Many of the UK visa refusals we see here share a common pattern and the prevailing reasons refer to V 4.2 (a) and (c).

I do understand that, while the applicants may describe very different individual circumstances, there's a consistent pattern and, broadly, fall into specific categories:

  • Credibility (lifestyle, lack of ties, visit history, lies & omissions)

  • Funding (insufficient funds, provenance of funds, funds parking)

  • Sponsorship (family, friends, employer)

Question: What most commonly triggers a UK visa refusal where V 4.2 (a) and (c) are given as the grounds?

Secondarily: Given that there is a clear pattern, to what extent are these refusals predictable? Does sponsorship make a difference? Is there a set of personal circumstances, however abstract, where a refusal is all but guaranteed? For example, why do those we see here on TSE who sought entry for the PLAB or British Army appear to be refused with a common theme? Is there a uniform shortcoming or is it just discrimination?

  • PLAB: What is about applications for a visa, for the purpose of sitting the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) exam, that seem to invite refusals. After all, the test is given so that international medical graduates can show that they qualify to practise medicine in the UK. The first part, PLAB 1, can be taken in centres outside of the UK. However, PLAB 2 can be taken only in the UK. Why can't you can't get a visa just to sit the exam, promising that you'll leave immediately after?

  • British Army: Since Commonwealth citizens are eligible to apply online to join, even those who don't reside in the UK, why is it so difficult to get a visa just to attend an interview to see whether you are suitable? Even with an invitation from the Army, such visa applications seem to be unsuccessful. Isn't a career in the British Army a valid reason?

Lastly: After such a refusal, what approaches would increase the chance of a successful application?

up vote 72 down vote accepted

You applied for a Standard Visitor Visa and received a refusal. Your refusal notice provided an explanation and referred to Paragraphs V 4.2 (a) and {c} (and sometimes sub paragraph 'e'). This is a distressing incident and often provokes feelings of confusion or anger or frustration. These feelings can be amplified upon learning that there is no path available for appeal or administrative review.

Can I call the Entry Clearance Officer (ECO) and sort this out?

The immediate reaction for many people is something along the lines of: "It's something simple, they just took something the wrong way, I'll call them and sort things out."

But no. Categorically no. Not a chance. Since 2006, ECO's have been ring-fenced against engaging with the public and they are not permitted to reverse a decision anyway. Let's look at this extract from Paragraph 27...

An application for entry clearance is to be decided in the light of the circumstances existing at the time of the decision...

This is taken to mean what the applicant wrote on their application and the evidence they provided (and the courts have supported this interpretation). If the ECO is minded to refuse and thinks that a single piece of evidence will prevent a refusal, they will contact the applicant and ask for it. But the refusals we're talking about in this article are well beyond where a single piece of evidence can prevent a refusal.

How did this happen?

The current visitor rules were hammered out in a private consultation between UKVI and the UK legal community in 2014. There were several rounds of drafts circulated and each round resulted in concessions and improvements. When both sides were happy (i.e., fair, accessible, and consistent), the rules were activated in April 2015. They are published in Appendix V of the Immigration Rules, and we strongly endorse a careful read of the material.

Visa applications are opened in the mail room by an Entry Clearance Assistant (ECA) and a witness. Two persons are required. Each application is entered into Proviso (UKVI's tracking system) along with an enumeration of what evidence has been provided. Once entered into Proviso, more ECA's get involved to examine the evidence and perform research on the applicant's circumstances. This is the stage where ECA's may contact the applicant's bank and employer. They will also run the biometrics and look at relevant databases. ECA's are local hires who speak the language and know the local customs. They generally aspire to obtaining a British passport through service to the Crown and, accordingly, they are thorough and detail-oriented.

Eventually the application will appear on the Entry Clearance Officer's (ECO) Proviso screen. ECO's have a mandate from Parliament to issue as many visas as possible because it helps the British economy. They also have a mandate from the Crown to make the final decision on a visitor application.

