Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

28 Aug 2009, 21:10 p.m.

Vis-a-Vis a Visa

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2009 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

As I was applying for the Points Based System Tier 1, General Migrant visa to the United Kingdom, I had a number of questions that the UK Border Agency website and UK visa application site (a.k.a. Visa4UK) did not clearly answer. The UK Consulate in New York City does not allow personal visits from visa applicants and will not take phone calls with questions about visas; they delegate this sort of stuff to the private firm Worldbridge, a division of Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC). Worldbridge charges money to answer questions via phone and does not offer in-person advice.

If the consulate thinks you're missing a document, or have something else wrong with your application, they usually just reject the application rather than phone you to get it cleared up. So I wanted to get everything right the first time. I ponied up to get a person on the phone to answer some of these questions, so I wanted to put the answers up where anyone could read them for free. All this information is courtesy Carolina of Worldbridge.

  • Can I submit my documents in person at the British Consulate in Manhattan? No, they only accept visa applications from applicants via mail. But the Consulate does accept overnight packages, and accepts packages via DHL, FedEx, and UPS in addition to US Postal Service.
  • Is there any way to expedite the process? Yes. You can pay commercial expediting agencies such as A Briggs. They, unlike regular applicants, are allowed to submit applications in person, and often promise same-day processing. The Consulate doesn't guarantee anything about these agencies, except that Worldbridge can provide a list of expediters who have "registered" with the Consulate. Carolina wasn't really clear on what that meant, or how one registers with the Consulate and what the criteria for registration are, or why I couldn't become an expediting agency myself, register with the Consulate, and thus walk in for same-day service.
  • The Consulate is closed for Labor Day, 7 September 2009.
  • Should I use paperclips or staple the documentation together? Use a paper clip.
  • Should I include a table of contents, listing what documents I've enclosed? There's no need to do that, but it's fine if you do.
  • The visa application instructions say I should include a copy of each supporting document; does it need to be a color photocopy, or is black and white okay? Black and white is fine.
  • Should I include a copy of relevant pages of my passport? No, you don't need to do that.
  • If you are applying from the US, you applied via a web-based form. When you competed the application, you got a printable webpage. Include one copy of that printout of your application. This is instead of printing the VAF9 "Personal Details" PDF and filling it out by hand. But you do have to print out that Self-Assessment Appendix PDF and fill it out by hand and include one copy of that with the application.
  • What kind of information does the officer want to see in response to "Is there any other information you wish to give in support of your application?" Worldbridge won't advise you on how to fill out your application and that includes explaining what the officer might like to see here, or find relevant. My job history, my family here in the States, my job in the UK, my travel plans? No advice.
  • The self-assessment appendix includes a space for you to detail your earnings: source, dates, amount, applicable exchange rate, and so on. There's barely any space there, so it's okay to note in that space that you're doing it on a separate sheet, and then attach a separate spreadsheet or letter with all those details.
  • As documentation of your earnings, or of your maintenance funds, personal printouts from the online-banking website of a brick-and-mortar bank aren't good enough, even if they have the bank logo on them. You need official bank statements, either originally printed by the bank (with color logos and so on), or signed & stamped by a bank employee. You are not required to circle or highlight the relevant deposits or balance numbers, but you aren't prohibited from doing so, either.
  • It is okay to attach a separate letter with additional information you want the officer to consider, but there's no guarantee it'll be looked at.
    In Sumana's opinion, your safest bet is to think hard while you're filling out the online application so that you can put as much as you need to into the Is there any other information you wish to give in support of your application? space near the end of the form. Maybe that's the best place to put the "please post-date the visa by 2 months" note; I don't know.
  • How many passport-sized photos do you need, and how should I attach them? Include two passport-sized photos, and paperclip them on. They might get damaged if I paperclip them directly; how about in a little envelope? Yeah, sure, that's fine.

Worldbridge also takes questions by web form and returns answers via email, but I'm glad I spent the $12 to get half an hour of live chat. Sample dialogue in the phone call included:

"How should I attach the passport photos?"
"All photos should measure 45mm by 35mm; and be in colour; and be taken against a grey or cream background..." [basically reading from the rather frightening photo guidelines PDF]
"I know that. I'm asking how you want me to attach them. Is it okay to put them in an envelope and paperclip it on?"
"You can just paperclip the photos directly to the application."
"But that seems like it'll damage the photos. Is it okay to put them in a little envelope and paperclip the envelope to the application?"
"Yes, that's okay."

I can only imagine how maddening it would be to ask all these questions via email and then battle a response-bot that spouted vaguely-related boilerplate off websites I'd already found inadequate. As it was, Carolina was astonished when I suggested I might highlight or circle relevant bits of my bank statements to make the important numbers easier to find. Yeah, Worldbridge, I can see how thinking ahead to make the user's experience easier wouldn't come naturally to you.

Obviously I'm not a lawyer or expert, all the tips above are my paraphrasing of advice I got on one occasion from one Worldbridge employee in late August 2009, and I can only wish future applicants luck. Hope this helps.


28 Aug 2009, 22:52 p.m.

Good lord. And I thought renewing my UK passport required ridiculous quantities of paperwork.