Appointment gridlock as Visa
Application Centres resume service
7 August 2020
As UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) across the country begin a phased return to service following the easing of lockdown restrictions, thousands of applicants are now facing difficulties securing an appointment as centres tackle the backlog of cases that have been delayed during the pandemic.
The Home Office’s official partner Sopra Steria, responsible for running UKVCAS appointment centres in the UK, closed their doors in March due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
In June, Sopra Steria announced they would be beginning a phased, controlled return to operation at selected service points across the country, but would be running at a limited capacity and prioritising customers who already had appointments booked prior to the lockdown.
However, two months on from the re-opening, many applicants are still ‘in limbo’ and unable to move forward with their applications due to the lack of free appointment availability and the soaring costs of paid-for appointments.
As a result, Sopra Steria has been accused of ‘prioritising profit over people’ and now faces calls to release official figures on the number of free appointments that have been made available versus paid appointments.
Soaring costs to secure appointments
Immigration advisors at Smith Stone Walters have been working around the clock to secure appointments for our clients, some of whom have been waiting for months to submit their biometric information to progress their visa application.
Furthermore, SSW consultants have reported communications from Sopra Steria regarding invitations to book appointments have been unpredictable.
Smith Stone Walters Director Gary Smith said: “A lot of cases that were submitted just after lockdown are still waiting for an invite to book a biometrics appointment, whereas another application I submitted in late July received an invite today.”
With the average cost of a paid-for appointment coming in at £110, the soaring costs involved with submitting an application means many migrants have been left frustrated as the Home Office delays continue.
SSW consultant Summer said: “There are no appointments at the Croydon centre at all within two weeks, and the earliest free appointment is on 3 September, almost a month away. The paid appointments are £110 per person, which would be a great fortune for my client, a family of four.”
With paid appointments much easier to come by than the elusive free appointments, applicants are compelled to pay additional fees to submit their biometrics at the earliest available date, rather than wait an unknown amount of time for a free slot.
Lack of accessible visa centres
To add to the appointment costs, lack of appointment availability means many applicants are forced to travel for miles to attend visa application centres.
Previously, foreign nationals could visit their local Post Office branch to provide their biometric data. However, since Sopra Steria took over the Home Office contract, applicants must now attend one of six ‘core centres’ across the UK to access free services, with paid appointments starting at £69.99 available at 51 other centres nationwide.
Whilst trying to book an appointment for a client in Wales, SSW Consultant Ania has been unable to source any appointments, free or paid, at any of the available centres in Wales or the South West. The closest available centre to the client offering appointments is the Birmingham core centre, with the next available free appointment on 7 September.
What happens next?
In July, the Home Office announced that applicants who have previously applied for a UK visa will be able to avoid attending an appointment at a visa centre and will instead be able to reuse their biometric data supplied during their previous application.
The process would involve applicants using a new UKVCAS Identity Verification (IDV) mobile app to submit facial images and supporting information without having to attend an appointment in person. It has not yet been announced exactly when the app will become available, but Sopra Steria have said a phased rollout will begin in August and eligible customers will be contacted.
Meanwhile, new applicants must wait to secure an appointment at a visa centre to submit their biometric information.
Help with your UK visa application
If you need help with submitting a visa application or have any questions regarding the process, Smith Stone Walters is here to help.
Our team are working hard to ensure our clients can secure appointments at visa application centres and secure their visa at the earliest opportunity.
To speak to one of our friendly consultants, please call 0208 461 6660 or email email@example.com.