Shady agents are running illegal visa appointment businesses in South Asia and charging students and workers in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal exorbitant fees for free service. According to Britain's 'The Observer' newspaper, brokers in parts of South Asia are charging up to £800 for biometric appointments advertised on social media messaging services in these countries. The problem is believed to be worst in Pakistan, where investigations found that abuse of the visa appointment system by agents has increased significantly over the past year.
"It's a big issue. It increases the debt people have to pay to come to Britain," Rakesh Ranjan, South Asia coordinator of the migrant workers program at the Britain-based Institute for Human Rights and Business, told the newspaper.
Recently while applying for a visa from New Delhi, Ranjan was asked for £500, excluding government fees, by an agent who offered to help him arrange his documents and book appointments. He said workers often did not know they were paying unnecessarily, relying on few agents because they did not have easy access to the internet. Anyone planning to stay in the UK for more than six months, and short-term visitors from some countries, must attend an in-person appointment in their home country to provide fingerprints and a photograph.
A spokeswoman for VFS Global, which provides consular services to 70 governments, including the UK, said, "We take all attempts to abuse the visa application appointment system exceptionally seriously. We have not done the same to any other UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) We have not experienced this type of abuse in our locations and we are working closely with the UK Home Office to tackle this abuse." He said customers are advised to avoid unauthorized agents and book appointments only through the company's website. The UK Home Office said it was taking tougher action to tackle 'abuse of the visa appointment booking process' by 'unauthorised agents' in South Asia.