It has been recently announced by UK Visas & Immigration – UKVI (formerly the UK Border Agency) that the UK visa service in Australia will be undergoing some changes in March 2014. There will be new Visa Application Centres (VACs) opening in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. The opening of these new VACs has been prompted by the outsourcing of UK visa services to VFS Global, a government contractor with a successful record of delivering visa services across most of the Asia Pacific region. VFS Global currently operates in the Philippines, China, Thailand, India, Russia, Ukraine and many other countries around the world.
There are no changes to any of the rules affecting visa applications and the assessment process will still be undertaken at the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) hub in Manila, Philippines. Most Australian residents who travel to the UK do so without needing a visa and this continues to be the case. On average, less than 2% of visitors are issued with a visa. Those applying for a UK settlement fiancee, partner or marriage visa will no longer need to send their documents to the UKVI lockbox in Sydney. Starting this month, applications must be made in person at the local VAC with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of normal residence in Australia.
The main changes that applicants will notice is that there will be a more personalised service, as they will now be able to submit and collect documents directly from the VACs. There will be a new 3-5 day priority service available and there will be a faster processing time overall, as the transit times to the British High Commission in Manila, Philippines will be shorter. Not all VACs will be open every day; Canberra and Perth generally see fewer applicants, and as such will be offering 104 days a year – generally two days a week. Some centres will attract further fees; currently Brisbane, Canberra and Perth will charge an additional £59 (A$112) per applicant. Adelaide, although not one of the main centres, is not charging an additional fee as it is taking part in a pilot scheme with Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP).
The British High Commissioner to Australia has explained that this change in visa arrangements is part of a global restructuring, giving applicants the option to submit their paperwork in person rather than having to post it to the central UKVI hub themselves. The new priority service, which reduces waiting times to three or five days from three weeks, is likely to prove very popular and even more services are planned depending on customer feedback and demand.