Managing Migration: The Points Based System - Home Affairs Committee Contents


9  Biometric visas and delays

152.  All visa applications under the Points Based System require the applicant to provide biometric data—ten fingerprints and a digital photograph—at the point of application. These data can only be taken at certain biometric data collection points which, outside the UK, are located either at the Foreign Office overseas mission or visa issuing post, and in some cases also via the host Government. In many countries the data are taken by UK Visas' commercial partners, VFS Global or Worldbridge.

153.  We heard from a range of witnesses that the requirement to provide data in person, and processing times for biometric visas, were causing great difficulties and delays in some parts of the world. For instance, the National Campaign for the Arts observed that there were particular difficulties for applicants for whom there was no application centre nearby:

Large groups of artists (including, for example, orchestras) will have to make their visa applications individually and in person, rather than being able to pass the appropriate paperwork to a manager to submit the applications together.[177]

We have recently had examples of Malian musicians who have to travel thousands of miles to their nearest visa application centre in Dakar (3 days travel) and then had an expected wait of up to 10 days while their applications were sent for processing in Banjul, The Gambia, all the time being separated from their passports and relevant documentation.[178]

The NCA gave a case study:

Dancers from Salia nï Seydou, a company based in Burkina Faso, who performed at BITE04, had to cross into war torn Cote d'Ivoire to apply individually in person for their visas from the British Consulate. The Foreign Office advised that they should not travel by road as it was too risky. They had to travel by air, stay overnight and find two days out of their schedule. The additional costs had to be met by the Barbican as it would have been unfair to expect the company to pay these unforeseen costs out of their fee. The new proposals would have a similar negative financial and administrative impact.[179]

154.  A quick perusal on the UK Visas website of the visa issuing centres in different parts of the world confirms this picture. An applicant in Mali, for example, must travel to the capital of Senegal, Dakar, in order to make an application. An applicant in Australia must travel to Canberra in order to give biometrics. In many countries there is only one, or less than one, biometric data collection centre. The United States seems to be the exception to this rule: it is possible to give biometrics at one of 129 Department of Homeland Security Application Support Centres across the country.

155.  Other witnesses mentioned delays in the processing and issue of biometric visas. Ruth Jarratt of the Royal Opera House told us that in the case of emergency visa issues for international artists "the issue now is the biometric visa…we do not know how we would do it (i.e. secure the biometric visa in time)".[180] Louise De Winter of the National Campaign for the Arts agreed: "there are difficulties about where some of the posts are where you can get the biometrics processed. Something that could potentially have been turned round in a matter of hours now takes as much as up to 10 days".[181] Asgard Promotions Ltd, a concert promotions and booking agency company, told us that "in most places the passports are sent from one consulate to another for the actual processing and seven to 14 days seems to be the norm. For a touring act in some cases this is almost impossible and is causing severe problems".[182]

156.  Various articles in the press have described similar problems. On 7 May 2009 The Independent reported that Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami, due to direct a production of Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte at the English National Opera experienced such delays in applying for a temporary work visa that he gave up trying to enter the UK.[183] The same paper also gave case studies of Congolese musicians who had to travel to Nairobi and an African musician who made a 16-hour journey from Mali to Dakar, Senegal, to apply for visas.[184] The Times reported on 3 June 2009 that contemporary dancers and university lecturers were finding it similarly "impossible to obtain the necessary short-term work visas".[185]

157.  Decisions on visa applications are only made at Foreign and Commonwealth Office overseas missions. Biometrics and paperwork, including passports, are taken at other centres and sent for processing at the FCO mission. UK Visas has a target processing time to complete 95 per cent of non-settlement applications in not more than a week (5 working days); 98 per cent in not more than 2 weeks (10 working days) and 100 per cent in not more than 12 weeks (60 working days).[186] Actual visa processing times for Points Based System applications for April 2009 in the top five overseas missions by volume of total PBS decisions are shown in the following table. The processing time is measured from when the application arrives at the decision centre from the biometric collection point.
Visa post Tier 5 days10 days 30 days 60 days Decisions per month
Australia: Canberra 1

