Sunday, 4 April 2010

Revealed: US firm issues British visas... and MPs were not told

Daily Mail
"The system – never officially announced to Parliament – means that instead of filling in a form at a British embassy and facing an interview by diplomatic staff, visa applicants are directed to commercially run ‘official’ offices around the world.And hundreds of thousands of applicants simply fill in a form on a website run by the US company....But the system has been hit by problems. An official Home Office inspection of the WorldBridge visa office in Rome last year found that it replied to customers’ concerns about delays with ‘unhelpful’ and ‘generic’ wording.And a Home Office report in December pointed out ‘higher level criticism’ of WorldBridge staff who, it said, were polite but ‘had no information and were completely useless on an expensive phone line’.It said that ‘their absence of understanding of the application process was made apparent with conflicting answers from one call to the next’, and that staff were ‘scared to tell me something [in case it wasn’t correct]’. .....Sir Andrew Green, a former British Ambassador and Director for the Middle East in the Foreign Office, says that in the past, many bogus applicants would have been spotted by immigration officers. Now they are easily circumventing the system.

Sir Andrew, who runs the pressure group Migration Watch, said: ‘The crucial interview with experienced staff has been rep-laced with a system where, as long as you say the right thing on the forms and have the right doc-uments, your application will be approved.’Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘It is a revelation to discover that so much of the visa system is now controlled by two private companies.‘We have argued for a long time, particularly given all of the fraud issues surrounding student visas, that there should be far more face-to-face interviews of applicants by British diplomatic staff.‘This is the only way to ensure that applicants coming to the UK are who they say they are. This is much too important an issue not to get right.’It is also claimed that the WorldBridge system is costing British businesses millions of pounds in lost contracts."

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