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Any experience with VFS Global (UK visitor's visa)?

Wisconsin
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305 posts
Any experience with VFS Global (UK visitor's visa)?
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Has anyone here applied for a UK visitor's visa and dealt with VFS Global? Any idea how long it takes and any way to know what's going on?

I'm having a lousy experience so far with VFS Global. (People of the UK, you may want to look into how visa's to your country are processed...)

We've applied for a visitor's visa for my wife, who is not a U.S citizen and requires a visa. We've sent the materials into VFS Global (as we are required to), but it'll soon be three weeks and I haven't heard a word from them. Not even a confirmation that the materials arrived.

This would generally be annoying, but that fact that they have my wife's passport is causing us some stress.

What makes it worse is that their entire system is suspect - web pages that don't work, services that are paid for and do not work (e.g. paying for a shipping label and getting a blank one), slow or unresponsive support, and apparently support that is in an entirely different country and has no operating knowledge of what's going on.

In short, it feels like we dumped her passport into a black hole and crossing our fingers that it comes back at some undetermined future point in time.

Any wisdom on this process that anyone can share?

Anyway, enough venting for the moment.

108 replies to this topic
Corringham, United...
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1. Re: Any experience with VFS Global (UK visitor's visa)?
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Haven't dealt with them for a long time but my wife's family (from Ukraine) use a different Handling company TLS Contact. On average we waited 3 weeks for a reply.

When you applied on line were you given a reference number maybe a GWF? If so have you tried tracking your application.

Does sound like poor communication which is not the case with TLS

Edited: 1 year ago
Wisconsin
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305 posts
2. Re: Any experience with VFS Global (UK visitor's visa)?
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I did get a GWF number, so I've got that. But the UK no longer allows you to track the application online.

As I understand it, materials go to a "scanning hub" in New York run by VFS Global. They scan the documents to the UK, the decision gets made there, a response sent, a visa applied to the passport (or not) by VFS, and then sent back.

The problem is (as far as I can tell), until VFS Global scans the materials, the UK government is largely in the dark about the application. Though, I guess they do have the basic electronic application, though none of the supporting documents or passport...

And yes, the communication has not been good. The number of people who are frustrated with VFS Global is amazing. Among the worst online reviews I've seen for any company.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Corringham, United...
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3. Re: Any experience with VFS Global (UK visitor's visa)?
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When we did ours a few days ago it was on the UKGov. Visa application site and when we had finished and made the application and then paid the UK Government fee, we were automatically diverted to TLS to make arrangements to submit the hard copies of documents at the nearest Consulate,where we had the choice of depositing hard copies, which would be sent by mail or pay extra and TLS would upload them and send them for processing. The previous one we did for my wife's sister was done in Denmark and papers sent by post to London. Even so it was still around 3 weeks.

Will hold my breath and hope it all goes well

Wisconsin
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305 posts
4. Re: Any experience with VFS Global (UK visitor's visa)?
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I thought I'd give an update, mostly so that others who may be facing similar issues can find this in a future Google search. I'm going to add a bunch of information here, just because it's something that would have benefited me.

Again, this applies for a person residing in the United States that needs/applies for a UK visa.

Here's what happened:

As far as I can tell, the process from the U.S. involves four different groups that work with each other. This is what I've inferred and not necessarily accurate. Here are the four players:

1. The UK government (visa services) located in the UK. This is who actually reviews and grants visas. They are actually in the UK, so no review is occurring in the USA. Nor do you have any access to them, by phone, email, or otherwise. They are effectively a black box from the applicant's perspective.

2. Sitel UK. They are a private company (again, I think) contracted by the UK government to handle customer inquiries. They are located in the UK and can be accessed by email and telephone - for a fee. See my comments on dealing with them below.

3. VFS Global. This is an international company that works with a ton of countries handling visa issuance. They have a "scanning hub" in NYC. I believe that they take in your visa and paperwork and scan it to the UK home office. They hold the passport and then apply the visa to it (or not) and send it back to you.

4. US Citizenship and Immigration Service. Yes, they are involved too. (Part of the reason this gets convoluted is because so many people are involved....)

Here's how that process worked for us, good, bad, and ugly (and there is some of each).

We first did the application online and paid our fee. That application, I believe, goes directly to the UK government. You are issued a GWF number. That's your official UK government approved number. Having this made me feel better, because despite the lack of clear communication elsewhere, I assume that paying money to the UK government and being assigned a number means that someone pretty official is on the line for actually getting things taken care of.