He will spend somewhere between 40 to 120 seconds examining the application and reaching a decision. Or he can send it back to the ECA's for more research. If the ECO decides that a refusal is justified, the application will be routed to the Entry Clearance Manager (ECM, the highest ranking official in the Visa Section).

The ECM can uphold or reverse the refusal. If a regulated solicitor has represented the application, he may contact them with a few questions and get some clarifications. If he upholds the refusal decision, the application will be routed to the ECA's who will use 'speed codes' to compose the refusal notice.

The end result is that the refusal notice, along with all the materials originally submitted, is returned to the applicant. Somewhere near the end of the notice are the legal grounds for the refusal. These visas do not have appeal rights or administrative review pathways.

Predictability

Applicants are surprised to learn that the largest bulk of refusals were predictable from the outset. It means the application was visibly doomed before the person even arrived at the VFS to give their biometrics. This can be said because the application has one or more of these:

  • Obvious (and severe) evidential shortfalls that are needed to establish the applicant's (or sponsor's) personal circumstances; or
  • A misconceived premise that undermines the applicant's credibility; or
  • A naive and plainly-visible attempt to conceal something; or
  • a lifestyle that belies the applicant's intent; or
  • A ploy or gambit attempting to enhance the applicant's personal circumstances (e.g., funds parking).

Most commonly the applicant's premise and evidence conform to a pattern that can be recognised early on as a sure bet for refusal. UKVI likes to use the grounds V 4.2 (a) and (c) for their refusals in these situations. Sometimes they will bolt on sub paragraph 'e' (insufficient funds), but this is usually icing on the cake rather than an immediate concern.

Appendix V, Paragraphs V 4.2 (a) and (c)

These refer respectively to:

  • (a) will leave the UK at the end of their visit; and
  • (c) is genuinely seeking entry for a purpose that is permitted by the visitor routes (these are listed in Appendices 3, 4 and 5).

To summarise, they have concluded that the applicant is not a genuine visitor and is likely to go underground and abuse their visa. We see this occur variously in articles like UK visitor visa refused due to length of prior stay:

They got you on V 4.2 (a) + (c), which is their way of saying that they think you might have a secondary agenda of absconding your visa and going underground. Your next application will need to use extra diligence to assure that their concerns are fully explained.

Another way of putting it shows up in UK Visit Visa refusal — need advice on next step:

The ECO concluded that you and your husband would go underground once you arrived in the UK, this is implicit from taking the refusal grounds in context (V 4.2 (a) & (c)).

They reach this conclusion from the items listed above in "Predictability." It's a serious refusal. The rest of this article explains how they reach this decision.

Funds Parking, Lifestyle, and Credibility

A starting point for understanding how bank statements affect the decision process is in the article: "Should I submit bank statements when applying for a UK Visa? What do they say about me?"

This article explains that one of the common, but disastrous, strategies applicants use is the so-called 'funds parking' strategy (which is given a full discussion here).

The article also explains one of the pitfalls where the applicant is fixated on presenting a final balance and is blind to the fact that bank statements provide a window into the applicant's lifestyle and social commitments. See Twice UK business visitor visa refusal because of large deposit, what next? where the answer says:

Showing a hefty bank balance is helpful, but it's only about 20% of what they are looking for. A much heavier weight, say 80%, is given to periodic, predictable flows in and out of the account that show a durable economic connection to your base, in your case Egypt... They got you on V 4.2 (a) and (c) on both applications. In this context it means they concluded that you were not a bona fide applicant and that would most likely go underground when you got here...

ECO's determine how much is needed by examining the applicant's premise and there is no specific amount needed to apply successfully. Even applicants with low balances can succeed when they exhibit a stable and connected lifestyle.

Provenance of Funds

Having a great set of bank statements is not enough to ensure success because the ECO needs to determine if the funds have been lawfully obtained and are lawfully in the applicant's possession. We call this 'provenance of funds' and it is explained in this article: are there hidden requirements for UK visa applications?

