The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) processing centres are responsible for making decisions on applications to visit, live, study, settle or work in the UK. By using their commercial partners VFS Global and Teleperformance (TLS), the two organisations that process applicant’s biometrics and accept UK visa applications on behalf of the UKVI, the Home Office has gradually aimed to work more efficiently when reviewing supporting documentation provided by the applicant.
The UKVI (previously known as the UKBA, IND) has always required that paper applications with physical evidence are mandatorily submitted, despite the gradual integration of technology in our daily life. The UKVI had on many occasions struggled with application backlogs so extensive without sufficient staff to cover the caseload, that some applications were just left pending for months, whilst agency staff were sourced to help with clearing files, or locating missing documents previously submitted by applicants around the world.
Since early 2017, however, it seems that with the new scanning service introduced by the UKVI has provided a huge step forward in integrating modern technology with the UK visa application process allowing the prescribed procedure to be both efficient and in some cases cost effective.
What is the UKVI scanning service?
The scanning service is essentially a way of allowing the UKVI entry clearance officers (ECO) at the decision making centres to decide upon an application submitted electronically, without having the physical documents or paper file. This service is provided through VFS Global and Teleperformance (TLS) network that scan a complete file onto the UKVI system, and then forward this information to the appropriate UKVI decision making centres with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of normal and legal residence. In some countries this service is provided free of charge, such as Albania and Canada for example, which is beneficial as this saves the applicant or sponsor the fee of posting the full package to the UKVI directly. For countries such as the Philippines and China the scanning service is payable at the UK Visa Application Centre (VAC) or online prior to attending an appointment at local VFS Global or TLS facilities.
As the scanning service is performed at the VAC or TLS application centre when the applicant attends their biometric appointment, it is mandatory that the complete file is presented in the prescribed manner as required by the UKVI. All evidence must be of good quality, not crumpled or ripped, so that any documents can be scanned easily, as the idea is to promote efficiency; documents which are crumpled or ripped will only slow down the process or be rejected.
Documents should be A4 sized or copied/printed onto A4 paper and translated if applicable prior to submission. Any staples or paper clips should be carefully removed before attending the VAC from all evidence being submitted. The clerk at the VAC will check the file and scan everything and return the file to the applicant immediately. Original passports will be retained at the VAC until a decision has been made on the visa application. The Visa Application Centre is the only location the documents can be scanned from, therefore the application and evidence should be complete and ready from both the sponsor and applicant before submission day.
Despite the obvious advantages, the new UKVI scanning service is not error free. There have been reports indicating that the scanning service resulted in the UKVI caseworkers in Sheffield and other processing centres not receiving important supporting documents scanned by VFS and TLS clerks resulting in an increased number of applications being refused. Here is a recent example of how things can go horribly wrong, as complained by a UKVI scanning service user:
We are in tears with this situation. Having my marriage visa refused is just completely wrong. After all those months we have put up with this and after all the money and time we have spent and effort we have exerted, this is what they are going to do to us. We feel like we are being treated as a joke. Being told that our relationship is not genuine and we have not provided enough evidence to prove that we are genuinely together make us feel like we are being cheated and insulted and we intend to fight this as we will not allow anyone to come between us.
It is so very unbelievable for them to refuse my visa application like that. It was mentioned in the letter that we have not provided photographs and correspondence between us. We have provided so many photographs and details of our regular correspondence on Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, Skype and even call details. Yet, they still say that we have very minimal evidence of contact. We even provided a letter saying that we have provided random copies of our correspondence due to the fact that we have hundreds of pages of them.
From these facts, it appeared as if our application has not been read properly or all of the scanned documents looked at. We paid for priority processing and it took 59 days for them to turn around and say NO. We have so much evidence of our relationship even as far as our friends being able to verify that we have spent time speaking to them together on Skype.
We are completely shocked and devastated. The decision being made was just completely wrong…
It is very disheartening to find that after paying a huge Home Office application fee for a UK visa, a negative decision is made, especially when all of the correct documentation has been submitted. Therefore, it is vitally important to carefully observe the clerk at the UK Visa Application Centre as they scan every single piece of evidence provided with the application. It is also important to remember that as there is no option to add any evidence later, the only opportunity to ensure everything is done accurately, including ensuring that everything you provide to the clerk is scanned, is while the clerk is scanning the documents at the appointment.
We would never want to take for granted that the VFS and TLS clerks may be preoccupied with making sure that they meet the target of either reducing the queues or multi tasking, or being short staff. It may be that they genuinely overlook vitally important documents in the application because they genuinely did not see it or may have been distracted by another member of staff.
While our imagination may portray the ground opening up and swallowing us, if we had to highlight an oversight, or the echo of a refusal stamp just because we indicated that the clerk had not checked the file properly, we would always encourage our clients to flag up oversights to the VAC clerk scanning the documents on the spot, once noticed. It shows not only that you want a favourable outcome, but that you deserve the service that you have paid for as a new UKVI scanning service user. It also minimises the distress caused if the application is refused due to “failure to submit specific evidence”, which was in fact submitted at the Visa Application Centre, but overlooked by the VFS or TLS clerks. We would also advise that an electronic copy is retained so that there is always a record of submitted documentation.