I had a question during the application process, so went ahead and paid to get email support. Even though this is handled through the UK government website, based on what I’ve read, I think the support is actually provided by a subcontractor - Sitel UK. That didn’t go so well. The email replies were terse and unhelpful. They warn you that they cannot tell you information about your specific application. I get that, but they were still very unhelpful. For instance, my question was more of a general “what’s expected of applicants” kind of question. I emailed with a follow up question and that response was no more helpful. I was not anxious to deal with them again (but see below!)

After that, we had to go to a U.S. government immigration center to do the biometrics (fingerprints, photos). We set up the appointment through the UK visa page. We had no problems at all with the process or with USCIS. The appointment was super easy to do through the UK website and everything was easy peasy at the USCIS center. Prompt appointment, no issues. Of course, you have to actually get to a USCIS center. The closest for us was about an hour away from our home. I believe the biometrics also go directly to the UK government.

OK, so far so good. But here's where things get a bit dicey. The next step is sending your passport and supporting documents to the VFS Global "Scanning Hub" in New York. No documents are attached to the online application – you have to send all of those in. I believe VFS Global acts sort of like the local service provider for the UK government. They take in the passport and documents, scan them to the UK, then apply the visa (or not) to your passport and return it to you.

But there are several things that cause stress here.

1. Their website services are… not good. For example, everything in this process seems to suggest that the right way to get your documents to the scanning hub is to buy the courier service through the VFS Global website. OK. So I go and pay for that. I then get multiple emails telling me that the labels are attached. But they aren’t. I logged into the website and pressed the button to have them resent. More emails with no labels. I go back to the website and select the “download labels” option. Server error. And it has stayed like this for weeks. No improvement. As you can imagine, this is frustrating.

2. There's almost no way to really communicate with them efficiently. They have no telephone number. Emails appear to go to a service center in India. I'm not 100% sure of that, but that's what seems to be happening (again, based on some research and on the time of day when they respond). As a result, if you have an issue, you tend to get broad, nonspecific answers to questions rather than help that actually pertains to your specific problem.

3. Sometimes you get a reply to your email, sometimes you don’t. You can send support emails and have them simply go off into space. When I emailed about the problem with the shipping labels, I got an email back a day or so later saying that they would contact the proper team to fix the problem and get back to me. That was 2-3 weeks ago. No word.

Luckily, I found online that you can send the documents to them via UPS on your own as long as you include a return label. Check online for this, but I believe it *has to be* UPS 2-day air both directions. That’s what we ended up doing, and (as I’ll explain below), at the very least it got the materials to them and processed. It’s important to include the return label right in the package (which I asked for right at the UPS Store so there was no confusion about the amount, etc.).

I still haven’t requested a refund for the initial courier service – the last thing I want to do at this point is confuse things. I’ll request that later.

The point is, when you’re about to travel, it’s scary to send your passport off to a distant location without great communication options. It’s a lot of waiting around and hoping it all works out.

And another mystery is the timing of everything. The UK Visa website gives approximate processing times. They show that 80% or so of visa decisions are made within 2 days. After two weeks and not having heard a word from them, we were getting worried that the passport and materials were lost somewhere in the bowels of the VFS scanning hub.

I broke down and paid to talk with Sitel again, this time by phone. Totally different experience than the email option. The gentlemen on the phone was courteous and helpful. He was able to actually look up my GWF number, which means – third party provider or not – they have access to the UK government’s information. He told me that our case had, in fact, been processed. About a day later, we finally received confirmation directly from the UK government that the visa had been decided. That appears to be standard procedure – a UK government email once a decision is reached. It also told us that we would be receiving our passport back from the service provider (presumably VFS global) promptly. Here’s the wording they used: “Your UK visa application has been dispatched from the UK Visa Section.” It then goes on to describe some details about how to get your passport or have it returned. Since we had already included a shipping label, we had to just wait. Unlike some other visas we’ve secured, the UK *does not* tell you if it was approved or rejected in that email. Don’t read anything into the language.

That was the middle of last week. I didn’t get a word, peep, or sign from VFS Global or anyone else. I hoped that everything was fine. It’s just very frustrating to feel like there’s no way to track or know what’s going on. After a few more days (maybe 4 or 5) I noticed that the UPS shipping label had been used, and I could track the process.

