UK visa remains expensive and time-consuming for Saffas, but SA's British High Commissioner has some advice for you

2018-11-02 08:52 - Selene Brophy
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There is no immediate prospect of the United Kingdom lifting expensive visa requirements for South Africans, as passport fraud is far too high.

This is according to the British High Commissioner to South Africa, Nigel Casey who states it's not "realistic" to expect the visa requirements to be lifted at this point.  

It will continue to be an expensive, admin intensive application as he says it all boils down to the security of South Africa’s documentation.

“We are still seeing too many people applying for visas to come to the UK with valid South African travel documents and those people turn out not to be South Africans.

“Until that problem is addressed comprehensively it is not realistic to expect the visa regime to be lifted,” Casey states frankly, knowing all too well how a large portion of travellers still make their holiday plans on the go.

Casey admits, he himself has to visit a police station at least six times a year – all because of SA’s rigorous travelling with children paperwork requirements – which he calls off putting and not the ideal start or end to any holiday.  As a result he believes SA is pushing itself out of the last-minute holiday market, losing out to the likes of Thailand, which sees some 1 million Brits visiting annually.

Casey was speaking to Traveller24 at the British Airways launch event of the Durban Direct to London flight route, earlier this week. Read more about it here.

So, as it stands South Africans can expect to pay £93 or just on R1 800 for a six-month, multiple entry visa - click here for full pricing and visa application process - with the following pricing listed on the Uk Application site:

  • Short-term (up to 6 months, single or multiple entry) R1 796
  • Longer-term (valid for up to 2 years) R6 759
  • Longer-term (valid for up to 5 years) R12 282
  • Longer-term (valid for up to 10 years) R15 410

The application process is also quite lengthy, taking anything between 13 to 15 working days to complete, after filling in the online application form, selecting an available appointment date and paying the required fee beforehand.

The British High Commission says it is focused on making the customer experience as “easy and smooth and possible.”

“We’re are constantly looking to technology to make that process easier. However, applications for UK from South Africa are growing."  

According to Casey, there used to be peak periods, but there has been a consistent uptake in applications - with an overall "40% increase", with year on year comparisons.  

READ: UK launches new online visa application for South Africans

The High Commission's Lorna Feldtmann, regional business head for Africa, confirmed a new app is being developed, which will speed-up the application process. 

"Applicants will be able to upload directly into our system. Significantly reduce the appointment time when you get there." Final details of the app's release are set to be announced before the end of 2018. 

"We also try every year to keep the increases to standard 6-month visa as low as we possibly can," says Feldtmann.    

And improved time-frames are essential.

Prime time appoints can be made but, according to applicant Bronwyn McKay who is travelling to the UK for work, choosing to pay an extra £87 or R1 670 (@ R18/£)  for a 07:30 appointment on a Friday morning came to naught as she was told her passport "would only be submitted on the Monday". 

She says her application was made 11 days ago on 19 October, with the visa still being processed. 

If you find yourself without the required 15 working days to process the visa, an expedite fee can be paid at a cost of £212 or about R3 816.

But as noted by another traveller who shared his experience via twitter after my initial interview with Casey, this could send the cost of the application soaring.

Andre Coetzee, Policy Advisor to the Executive Mayor of the City of Johannesburg according to his twitter bio says, "The irony is that today (Wednesday), I was forced to withdraw my UK visa application & cancel the UK leg of an investment outreach because apparently 10 working days is insufficient time for UK Visas and Immigration to issue a visa.

"For South Africans, the UK is also not a “short notice” option. I recently got a 10-year US visa in 3 working days at a cost of about R1 500 - similar option for UK including the 5 day turnaround “Priority Visa” fee would come in at about R20,000!"

Casey suggests these top four tips:

  • You need to apply early to avoid disappointment

“We used to have busy periods but we’re pretty much busy all year round now. Our visa section is working flat out and it typically takes 13 and 15 working days to process a visa application, which is basically three weeks. 

Travellers can apply up to three-months in advance for their visas. 

"If you make that clear in your application, then your visa will only be issued from the day you intend to travel, so that you don't actually lose any time on it."

"We know that the quality of service is something that helps to facilitate trade and travel links between our countries so we really do work hard to offer a number of products that are tailored to the business community. 

Business people can apply for their UK visa and retain their passport and still continue to travel while the application is being processed. Once the application has been approved, it would then require 72-hours from the Durban office specifically, for the passport to be submitted and the final visa issued. 

  •  Apply for your visa before booking and paying for your airline ticket

Ideally you should apply for your visa first, says Casey and get it before you pay for you ticket.  "Otherwise you can be running up against a deadline and you can risk losing a large amount of money," he says.

  •  Apply directly – using another agency could double the cost of acquiring a visa

"Lots of people set themselves up as visa agents. They add no value to your process," says Casey and will effectively double the cost of acquiring the visa. "You do not need to use a visa agent, there is a website and we try to make the process as clear, as useful and friendly as possible.

  • Regular travellers to the UK should apply multi-year visas

Repeat travellers to the United Kingdom represent about 45% of all applications made in South Africa.

As a result, Casey suggests regular travellers apply for the multi-year visas. He admits it sees a small saving, but if you’re worried about the exchange rate moving against you in the next five years, it’s not a bad upfront investment. He suggests business travellers should submit this visa costs to their companies for reimbursement.

"The UK 10-year visas is best suited for regular travellers and is a very good idea to save you a lot of time and hassle.

"Don't underestimate the value of being able to travel immediately, because those visas allow you to not have to spend money on our priority or fast track services if you're called to the UK on business at the last minute." 

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