Organised Corruption (or incompetence) at UKBA?

I’ve been waiting to write this post about the UK Border Agency until both Faith and I were issued visas and safely arrived in the UK. The fact that I would even think there might be a possibility of retribution from the UKBA over a blog post (that not even that many people will likely read!) should tell you something about the scale of the ordeal we went through with them.

Our application process began in late July when we both filled in the relevant application forms for student and student dependant visas online. We both then went to an office to have our fingerprints taken and then mailed our applications, passports and other documents off to UKBA’s New York office. We had plenty of time since we weren’t planning to travel to the UK until September, so we just paid the normal application fee. Additional to the fee was a $12 charge to cover the cost of UKBA overnighting our passports back to us after our visas were issued (this bit becomes crucial later on).

We wistfully released our passports and application materials off to New York and went about our adventures in the US. Several weeks later, having received no further communication from UKBA, our documents returned to our house in Minneapolis, with a letter explaining that we had not been issued visas because we did not include passport-sized photos with our applications (It should be noted here that UKBA’s website does instruct applicants to submit a photo with their documents, but the printed materials do not include a picture among the checklist of items to include with the application).

By the time we got our passports back, we were now very short on time. Having just over a week until I was set to depart, I frantically searched to see if there was anyway to get my application fast-tracked. And lo and behold, for a mere $150, one can have one’s visa application moved to the front of the queue. So I did, and suddenly my interaction with UKBA was quite different. Instead of just releasing all my documents, and hoping I would see them again, I started receiving e-mail updates when my application arrived, when my visa was issued, and finally information on the tracking number for my homeward bound passport.

The experience was not dissimilar to finding a well-connected person, and paying them a small bribe to make sure my application ended up on the right desk ahead of all the others. If one substitutes WorldBridge (the third party contracted to handle payments for UKBA) with “my good friend, Walter,” the process above would not seem out of place in Uganda.

But the story continues! WE only paid the extra fee to have MY application jump the queue, as Faith wasn’t planning to leave for a full two weeks after me. After I had already left for the UK she received a message telling her that she needed to fax along extra documents showing that she had enough funds to cover 6 months living expenses in the UK. She calculated the exchange rate, determined that there was enough in a particular bank account, and faxed the statement for that account. She received an email the next day saying that her application had been denied because of insufficient funds. Strangely, the funds threshold quoted in the rejection was much, much higher than that listed on UKBA’s website. The International Student Advisers here at King’s were also surprised, as the amount they know to be the threshold was also much lower.

Recall now the $12 paid to have our passports overnighted back  (actually each of us had to pay it twice owing to the first rejection for lack of photos. Theoretically, Faith should have got her passport back the day after her application was rejected (and here it is worthwhile to note that she was notified of the rejection at 7:30 am). But strangely, it did not return for several days. Normally, I would be willing to chalk this discrepancy up to UPS. But giving out interaction with UKBA, I am willing to speculate whether UKBA had us pay the cost for overnighting our passports to us, but then only used part of the money to have the package sent at a more leisurely pace, and pocketed the difference.

The story has a happy (albeit costly) ending as Faith finally arrived yesterday morning. And I should add that UKBA probably has every reason to treat student visa applications with increased scrutiny in the wake of the London Metro Uni scandal. But increased scrutiny is no excuse for (in fact it should be a reason to reign in) incompetence. And if UKBA is to be taken seriously in its attempt to crack down on corruption or abuse of visas, it should do better to eliminate the appearance of corruption in its own practices.

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4 responses to “Organised Corruption (or incompetence) at UKBA?

  1. This does not surprise me one bit. The horror stories of getting student visas into the UK are everywhere. I had one friend who had to delay her admission into Nottingham for a year because her visa did not get issued fast enough (several months). I’m actually surprised that you both started the process in July and are both there at this point. Seriously surprised.
    Good luck with your new English adventures! If you are still there in the summer perhaps we can meet up for a cuppa (or something stronger) and reminisce about CWC… 🙂

  2. Another note on postage: The UPS tracking page showed that someone at the UKBA had PRINTED an overnight mailing label for Faith’s passport days before Faith was notified that her visa had been denied. However, they did not actually MAIL the passport for almost another week.

  3. I think its par for the course with UKBA. I’d previously lived in and had indefinite leave to remain for the UK. However, my english wife and I moved back to NZ in 2003, in 2010 “she” wanted to move back, so I had to go down the route of the visa to come back again. I fell foul of the printed checklist not listing everything I had to include. My email confirmation had a link of the list that also did not work.
    So 10 weeks later when my application was rejected because I had failed to include my passport (an oversight on part I guess, but I assumed it would be noted on a computer system and my passport stamped at Heathrow) I was furious, I rechecked my confirmation email and the checklist, link still broken and checklist complete. I phoned a premium line to complain and was told it was my fault not theirs, even though I then found 2, that is two, crucial pages with information I needed on their website was not working, and I am meant to maintain their website apparently.
    So I had to pay another £700 for my application, by this time my wife and daughter had left for the UK, as had our container, so I had to live out of a suit case whilst UKBA fast tracked my application, two weeks later I joined my family.
    When I arrived I complained to UKBA that it was unjust that I was liable for errors on their website and checklist, but despite that, the onus is still on me and apparently I should have sought the advice of an immigration professional if I was unsure, but I argued, I was not unsure, I was following their checklist and I had no idea their broken link held suck important information and that it would be my fault.
    I’m now having to apply for leave to remain again, but at a cost of £991 I’m a bit miffed as I paid £1400 to get in this country 2 years ago, I don’t like enough to spend another £991, but as it keeps my wife happy no doubt I will have to.

  4. David: The US Citizenship and Immigration Service has a similar “Walter” called premium processing. For an additional $1,250 USD you get a 15 day review and a helpful person from the premium 1-800 number. Otherwise, if applying by mail, applicants can plan on work visas taking 3-6 months to process. WALTER! That said, I am not sure about wait times for US student visas…

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