UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) same-day visa service appointments are being sold by unofficial agents and middlemen, the BBC reports.
The fixers, often based abroad, sell the slots – for £200 – to foreign nationals, unable to secure one themselves from the UKBA webs or telephone based service.
It is claimed the online booking system crashes nightly, as people try to avoid the long delays of applying by post.
Similar fixers have sprung up in the UK and Romania offering appointments in Croydon for Romanian and Bulgarian yellow and blue card applicants.
Romanian and Bulgarian BR1 applicants can expect to wait 7 months for a decision on their yellow or blue card postal application, so the temptation to pay a fixer for a same day service appointment is often irresistible.
But the UKBA said anyone engaged in speculative or block-booking had their access “immediately withdrawn”.
Foreign nationals already living and working in the UK can renew their visa by post, but they have to surrender their passport while the application is considered for 6 months or more.
A backlog of outstanding applications has seen the time taken for a decision rise from the advertised four weeks for a work visa to more than six months in some cases.
Students renewing visas for further student have waited eight months only to be refused for failing to include a single document. By the time they are refused their original visa has expired and CAS cancelled, making it impossible to obtain a place at a university, and they are ordered to leave the UK. Is it any wonder that students from India are down 25%?
Due to increased demand for the premium same-day service at one of seven UKBA offices has grown rapidly.
These appointments are released on the UKBA website each night at midnight, with cancelled appointments re-released sporadically.
The BBC has heard from dozens of people who complain that the site simply cannot cope with demand.
Paul, an IT worker who lives in west London but is originally from New Zealand, found that every time he logged on at midnight the site crashed.
“You sit there trying to load the site until 1am… so you become very discouraged and frustrated,” he said.
“I tried that every night for two weeks but I realised that it was pointless to keep trying to do this, neglecting sleep, when I have a job to go to.”
Because of the delays, Paul had to cancel a trip to New Zealand to see family and friends at Christmas, having already spent £800 on flights.
He was not prepared to hire anyone else to try to book him a slot but there are many people offering to do so.
A cottage industry has developed where people advertise online, promising that they will spend hours trying to grab an appointment.
The BBC has contacted a dozen such individuals and the price they charge ranges from £100 to £200.
This is on top of the cost of the premium service itself, which varies, depending on which visa is applied for, between £300 and £400 and is paid for at the appointment.
The BBC secretly recorded several people offering to sell appointments, which is in breach of UKBA rules.
One man, who is based in Turkey, said that he had booked more than 50 appointments in two months.
“I’m always searching my PC – I’m using two PCs – and when I see any cancellation I catch it,” he said.
“Today, I did two appointments. I took my computer in front of my television. I earn better than a full-time job.”
A spokesperson for the UK Border Agency said: “We are aware that a small number of individuals and organisations are attempting to speculatively or block-book appointments to sell on for profit and we are changing the system to prevent this type of abuse.
“Anyone found to be misusing the appointment service in this way has their access immediately withdrawn.”
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