London: The UK government has begun charging visa applicants for making email enquiries about their application from this week.
The 5.48-pound charge will be levied per email as part of the UK Home Office outsourcing its customer enquiries service for visa applications to a private firm, Sitel UK. “The new contract will see a number of changes for customers. These changes help the government reduce costs and ensure those who benefit directly from the UK immigration system make an appropriate contribution,” a government statement said.
“You will need to pay using a credit or debit card for contacting us by email. The charge includes the first email enquiry you send and any follow-up emails to and from the contact centre relating to the same enquiry. The way you pay to use the telephone service will remain the same using a credit or debit card,” it said. The changes, which came into effect on Thursday, apply to all applicants making an email enquiry about their visa application from outside the UK.
The other changes include a change in the phone numbers and opening hours and the number of languages available have also been cut down to eight, including English. The other language options now offered will include Hindi, Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, French, Russian and Spanish. The UK Home Office said the languages no longer on the list had made up only four per cent of the total volume of correspondence received.
The move has been criticised for its potential impact on the UK’s tourism industry, with visitors preferring destinations with easier visa options. “Britain should be trying to attract more tourists and highly-skilled workers, these new rules make it less likely they will apply,” said Susan Kramer, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Business Secretary. “The Conservatives manifesto pledge to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands is at best delusional but at worst experts have warned that trying to achieve it could cost us 6 billion pounds. (British Prime Minister) Theresa May, is putting party politics ahead of the country’s well being and she should be ashamed,” she said.
The ruling Conservative Party has made clamping down on migrants from outside the European Union (EU) a manifesto pledge in the June 8 general election. The party’s plans include tightening rules for skilled workers, with the so-called ‘Skills Charge’ of 1,000 pounds per worker set to double. Non-EU migrants will also be made to pay more for using the state-run National Health Service (NHS) under a Tory-led government.
The changes are likely to hit Indians the hardest as they comprise one of the largest number of skilled workers granted visas to live and work in the UK. According to the most recent UK Home Office figures, Indian nationals accounted for 53,863 of a total of 93,566, with US nationals the next largest nationality at 9,255. Indian tourists also rank high among visitor numbers to the UK, attracting 432.56 million pounds into the economy in 2016.