected, including Emre and Elif Gunes who said: “We’re feeling desperate because, as a result of the delays, we have been unable to travel to Turkey to visit Elif’s father, who has cancer and has been in a critical state since 13 July.”
Meanwhile, Debasish Dash, a mathematician who has been working in the UK since 2016, has been unable to start work as a lecturer at Strathclyde University, which he was supposed to take up at the beginning of July, because it has not been possible for him to complete the visa process.
The 33-year-old Indian national has applied for a Global Talent Visa, which the government introduced in February.
These are just some of the cases highlighting how holdups in the UK visa process are affecting people’s lives and causing uncertainty.
A spokesperson for Sopra Steria said: “We recognise it has been a difficult time for people unable to access appointments because of the global pandemic.”
The spokesperson said that Sopra Steria was ‘looking to introduce new measures’, which would involve the reuse of biometric data that had been recorded as part of a previous UK visa application. More information is expected soon.
The phased reopening of UK visa centres has made a big difference in reducing the number of customers waiting for an appointment, according to the spokesperson. Meanwhile, new appointments will be made available soon.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on some visa services as we operate with a reduced capacity to observe social distancing.
“We’ve adapted our working practices in order to clear applications as soon as possible, which includes reusing the fingerprint biometrics of some of our customers to re-enrol and stop people having to attend in person.”
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