2

4

5

8

46

81

51

9

70

91

74

69

99

100

100

100

100

100

100

387

221

32

2112

USA[187] 1

2

4

5

54

76

70

73

73

98

96

97

100

100

100

100

100

100

100

100

188[188]

401

738

116

India: Ahmedabad 1

2

4

5

25

44

1

0

71

78

90

100

97

100

100

100

100

100

100

100

139

9

715

1

New Zealand: Wellington 1

2

4

5

7

40

20

35

9

53

60

59

36

100

100

100

99

100

100

100

144

80

5

483

India: Hyderabad 1

2

4

5

5

17

1

0

46

76

20

0

94

99

100

100

100

100

100

100

187

205

302

2

Figure 8: Visa processing times, April 2009: percentage processed in 5, 10, 30 and 60 working days[189]

158.  Figure 12 shows that, for April 2009, all these five top posts for visa decisions were very far from meeting the target of 95 per cent of visa decisions within 5 working days. None of them met the target in any tier, and in 14 out of 20 tier measures the decision rate was lower than 50 per cent in 5 working days. Only Tier 2 in the USA and Tier 5 in India: Ahmedabad (where there was only one application) met the target of 98 per cent of visa decisions in 10 working days. Except for one Tier in New Zealand: Wellington, all posts met the target of 100 per cent in 60 working days. UK Visas' own figures seem to support the assertions made by our witnesses that there are long delays to the decision and issue of biometric visas under the Points Based System.

159.  Other witnesses reported delays and difficulties with the registration process itself. The League for the Exchange of Commonwealth Teachers (LECT), despite having applied for a sponsors' licence in November 2008, had still not received one by June 2009. This had resulted in this year's cohort of Canadian teachers due to take up an exchange programme with UK teachers being refused visas.[190]

160.  The National Campaign for the Arts recommended:

The provision of mobile biometric units for cases involving immensely long and complex journeys; agents would be willing to pay for an agreed premium service where a consular official travels with a mobile unit.[191]

161.  The requirement for applicants to provide biometrics in person for visas and the inevitable delays associated with this process seems to be causing disproportionate delays and expense to applicants. The challenge with providing biometrics is especially acute for migrants in certain parts of the world where biometric collection centres are few and far between, such as certain African countries. However there seem to be insufficient biometric collection centres in most countries. We recommend that the Government should as a matter of urgency establish more biometric collection points, including the provision of mobile biometric collection centres.

162.  The UK Border Agency is consistently failing to meet its own target times for visa processing. It is unacceptable that applicants very frequently have to wait more than ten working days—not even from when they make the application, but from the point at which the decision centre receives the paperwork—for a visa decision, and often up to three or four times that long. Our witnesses are right to express concern about the new system, particularly where a visa is needed quickly, such as in the case of international performers or artists, in which cases it is by no means clear that an applicant will receive their visa in time. The UK Border Agency must improve its processing times as a matter of urgency. It must also ensure that there is a streamlined procedure for emergency applications, so that urgent cases can be processed in 24 to 48 hours in every country.


177   Ev 171 Back

178   Ev 255 Back

179   Ev 171 Back

180   Q 328 Back

181   Q 332 Back

182   Ev 238 Back

183   "ENO director's boycott shines light on British visa scandal", The Independent (main), 7 May 2009  Back

184   "This outburst will strike a chord around the world", The Independent (main), 7 May 2009  Back

185   "If stars can't get in…the show can't go on", The Times (main), 3 June 2009  Back

186   These target times relate to straightforward non-settlement applications. 'Straightforward' is defined as an application which "can be decided on the basis of the application and the supporting documents submitted without the need for further enquiries or more detailed scrutiny". This covers all applications under the Points Based System. Accessed at http://www.ukvisas.gov.uk/en/aboutus/customerservicestandards/ on 23 June 2009.  Back

187   Mean averages calculated from combined processing times from State Groups 1-3 Back

188   Combined totals from all three State Groups Back

189   UK Border Agency, Guide to Visa Application Centre Processing Times, May 2009, accessed at www.vfs-uk-et.com/processing.aspx on 15 July 2009  Back

190   Ev 256 Back

191   Ev 255 Back


 
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Prepared 31 July 2009