9 Biometric visas and delays |
152. All visa applications under the Points Based
System require the applicant to provide biometric dataten
fingerprints and a digital photographat 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.
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.
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.
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
we do not know how we would do it (i.e. secure the biometric
visa in time)".
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".
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".
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.
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.
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".
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).
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.
||5 days||10 days
||Decisions per month
|New Zealand: Wellington
Figure 8: Visa
processing times, April 2009: percentage processed in 5, 10, 30
and 60 working days
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
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.
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.
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
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 daysnot even from when they make the application,
but from the point at which the decision centre receives the paperworkfor
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
Ev 255 Back
Ev 171 Back
Q 328 Back
Q 332 Back
Ev 238 Back
"ENO director's boycott shines light on British visa scandal",
The Independent (main), 7 May 2009 Back
"This outburst will strike a chord around the world",
The Independent (main), 7 May 2009 Back
"If stars can't get in
the show can't go on", The
Times (main), 3 June 2009 Back
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
Mean averages calculated from combined processing times from State
Groups 1-3 Back
Combined totals from all three State Groups Back
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
Ev 256 Back
Ev 255 Back