We just received the passport back today (along with our supporting documents) and received a visa. (Yay!)

It’ll be just under a month total time from biometrics to receiving the visa.

As for the timing, everything was completed within the UK’s promised time frame. Still, our case should have been really, really easy. Nothing unusual, hard, or shady about us at all. I’m guessing – and this is just a guess – that the listed processing times are for the UK portion of this (i.e. not including time VFS Global takes to scan the materials or return them). If that’s true, then don’t assume the average listed times is actually how fast the process will be for you from start to finish. YMMV.

Though it was a fairly opaque process with lots of moving parts, ultimately everyone did their job as promised and we got the passport (with visa) back in just under a month. Though it was the longest and most complex visa process I’ve been through, ultimately everyone did what they had to do and the process worked, despite a few glitches along the way. My experience suggests that everything works out as it should in the end, but don’t expect it to be an easy or speedy process….

I hope this long post will help alleviate some of the stress and uncertainty for a future visa applicant.

See you in London!

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5. Re: Any experience with VFS Global (UK visitor's visa)?
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I sent passport and supported documents to New York and then a week later received documents back but not passport. Its normal?

Cobham, United...
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6. Re: Any experience with VFS Global (UK visitor's visa)?
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Post #4:

>>>The UK Visa website gives approximate processing times. They show that 80% or so of visa decisions are made within 2 days.<<<

I don’t know where you got that information from or whether it specifically referenced your own situation, but (without comment about the proactivity of VFS Global) that timing looks unrealistically optimistic. You mentioned New York, so I assume that’s the application centre you actually used. The Home Office provides a guide to visa processing times for each application centre based on real information from last reported month. You can run a check at the link below and if you select New York/Visit Visa/General Visit (6 months or less) it gives you the following percentage breakdowns of the time taken for “applications decided” in May 2019 as follows:

2 days: 34%

3 days: 39%

5 days: 50%

10 days: 73%

15 days: 87%

30 days: 99%

60 days: 100%

You can access it here:

https://www.gov.uk/visa-processing-times

Post #5: yes that sounds normal. See above for likely decision times from the New York centre.

UK
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7. Re: Any experience with VFS Global (UK visitor's visa)?
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Wow, what a palaver! I'm not sure I would bother, it's not that great over here lol!

Corringham, United...
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8. Re: Any experience with VFS Global (UK visitor's visa)?
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UkMon

agree. I help family and friends regularly to get a Visa to visit UK and it is a long winded form that can take a time.

Beats me why they ask "Have you ever been involved in terrorist activities" Don't know anyone who has answered "yes".There is a whole section on questions that to me are senseless

I guess they have to ask these sorts of questions,but for me it is dated.

On the Ukraine forum there is a guy from the UK who is extremely helpful and well into training as an Immigration lawyer and it's his opinion that the UK Government are trying to cut down on applicants for Visas (his opinion I stress)

Edited: 1 year ago
Cobham, United...
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9. Re: Any experience with VFS Global (UK visitor's visa)?
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@taurean, although it amounts to the same thing, my perception is that it's more about raising the bar to the extent that it discourages spurious applications from "no-hopers" whose motives or financial circumstances are suspicious.

If you look at the rejection rates for visa applications, there have been ridiculously high numbers of rejections relating to people who should never have wasted the time of Immigration by bothering to apply in the first place. I won't name the countries here, but if you look at the breakdown by country then it's clear that there are a few countries who are head and shoulders above everyone else in terms of rejection percentages. It would be unacceptable (and probably illegal) to single out individuals from those countries for "special treatment", so the consequence is that everyone gets tarred with the same brush as it were.

Incidentally, I remember Peter Ustinov joking that in the days when we had to fill in those little cards on the plane when visiting the USA, which had a question something like "Do you intend to subvert the constitution of the United States?" the appropriate answer was "sole purpose of visit".

Edited: 1 year ago
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10. Re: Any experience with VFS Global (UK visitor's visa)?
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Thank you SO much for your thorough and very detailed information. I simply wanted to get the "UPS return shipping label" as directed but faced the "upload documents" portion of the vfs website and felt uncomfortable with the whole thing. I think I will go to the UPS Store and get the 2-day label on my own. I really appreciate the time it took for you to put all that together. Saved me a lot of time and energy!

Edited: 1 year ago
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