Foreign students and employees are being exploited in an illegal trade of UK visas.

Appointments for UK visas are being reserved by middlemen and resold for large sums of money in an illegal market that specifically targets individuals from other countries who are seeking employment or education opportunities.

According to an investigation by Observer, brokers in certain areas of south Asia are charging as much as £800 for biometric appointments. These services are often promoted on social media platforms such as Facebook and Telegram.

“Are you looking forward to your upcoming trip to the UK? Don’t let the inconvenience of visa appointments prevent you from going,” stated a social media post promoting convenient time slots in Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Additional posts offer assistance in expediting the visa process, guaranteeing next-day appointments at affordable rates and without requiring any initial payment.

The black market is prospering as brokers take advantage of the high demand for certain consular services abroad. This is fueled, in part, by a rise in visa requests from international students and healthcare professionals.

An unauthorised social media post promoting UK visa appointments

Those who intend to stay in the UK for over six months, as well as short-term visitors from specific countries, are required to have an in-person appointment in their home country to give their fingerprints and have a photo taken.

However, although scheduling biometric appointments directly is typically free or costs between £30 and £85 for priority services, individuals in South Asia are encountering challenges in obtaining slots through VFS Global. This company has been contracted by the Home Office to manage UK visa applications in the region.

Local agents use different methods. Some use automated bots to find and book recently released slots for their clients, while others manually check VFS Global’s booking portal.

The Home Office has reported that agents are making unnecessary appointment requests, only to cancel them and reschedule for paying clients. The agency is taking steps to address this “fraudulent behavior”.

According to reports, the issue of appointment system abuse by agents has worsened in Pakistan over the past year. Those seeking UK visas from the country have expressed that they were forced to use brokers as they faced difficulties in obtaining appointments through proper channels.

A citizen of Afghanistan, who requested a student visa from Pakistan, reported that he continuously monitored the booking portal in hopes of securing a slot in September. However, upon checking, none were accessible. In the meantime, brokers were offering slots within one to three days for 250,000 Pakistani rupees (PKR), which converts to approximately £735.

“He mentioned that in order to access the VFS office, one must make a payment to someone. None of my acquaintances have been successful in securing regular appointments. If they had the option to schedule appointments directly, there would be no need to pay such exorbitant amounts to these individuals.”

A student from Kāmoke, located in the Gujranwala district in north-east Pakistan, was charged 190,000 PKR (approximately £560) by a broker for a last-minute appointment in Islamabad. Despite driving six hours to VFS Global’s center, the appointment turned out to be non-existent. She then paid 40,000 PKR (around £120) to a different agent who managed to secure her an appointment eight days later. Due to these delays, she was unable to catch her flight to the UK and had to postpone her university start date.

She stated that the majority of education advisors in her country of origin act as intermediaries for selling appointments, and noted that while waiting outside a VFS center in Pakistan, numerous individuals approached her offering to help secure an appointment.

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According to Inam Raziq, an immigration advisor from Fast Track Global Consultants in Birmingham, it is concerning that individuals are resorting to paying unreliable agents because of difficulties in booking appointments online. He noted that students, in particular, may feel desperate as their course enrollment deadlines approach. Raziq explained that while the official website shows no available appointments, these agents claim they can secure one for a fee.

According to Rakesh Ranjan, the south Asia coordinator for the migrant workers’ programme at the Institute for Human Rights and Business in the UK, the practice of appointment brokering is widespread in south Asia. Agents are making a profit by selling VFS Global appointments to individuals traveling to the US, Canada, various EU countries, and the UK.

Ranjan was recently quoted £500 by an agent in New Delhi when he applied for a visa. This cost did not include government fees, but the agent offered to assist with organizing his documents and scheduling an appointment.

According to him, employees frequently remain unaware that they are making unnecessary payments, as some must rely on agents due to a lack of internet access. He described this as a major problem that contributes to the financial burden of coming to the UK.

VFS Global, a company that offers consular services for 70 countries, including the UK, stated that they are taking action against intermediaries who are overcharging or deceiving applicants by selling non-existent slots. Their efforts include monitoring the use of automated programs, removing the option to cancel or change appointments, and canceling fake customer bookings.

According to the statement, appointments for free were made available in a random manner, on a first-come, first-served basis. Availability was not a problem in most areas of south Asia, except for Pakistan. It was noted that agents in Pakistan had greatly increased their efforts and actions this year due to the high demand from individuals wanting to study and reside in the UK.

“We are deeply concerned about any potential misuse of the visa application appointment system. Such incidents have not been reported at any other UKVI locations and we are actively collaborating with the UK Home Office to address this issue,” stated a representative from VFS Global. They also urged customers to refrain from using unauthorized agents and to book appointments solely through the company’s official website.

Critics are urging the company and the Home Office to streamline the booking process, such as by directly assigning appointments to applicants or releasing them at specific times every day instead of randomly.

A representative selling UK visa appointments in India and Pakistan claims that while some agents are driven by greed, others are providing a legitimate service due to the difficulty in securing slots through the official website. The appointments are sporadically available and frequently disappear after only one minute, according to the representative.

In 2021, a review of UK visa services conducted by the impartial chief inspector of borders and immigration brought attention to problems with accessibility at overseas application centers. One individual described securing a reservation on VFS Global’s system as a game of chance and reported checking the website multiple times throughout the night.

VFS Global stated that releasing slots at specific times would increase the risk of fraudulent activity and that the problems mentioned in the inspection report were a result of delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Home Office announced that they are actively addressing the issue of fraudulent activity in the visa appointment booking process by unauthorized agents in South Asia. A spokesperson stated that they are collaborating with the provider to implement measures that will prevent this behavior and ensure that appointments are reserved for legitimate individuals.


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