Illicit visa trade targets overseas students and workers in the UK

  • Brokers in South Asia are capitalizing on the desperation of overseas workers and students seeking UK visas. In an alarming trend, they are booking up visa appointments and reselling them at exorbitant prices.
  • The situation in Pakistan has reached a critical point, with citizens exhausted by the burdens of poverty and skyrocketing inflation, making them willing to make significant sacrifices in order to emigrate from the country at the earliest opportunity.

LONDON:Appointments for UK visas are quickly taken up by intermediaries who are illicitly reselling them for significant sums, primarily targeting foreign workers and students.

An Observer investigation reveals that these brokers charge as much as £800 for biometric appointments, which are openly advertised on platforms like Facebook and Telegram.

The enticing promises include flexible slots in countries such as PakistanIndiaNepal, and Bangladesh. Some brokers even claim to expedite appointments at “reasonable prices” without any upfront payment. This underground market thrives due to pressure on consular services abroad, driven partly by increased visa applications from international students and healthcare workers.

The underground market thrives due to mounting pressure on consular services abroad. The surge in visa applications from international students and healthcare workers has exacerbated the situation. But what exactly is at stake?

Overseas students and workers in UK targeted in illicit visa trade | Immigration and asylum | The Guardian

The Biometric Appointment Dilemma

For anyone planning to stay in the UK for more than six months—or short-term visitors from specific countries—the biometric appointment is a critical step. It involves providing fingerprints and a photograph in person at their home country’s designated center.

While direct booking of these appointments is typically free or reasonably priced (ranging from £30 to £85 for priority services), individuals in South Asia face hurdles when securing slots through the outsourcing company VFS Global. This company, contracted by the Home Office to handle UK visa applications in the region, has become a bottleneck.

The tactics employed by local agents

Local agents employ various methods to secure coveted appointment slots:

  1. Automated Bots: Some agents use automated bots that swiftly detect newly released slots before booking them on behalf of clients.
  2. Manual Monitoring: Others manually monitor VFS Global’s booking portal, pouncing on available slots.
  3. Unnecessary appointments: Agents request appointments they don’t genuinely need. Once secured, they cancel and rebook these slots for paying clients.

The Home Office responds

The Home Office acknowledges this fraudulent behaviour and vows to tackle it head-on. The impact is particularly pronounced in Pakistan, where abuse of the appointment system has surged over the past year. Applicants find themselves cornered into paying brokers after failing to secure official appointments. One Afghan student shared his struggle: despite repeatedly checking the booking portal, no slots were available. Brokers stepped in, offering next-day appointments—for a hefty fee of approximately £735.

Urgent calls for fairness and transparency

As this illegal trade is now exposed, advocates are pushing for fairness, transparency, and accessibility in the visa application process. Unscrupulous brokers should not take advantage of the frustration faced by those seeking legitimate appointments.

The battle against this shadow market continues, but for now, those who seek a legitimate path to the UK must navigate treacherous waters—a journey fraught with both hope and deception.