Brokers in some parts of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh are charging up to GBP 800 for UK visa biometric appointments in an illicit trade targeting overseas workers and students, an investigation has found.
The appointments are widely advertised on social media platforms like Facebook and the Telegram messaging service, promising next-day appointments at “reasonable prices” with no upfront payment, The Guardian reported.
The direct booking of biometric appointments, in which an applicant is asked to provide fingerprints and photo, is typically free or between 30 to 85 pounds for priority services.
The illicit trade is thriving due to an increase in demand for UK visas from international students and healthcare workers, the report said, citing an Observer investigation.
These middlemen or brokers deploy various methods, including using automated bots to detect and secure newly available slots and even needlessly booking and re-booking appointments, subsequently selling them to desperate clients.
The situation is worse in Pakistan, where misuse of the appointment system by agents is said to have risen rapidly over the last year.
People applying for UK visas from the country said they were left with no choice but to pay the brokers after struggling to secure appointments via official channels.
A student from Pakistan’s Gujranwala said she was quoted 190,000 PKR (about GBP 560) by a broker for an urgent appointment in Islamabad but after driving six hours to VFS Global’s centre, she found the appointment did not exist.
She had to pay 40,000 PKR (about GBP120) to another agent, who secured a slot for her eight days later.
Appointment brokering is big business across south Asia, with agents selling VFS Global appointments for people travelling to the US, Canada and the UK, said Rakesh Ranjan, south Asia coordinator for the migrant workers’ programme at the UK-based Institute for Human Rights and Business.
When applying for a visa from Delhi recently, Ranjan was quoted the equivalent of GBP 500 by an agent who offered to help him arrange his documents and book an appointment.
VFS Global, which provides consular services for 70 governments, including the UK, said it was trying to crack down on middlemen who were charging a premium or scamming applicants by selling slots that did not exist.
The Home Office said it was taking steps to tackle the abuse of the whole process by “unauthorised agents” in south Asia.
“We are continuing to work with the provider to introduce measures to stop this fraudulent behaviour and ensure appointments are made available to genuine individuals,” a spokesperson told The Guardian.