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UK visa scams affecting international students

The ‘illicit trade’ of visa appointments in South Asia is causing turmoil for students hoping to enter the UK.

Reports from The PIE and The Observer have uncovered a scam in various countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and India, where brokers are supposedly snapping up visa appointments and selling them on for extortionate prices; some upwards of £800.

Appointments for UK visas are free. However, issues with the booking system and availability has made getting an appointment a difficult task for a lot of people. Appointments are released online, randomly, on a first come, first served basis, and are quick to disappear.

Some brokers are using automated bots to detect and book slots on clients’ behalf, while others manually monitor the booking portal. In Pakistan, some brokers were even standing outside offices asking if anyone needs an appointment.

One Afghan student told the Observer he regularly checked the booking portal, but there was never an appointment available. Meanwhile, brokers were offering slots for around £735.

Another student from Pakistan was charged around £560 for an appointment that didn’t exist. After finally securing a slot, the delays meant she had to defer her university start date.

Speaking to The PIE, Syed Nooh at UEA has said a lot of universities have had to ‘extend late arrivals for students’ due to a ‘massive backlog of visa applications’:

‘A number of in-country staff who represent a lot of UK universities and some of the leading agencies are frustrated, because if a student does not get their appointment in time, that means their visa application doesn’t get assessed in time and then arrivals are delayed.’

The Home Office outsources its visa processes to VFS Global, a company who provides consular services to 70 governments. However, some are starting to question why VFS seem to have a ‘monopoly’ on appointment booking.

One agent from a large agency in Pakistan, who spoke to The PIE anonymously, has said students deserve ‘multiple options’. They go on to say that VFS should be monitoring who is outside their offices:

‘Why, if you don’t have an appointment, are you standing outside the premises, or nearby to the premises?’

A major concern for the UK market is these problems could have a knock-on effect, as students may decide the process is not worth the hassle.

‘A lot of people are not bound by geographic locations,’ says Nooh. ‘If they’re hearing through the rumour mill that getting a visa appointment for the UK is very difficult, or getting the visa itself is a lengthy process, they may well say, “you know what, we’re going to have to look elsewhere.”’

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