By British Deputy High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Laura Davies
Since arriving in Sri Lanka, I have become a bit of an expert on visas. In fact, when my phone rings, there’s almost a one in two chance that someone is calling about their visa.
Getting a visa can be complex, frustrating and time-consuming. My colleagues in UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) work really hard to fulfil a difficult mandate: giving a swift service to legitimate applicants, while spotting and weeding out the fraudulent applications. It’s a stressful job, and they do it very well.
August is one of their busiest months: from students to holidaymakers, everyone wants a visa to the UK. Applications from Sri Lanka and Maldives are processed in Chennai. Their target is a 15 working day turnaround for all non-settlement applications. A lot of the frustration I field comes from people who just haven’t allowed three weeks for their visa: it’s an avoidable own-goal for applicants. If you need your passport during that time, then VFS offers a Passport Pass-back service, which allows you to keep your passport until a visa is ready for printing.
Another source of frustration used to be the complexity of the form itself. Fortunately, the UK Home Office, the government department responsible for immigration, has just launched a new intuitive visa application form. You can see it at Access UK. It’s shorter, more logically ordered, displays the application fee in local currency, and can be viewed in a range of languages, including Tamil, with Sinhala to follow soon. There are a number of other benefits too, including a quicker, mobile friendly application form which can pre-populate a Schengen form so customers can apply for both visas with less effort. It’s available to anyone from Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan or Bhutan who is applying for a visa to visit the UK.
The summer rush is also down to the number of students heading to the UK on Tier 4 visas. The UK remains the second most popular destination in the world for international higher education students. We’ve seen a 16% increase in student visa applications for universities since 2010, and a 39% increase in visa applications to study at our elite Russell Group universities. We continue to have an excellent offer for graduates seeking to undertake skilled work in the UK after their studies.
The Home Office is also testing a pilot programme with four universities, delegating eligibility checks to the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Bath and Imperial College London for Master’s courses of 13 months or less. This means that their students can submit fewer documents with their visa applications, simplifying the process further. These students will also be granted up to six months leave at the end of their courses, allowing them more time to find a suitable graduate level job and switch to a work visa route.
This year we will also be offering a special service once again to students from Maldives, hosting a temporary visa service in Malé on 24 August 2016. The service is aimed at students from Maldives who would otherwise have to travel to Colombo to submit their application for a UK visa. The temporary Visa Application Centre will be based at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the deadline for booking an appointment is 22 August 2016. This was a big success last year, and I hope it will be again.
The UK encourages all genuine visa applicants. We hope these services will mean a more hassle-free application process for visitors and students this summer – and less time on the phone for me!