Ghanaian applicants for United Kingdom (UK) visas have accused the British High Commission of demanding multiple fees and charges for information on the status of their applications.
The applicants expressed worry over the extra fees that they were required to pay when they followed up on the status of their applications.
An applicant with a standard application form is expected to receive information on the status of his or her application within 15 working days, and when such verification delays in reaching the applicant, the only resort is to contact the Visa Application Centre for explanations.
However, these explanations, which are supposed to be given to applicants as part of visa processing services, are sold to them.
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Applicants are asked to pay an additional £1.37 per minute to standard network charges to be connected to a system operator who provides no explanations for the delay.
The centre’s email address, which can be accessed via www.gov.uk/contact-ukvi-inside-outside-uk/y/outside-the-uk, also attracts a charge of £5.48 per email sent.
Even priority applicants who pay premium charges to fast-track their application process within seven days are unduly delayed for more than two months without communication from the UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) Office, only for them to resort to contacting the office at additional cost, thereby disrupting their travel plans.
Some of the applicants told the Daily Graphic on condition of anonymity that they applied for visas on different days in July this year and paid processing fees ranging between £119 and £199 (GH¢1,138) for ordinary or standard processing, while priority applicants coughed out about GH¢1,900.
In an email response to questions sent to the Communications Manager at the British High Commission in Accra, Ms Estelle Sackey, she said, “We are aware of the reported delays in processing UKVI applications. We apologise for the delays and the inconvenience this has caused.”
According to her, the UKVI Office in the UK was working to address the delays by putting in place a process to consider each case as soon as possible.
“If customers want further information, they can contact the International Customer Enquiry Service by phone or email, although there is a cost to this that covers the service,” she said.
She, however, said the visa application fees were payable for every aspect of processing an application and not just the decision to award a visa.
“We are not able to reimburse customers, except in a very few cases where priority fees will be reimbursed where we fail to meet our published longest service standard of 12 weeks for a non-settlement and 24 weeks for a settlement visa,” she said.
Meanwhile, a Kumasi-based applicant whose application has been pending for eight weeks without a word from the UKVI said she went back to the office in Accra to complain about the delay but got no explanation.
On her visit to the office, a security guard at post gave her a piece of paper with telephone numbers and an email address on it to contact the UKVI Office in London.
When she called one of the telephone numbers, she was charged an additional £1.37 UK per minute to her standard network charges, only to be connected to an operator who gave no explanations for the undue delay, neither was she assured of a refund.
“You will only be connected to an operator who tells you nothing you don’t know already,” she said.
She also sent an email, which attracted a charge £5.48, but this time she was warned to desist from contacting the centre until she had been contacted by the UKVI Office.
Another applicant who applied for a visa for himself and other family members encountered similar frustrations.
He said his application, which was to be processed within two weeks, was unduly delayed without any explanation and he was even charged for extra services which were never rendered.
“I applied on July 5 and got my passport at the end of August. But for me it was not the issue of the visa but the fact that I met people at the office who had applied for months without any explanation but who were being charged for extra services which were no guarantee that their issues would be resolved,” he said.
Some applicants recounted that on their appointment dates for visa processing, they were asked to pay the cedi equivalent of $79 (GH¢355) as additional cost for arriving for the appointment at 8 a.m., 30 minutes earlier than the official time of commencing work at the visa processing centre.
Applicants who reside outside Accra said the UKVI Office ripped them off after charging them the cedi equivalent of £15 for courier services which were not delivered.