United Kingdom (UK) visa processing times have become unpredictable thanks to the uncovering of a system algorithm that could be unfairly discriminating against visa applicants. The uncertainty has left many South African applicants on edge as they face even greater ambiguity around their eligibility for settlement visas.
“The UK immigration process is like a board game; a board game where the British government has drawn up the rules – and changes them as it pleases!” says Ryan Rennison, director of leading immigration agency, Move Up.
“Players must either study the rules and play the game on their own, or they can hire ‘champions’ to increase their chances of a win,” he adds. According to Rennison, the benefit of hiring an immigration expert is that you can rely on the expert’s understanding of the oftentimes complex rules, which prevents the high cost of a denied application.
Rennison says that the UK government has gone through three phases of development pertaining to their immigration process. The first phase was paper-based and required a huge number of staff members to run UK government satellite offices around the world, with many countries needing several offices to service the demand.
“The British government placed a lot of emphasis on original documentation as a way of authenticating applications,” says Rennison. “I know of cases from that era being refused for not having a teller stamp on bank statements – the only reason the application was denied,” he adds.
In 2009 the British government updated their operating procedures, reducing staff numbers and outsourcing their operations to save costs and speed up the decision-making process. In South African, the UK’s Pretoria team took over the Cape Town, Harare, Windhoek and Maputo teams, making them responsible for visa decisions in Southern Africa. However, in this phase the British government still placed emphasis on the need to see original documentation.
The first tech-driven improvement the British government made was to move towards online-based application forms and linked online payments. The major benefit of online applications was that the British government could remove the costs of data capturing, leaving data input to the applicants themselves.
“Thanks to the more recent digital visa application developments, within the last three years we have begun to witness record-breaking decision-making processing times: the majority of cases are resolved within five working days,” said Rennison.
However, in a dramatic move in November 2018, the British government updated a fundamental part of their legislation stating that they no longer need to see original documents. Not needing original documents combined with the reduction of visa decision-making centres has allowed for online automation to step in, causing some unintended problems, too.
Recent allegations have seen the UK Home Office being questioned about its new online system, with reports that a new algorithm could be unfairly discriminating against certain applicants.
“The latest uproar seems to have caused a shift in the way the British government is applying their visa rules and created more erratic processing times, which is negatively affecting South Africans planning to move overseas,” said Rennison.
Although the Move Up staff has not encountered any recent unfair discrimination against its clients, Rennison fully expects visa processing times to go back to normal once the algorithm has been amended.
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