Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Look out UK, here I come !

I was applying for a UK business visitor visa. The website claimed that I had to submit an online application, pay the fee and then appear in person at the Worldbridge service centre (WSC - is in charge for forwarding applications to the UK embassy) in Munich for biometrics (fingerprints and photo) and for submitting my application, passport and other supporting documents....sounded simple enough.

The hilarious:
I started with the online application and laughed out loud when I saw some of the questions

Have you ever been involved in, supported or encouraged terrorist activities in any country? – will ANYONE even Osama bin Laden say ‘yes’ to this question?? I understand that they can hold this against you in a court of law but if I am a terrorist, why would I care about something like that? If you think this question is funny, wait till you read the next one...

Have you engaged in any other activities that might indicate that you may not be considered a person of good character? – ROFL...ROFL...I was sooo tempted to answer ‘ask my friends and family’, but then I really needed the visa :D !

Give details of all your trips abroad in the last 10 years – As much as I would like to write my autobiography, I would rather not give it away for free :D! Will anyone, especially living in Europe (where a wrong turn in the highway can take you abroad) answer this question comprehensively? I understand that they use this information in their database too but this should probably only include those countries that are considered as ‘Sponsors of terrorism’ or be restricted to just a list (well, I did just that)

As always, there is a photo with a weird dimension requirement. I would assume that it would be a lot easier if all countries (or at least developed countries) stuck to one format and pool their database as well as face recognition resources (isn’t that the easiest way to identify someone ?). It would save applicants time and money. I think I have a dozen passport size photographs now all with different aspect ratios and there is no way I can use them for a resume or a job application or any other id since I am not smiling in fact I look like downright angry and I blame Ashok for it – he said to me once ‘idhu visa photo, nee eppodhum fotoku pose kudukara madhri eeenu sirikadha, konjam kovama vechuko’...my only bet is pawning them off when I open bank accounts or something of that sort where the angry photos will simply sit in a file and do nothing.

The good:

The Online application system is very robust. It allows you to save the application so that you can come back and complete it later if some part of the information is missing. The ‘help’ is also informative and there are additional columns to explain if you cannot answer some question with the choices they provide.

You can choose a convenient slot for the appointment at the WSC and you do not have to be early, go through security checks or wonder where to leave your mobile phone while you are inside! The whole process takes half an hour.

I submitted my documents at the WSC and got a tracking number on Thursday. Here is a status update on what I saw everyday

Thurs: At the Munich Worldbridge Centre
Fri: At the Dusseldorf Worldbridge Centre
Mon: Arrived at Visa Section – now is the time to keep my fingers crossed
Tue: With Courier, attempting delivery – this completely shocked me, I was wondering if my visa was rejected or if they needed more documents since the application being processed in one day and being back on its way was just too quick to be true !
Wed: Delivered – I got the passport with my visa!

The ‘could/should be improved’

If you change one answer in the online application, then all following answers will have to be entered again since the system claims that changing an answer will change the follow-up questions. When this is understandable, one also realizes that this is not applicable to ALL changes (like entering gross salary when the question asks for net salary etc.)

You get an acknowledgement from the WSC that your passport is with them. But there is no mention of the UK consulate or embassy on this acknowledgement, so if you have to show your passport somewhere and have only an attested copy and claim that your passport is at the UK consulate, you have no way of proving it (and the cops need not necessarily know what WSC is)

The WSC person is not supposed to provide any visa related information. So he/she will remain strictly impassive when you submit documents. This is not ideal because you really have no clue what additional documents you want to submit. Any questions like ‘Is this document needed?’ or ‘Do you need the original or will a copy suffice’ would be answered by ‘It’s up to you’ or ‘I cannot answer that’ and that is not what you expect from a Visa centre that forwards your applications to the embassy !

I am wondering now if I was too hasty in writing this post and if this will become a part of my file in the UK embassy and if they will hold it against me the next time I apply for a visa...hmmm...

Oh..well..let me conclude with some tips:
- Provide a good and neatly labeled application package: I usually list the documents I have submitted in a covering letter and split them into sections. In this case:
1. Details of visit – Business details, Letter from the company (that they will bear travel expenses), Flight, Hotel etc. If you intend to combine business with pleasure, then provide details of who you are visiting along with their proof of address
2. Personal Details – Resume (with visiting card), Job, Marital status (These prove that you will leave the UK as stated)
3. Finances – Salary slips, Bank account details, any other savings (it’s a bit complicated if you are a dependent)

- If you are sending everything by post, send only copies of documents (except the invitation letter)

- If there are things you want to explain, write a letter to the Consulate General explaining them (This especially helps avoiding an interview when you send applications by post)

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Website Hit Counter I had decided to have a counter only after I hit a 1000 views and since it happened last week (as on 14 Dec 2009), now is the time to see some stats :)