Saturday, 7 February 2009

Some day, my visa will come...

So in case you happen not to have actually spoken to me any time in the past two months, I'm in the process of moving to the UK. Of which, the major step is to get myself a UK work visa.

I'm (frankly) too old for a holiday working visa (and I don't want to go for that short a time anyway), so what I need is the Tier 1 general migrant visa. This will let me work in the UK for any company for up to 3 years before having to reapply, so it's pretty good.

However... apart from some very strict requirements the current wait for a visa of this kind is a bit on the long side.

The website tells us that there is a wait of 25 working days for any kind of visa[1], but this is simply not the case. The wait is currently averaging 45 working days. The following thread is an ongoing conversation by a large number of people frustrated about the current Tier 1 visa waiting times. It's been running constantly since October (when the Tier 1 was first introduced) and now runs at 47 pages of comments... this should give an indication of the current level of feeling surrounding the handling of this class of visa.

One of the chief grumbles is that the official website flat-out lies about the length of time it takes. The visa-office staff are aware of how long the wait times are currently averaging (I called and asked).

Moving internationally is a really large, life-changing event. It takes a lot of planning. It requires packing up your house and quitting your job, and long, tearful farewell parties... If we are told that it takes 25 working days, and then it takes another month... it means there are a lot of people left twiddling their thumbs and watching their bank balance go down - at an alarming rate if we're unlucky enough to have quit our job or are forced to stay in a motel after giving notice or selling the house.

Don't get me wrong - I don't mind that it takes 45 working days, but if I had known this from the start, I wouldn't have planned my life around 25 working days... and things would be going much smoother. As it is, I've been interviewing with several companies in the UK and having to tell them "looks like my visa *still* hasn't come through yet... can you hold off another 2 weeks"... which is a situation that *nobody* likes to be in.

It's not my fault that the visa simply hasn't come through, and that I have no idea of if or when it ever will... but I can't shake the feeling that I'm coming across as being flaky... which is a feeling that I really dislike.

The problem is compounded by the fact that there is literally no way in which one can find out the progress of a visa application[2]. There is no website, there is nobody I can call. I just have to wait and hope... and wait and hope some more... while every friend, relative and innocent bystander is going crazy alongside me and asking me when it's going to come... and I don't have any answer to give them!

Being my mother's daughter, I called anyway and asked - they said there was no way, but they confirmed it was taking 45 working days, so they know that the website is incorrect, and yet have done nothing about it.

That made me mad. Are they deliberately misleading people or are they simply too negligent to bother? We're not talking about the kiddies on their gap year holiday doing a bit of waitressing on the side (incidentally, those visa come through in a jiffy). These are the most highly skilled people in the country who are moving their lives around to get over there, and the official website gives an estimate that is 80% inaccurate... and they *know* it is! :(

The real kicker for me is that, because we can't see our progress, they have no obligation to get anything done at all! Now, I know the system has just changed and they probably have a stack of applications a mile high on their desk - so they're probably *not* just being lazy... but the lack of transparency certainly leaves the system open to abuse.

One final niggling point is that they recently published some world-wide stats for visa processing times... and it looks like countries such as the US have an average turnaround time of only 6 working days. I can imagine a time difference of maybe ten or even twenty days, but this is ludicrous. What could cause a discrepancy of over 600%!

If there's a shortage of staff... hire more?

[1] Apart from a permanent settlement visa, or an annoyingly vague description of a "non straight forward" visa - which apparently means a visa application that is incomplete... by which assumption the Tier one should be straight forward as long as you provide everything they ask for.
[2] at least until after 45 working days have past in which case you can pay $10 to get an SMS "progress report" sent to you (of which the aforementioned thread has several stories of it never arriving) and which, when it arrives, tends to say something vague along the lines of "In progress", and with no indication of how long it will take from there.