The UK Visas and Immigration – UKVI (formerly the UK Border Agency) has recently made an announcement unveiling a new procedure for applicants in Australia. UK fiancee, partner and marriage visa applications originating in Australia will be subject to some changes as of March 2014. UK Visa Application Centres (VACs) will open in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.
One of the reasons behind these new centres being opened is the fact that the UKVI has now outsourced much of the UK visa application process to VFS Global, a company with a long track record of providing visa services across a large part of the Asia Pacific region and other parts of the world. This government contractor currently provides visa services in India, Thailand, Philippines, China, as well as Russia, Ukraine and a number of other countries.
Although applicants in Australia must follow the new procedures, no actual changes to visa application rules will be made. The processing of visa applications submitted in Australia will continue to take place in the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) hub in Manila, Philippines. However, it is hoped that the new VACs will be able to provide a much more personalised service, and the fact that applicants can now submit and collect documents to and from the centres in person, rather than by mail, should expedite the process, too. An additional 3-5 day priority service is also being introduced.
The various VACs will not all be operating the same opening hours, and not all of them will be open every day. For example, because Canberra and Perth generally see a lower number of applications, these are expected to be open on average two days a week, or 104 days a year. It is expected that the busiest centres will be open more often than this. Also, applications made at Brisbane, Canberra or Perth will see an additional fee of £59 (A$112) per applicant. However, Adelaide will not be charging this additional fee as it will be part of a Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) pilot scheme.
The majority of Australian residents who decide to travel to the UK do not need a visa, and it is expected that this will remain the case. In fact, less than 2% of Australian residents visiting the UK are actually issued with a visa. Any Australian residents applying for a UK settlement marriage, partner or fiancee visa will no longer need to post their supporting documents to the UKVI lockbox in Sydney. Instead, applicants must now visit their local Visa Application Centre in person. The centre they visit must have jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence in Australia.