Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fit for purpose?

The UK does not have a very good system for handling people who need a visa to visit the country.

The process is slow and awkward - when the Russians have a slicker process (and their process is by no means slick), you know something is wrong.

The information available on the official Websites is poorly organised, and is not written from the point of view of someone who wants to come to the UK - it reads like some bureaucrat randomly dumped stuff he knows onto a page, and somehow manages to not quite answer any question you may have.

Then there is an unfortunate gulf between the questions they ask, and the information you need to give them if you are to be successful. For instance, there is a section for "any other information". If you don’t fill that with a convincing explanation of why you will absolutely definitely leave the UK after your trip, you’ve just wasted £80 and three weeks - and that doesn't include the time taken to research and fill in the form before you submit it.

And you have to be very convincing - a visit to the UK see a critically ill parent, followed by a journey home to get married and resume employment was considered insufficiently convincing. And by the time the appeal process had dragged on (and that’s another problem with the whole morass), the parent had died. Unfortunately the nameless, faceless, soulless wretch who made that decision had no accountability.

If you have any questions - too bad. You can try to submit a question via a web form, or email. If it does not vanish into the ether, the answer you eventually get is as good as random. I asked the same question twice in a row (I’m sceptical that way) and got diametrically opposed answers each time. And if you think the unambitious targets for response times in the UK are bad, spare a thought for those with questions for the High Commissions abroad - they can propose a staggering 3 weeks to answer a question.

Or you could pay some extortionate amount to speak to the same hapless incompetents on a premium rate line. After this scam has drained your wallet for a while you may well be be sadder and wiser, but you're unlikely to be much better informed.

The system operates as yet another stealth tax, with many of the services being charged at well above the cost of providing them. To add insult to injury, if you save them money by applying in person, they almost double the charge.

And there's another thing. The administration is a farce. A friend of mine applied in person for a visitor visa. £500 or so. You'd think for the money you'd get something a bit slick, and indeed the interview went quite smoothly. It looked like she might be able to meet some friends for lunch. Then she discovered she had to wait for the passport to be processed. And wait. And wait. She could see the pile of passports being processed. One at a time, slowly, with breaks for chat, and lunch, and cups of tea. But when a passport was eventually processed, was it returned to its owner? Was it ever. Not until all the pile had been processed were any passports returned. Sheer gratuitous awkwardness.

More fundamentally, there is a deeply ingrained culture of disbelief, and a failure to understand that, as well as keeping harmful people out, their role is to, you know, let people in.

You’d think all foreign businessmen and women were stealing from us, that tourists were eroding our culture and robbing us blind, and that we all just want to be left alone, the way visa applicants are positively discouraged.

I could go on. You're probably picking that up. You're clearly very perceptive!

Maybe I’ll rant some more about this later.