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The British High Commission gets Online Visa Application for Nigeria

With online visa application process becoming popular among embassies across the globe, the British High Commission, Abuja has assured prospective Nigerian visa applicants of robust IT infrastructure for effective online visa process which will be deployed very soon.

With online payment system being the major challenge affecting UK online visa application process in Nigeria, the Operations Manager, UKBA of Visa Section, the British High Commission, Abuja, Jason Ivory, disclosed last week during a tour of its visa facilities in Lagos that a robust system is being deployed world wide to ensure an efficient online visa application system as is done by the American Embassy and other consulates across the globe

According to Ivory who warned on fake fraudulent applications among visa applicants, the major challenge affecting online visa application process in Nigeria is online payment system.

While assuring Nigerians that the British High Commission runs a transparent visa application process, Ivory said the British High Commission does not have the facility to take payments online, adding that , "What we will like to do is to enable people fully submit their application online just like the Americans do. We do not have that facility at the moment because we cannot take online payment bookings. The facility is there. At the moment, there is very little we can do to change how the system works.

"It is not something specifically designed for Nigeria. It is a worldwide online visa application facility. But because of the way infrastructure is set up here, we are not in a position to do here as much as in other countries where we run visa operations. We are trying to make it as easy as possible very small number of people use our online visa application system. That is why are encouraging people to use it.

"A very small percentage of our customers currently apply on line. We would like to encourage more to do so as booking an appointment using the online facility speeds up the application process at the Visa Application Center. The inability to pay the fee on-line is not just specific to Nigeria and we do have other markets where it is not possible" he explained.

With optimism , he assured that the UKBA was working hard to deploy a robust IT infrastructure that supports online visa application not only in Nigeria, but across the globe.

Although the time frame as to when a robust IT infrastructure for the online visa service would be deployed was not ascertained as at press time, he said that they will come out with a payment system that will make the online payment facility work." We are promoting a system that enables people book their appointment with VFS online. We are promoting that.

It is not something the High Commission in Nigeria are developing. It is a world wide affair. It is a system being developed by our team in the UK.

"It will have to be robust. We have to get it right. If we do not get it right and the system collapses, then the Nigerian government will complain, and the Nigerian public will complain too. It is something we have to get right before we roll it out eventually" the Operations Manager, UKBA who has been preaching a transparent visa process noted.

Explaining further to newsmen on how the visa applications submitted to VFS work (not through online method), he said that "the applications submitted in Ibadan are processed by my staff at the High Commission in Abuja, adding that the applications that are submitted either in Ikeja or Victoria Island are dealt with by colleagues at the Deputy High Commission in Lagos.

"So we've split it down the middle but its not actually a 50-50 split. I would say that the Lagos operation deals with probably 65% of the total number of applications and colleagues in Abuja deal with 35%. Just to give you an idea of numbers, at the end of last year 2007, we took in a total of just under 200,000 applications from Nigerians wishing to travel to the UK.

"In Abuja we dealt with 60,000 of those with Lagos dealing with 120,000 - that's roughly the split that we've got. So the applications are then forwarded to us at the High Commission and we then have some administrative processes before the application is actually gone through by one of our Entry Clearance Officers. As part of the application process we would have seen the biometric process where we take some of the fingerprints and then the photograph" he said.

According to Ivory who spoke out against fraudulent application, what happens to that data is that as soon as it is taken, it is sent down via an internet cable back to the UK and the fingerprints and facial recognition are checked against a number of databases in the UK.

"So we can now identify against those databases whether we have taken the fingerprints of that person before or whether they have applied for a visa before or whether they have come to the attention of the UK authorities previously before for a particular reason. There a number of databases we check.

"The main reason that we wanted to roll out biometrics and it is now a worldwide programme is because we are looking to know that we are able to protect these identities. One of the big problems we face in the past is rather that people are able to change their identities and its quite easier for Nigerians to submit more than one passport just by changing their identity slightly.

Before we were able to take their fingerprints, it was harder for us to know the people who changed their identities but now its easier because we are now able to identify immediately whether or not somebody has submitted their applications previously or against the database to see if they've been known to the UK authorities previously.

" So it helps us to take an important decision as to whether or not that applicant has submitted a genuine application. The applications coming to us we run various applications against databases, we also check the information has been given as fully as possible., so the more information we can get makes it easier for our officers to make a decision when deciding whether to refuse the visa or issue the visa. So we do have all these checks and it is on day three of the application processes that one of our officers look at the application process.

"They would look at the documents, they would assess the documents that have been submitted by the applicants and they would make a decision whether or not that person qualify for a UK visa.. Now some people say that we refuse too many and that therefore suggests that our success rate at appeal should be very low" he said.

At the moment, he said that their success rate at appeal is anything between 67% and 76% depending on whether it's a Lagos application or Abuja.

"In Abuja its about 75-76% and in Lagos its about 65-67% - now that shows that majority of the decisions we are taking, when it's been looked out by independent body - that body agrees with our original position.

There is a small percentage whereby the decision goes in favour of that person who is making the appeal, but predominantly at the moment, the process is more robust and enhances the quality more than hitherto," Ivory said.

Vanguard

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