I’ll borrow my title from the Pink Floyd classic “Money” (it’s a gas). An interesting question appeared on TSE earlier today, it appears at UK tourist visa, main application form wasn’t taken by UK official.
It seems the OP went with his mother to the VFS in order to submit an application for a Standard Visitor Visa. And lo, during the proceedings the ‘officer’ asked for an additional fee of 350 Indian Rupees (roughly £4) for ‘arranging the paperwork.’ What’s that all about?
It’s called bribery (also called a facilitation payment). UKVI knows about it as do many UK solicitors. In fact the topic was put explicitly to UKVI in a meeting last month. They replied with some advice and guidance which was targeted at what solicitors should be doing, which is fine and there’s a channel for them to report and escalate instances of facilitation payments. But there’s not much guidance for what the ‘little guy’ should do (and I don’t have a lot to offer either).
First things first… Let’s make a very important clarification. The OP presented the situation as the individual asking for the bribe was a ‘officer’, alluding that the person was an ECO, or ECA, or some other type of Crown Servant. This is not the case. Rather, the person asking for a bribe is an employee of a company that has been contracted by the UK government to provide “Visa Facilitation Services”.
These services involve things like the
- collection of applications and passports,
- the return of passports,
- the collection of fees for user-pay services,
- the collection of biometrics,
- the photocopying of documents
- and so on
These people are not Crown Servants and it’s a dreadful mistake to confuse them with Crown Servants. Avoid doing this. People at the VFS are ‘agents’, not ‘officers’.
Next up… World-wide, every single fee incurred for obtaining a visa is listed prominently on a very well established web site. There are only two of these in existence…
- The UKVI Visa Fees page; and
- A country specific site for user-pay services like, for example, purchasing the Gold Premium Service Package. In this case ‘user-pay’ means it’s an optional way to prioritise one’s application. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.
If you don’t see a fee on one of these sites, the best likelihood is that you are being scammed for a bribe.
Next up… every UK visa fee world-wide is payable by credit card. If somebody tells you it’s a cash-only arrangement, the best likelihood is that you are being scammed.
Next up… Visa fees (and user-pay fees) are uniformly expensive. Nothing is cheap. So when somebody asks for RS 350, you can be sure it’s out-of-whack with reality. Those numbers are set by the scammer so as to be below the alarm bell threshold for most people.
Returning now to the OP… The OP fears that not paying the bribe may lead to vengeance of some sort, specifically the exclusion of their application. This is the least of their worries because vengeance can also include selling their personal details on to the black market as ripe targets for identity theft, or extortion, or whatever. And yes, the VFS agent is supposed to collect the entire bundle and the OP believes he did not. So who knows what’s afoot.
Actually things became sour at the point the bribe was solicited. Stop the show, ask to speak with another agent, take their photo with your mobile (or hidden camera), ask for the supervisor, whatever. Do not let it continue beyond the point where a crime was committed.
Just like anything else in South Asia, if you have been victimised or subject to a bribe, you can go to the police. Just because it’s a contractor to a British mission doesn’t mean they have diplomatic immunity. If bribery is a crime, if extortion is a crime (like withholding the application), if threatening someone is a crime, then go to the police and report it. If they don’t know what to do then ask to speak with someone higher up the ranks.
As a final resort (and the most time-consuming) you can write to the UKVI policy unit at The Home Office, UKVI, 2 Marsham Street, Westminster, London, SW1P 4DF, United Kingdom.
Beyond that, there’s little else to do except to take scant comfort in knowing that UKVI deplores corruption absolutely and totally; they are aware of the problem and trying to figure out a way to stop it.