Where provenance is likely to be questioned, applicants should include their employment contract or their tax returns or some other convincing evidence. They will strenuously object to lame excuses like "I don't have those things because blah blah blah and (insert some lame excuse here)". Genuine visitors are able to establish provenance quite easily.

Having a sponsor does not eliminate the need to establish provenance and a lot of people seem to miss this point. The ECO is entitled to think that the sponsor is a drug dealer or an illicit importer or a criminal and it's the applicant's job to convince him otherwise. So the sponsor should submit his employment contract or tax returns in the same way the applicant does. This is a major single point-of-failure for many applicants relying on sponsorship.

Applicants who fail to establish that their funds have been legally obtained will invariably incur disappointment. If the sponsor is reluctant to establish provenance, then don't apply!

Moving on, the same article contains this text:

Within the same money laundering/provenance of funds regime, they also have a list of banks they don't like. If somebody submits statements from one of those banks (or they figure out that somebody has an account at one of those banks), then the app will be refused (and they will use a different reason so that their sources are not compromised).

There are some banks that violate money laundering rules or otherwise engage in illegal activities and submitting statements from these banks is fatal. The global list is beyond scope here, but a representative list of acceptable banks for Bangladesh is at Updated list of financial institutions for UK visa applications in Bangladesh. The list is qualified to PBS applicants, but the contents are directly transferable to visit visa applications.

Sponsorship Issues

Refused applicants have often made the assumption that having a sponsor eliminates the need to demonstrate that they qualify. This is not true and, in many cases, needing a sponsor actually increases the onus on the applicant to demonstrate that they qualify.

How can this be? To understand this paradox, return to Paragraphs (a) and (c) again and note that neither of them is contingent on having access to money. Indeed, having access to money is covered in Paragraph (e):

must have sufficient funds to cover all reasonable costs in relation to their visit without working or accessing public funds. This includes the cost of the return or onward journey, any costs relating to dependants, and the cost of planned activities such as private medical treatment.

...which is rarely mentioned at all in most refusals! So it's not about the money and it doesn't matter how wealthy the sponsor is or how much money they are willing to commit; the onus never leaves the applicant to demonstrate that they qualify. See UK visitor visa refused (multiple sponsors) for an example which says:

This refusal cites Paragraphs V 4.2 (a) and (c) of the rules... You can see that they did not challenge your daughter's capacity for sponsorship, they accepted her sponsorship without question. But having a credible sponsor does not alleviate the applicant's burden of meeting the rules.

The ECO is also entitled to be mindful of the sponsor's relationship to the applicant and why the sponsor is willing to undertake a large expenditure of no apparent benefit to them. This is especially true, for example, if the applicant has siblings who have never had sponsorship. When there is no history of a grandparent or parent sponsoring other family members and a single person is going to benefit, the motivation should be carefully explained.

ECO's are especially wary where there is a sudden appearance of a "long-lost uncle" who is making a disproportionately generous offer of sponsorship. "Long lost uncles" don't do things like that without very special circumstances and those circumstances need to be carefully explained. ECO's also worry about the relationship between the applicant and the sponsor and whether it is strong enough to lend credibility to the sponsor's claim. See also Will mention of a previously undisclosed relative, who will now invite me to the UK, help me to obtain a visa?

While it's true that sometimes long-lost relatives can suddenly appear and offer sponsorship for no apparent reason, it is an applicant pattern viewed with pronounced scepticism on the Sub-Saharan Desk. You would have to explain why a relative is willing to do this for you and yet you were unaware of them last year. That would be an awkward explanation and genuine visitors do not need to make awkward explanations like that.

Or another refusal on Paragraphs (a) + (c) where sponsorship appears to have been contrived:

Picture this: From out of the blue with no explanation, somebody gets an all expenses paid offer to attend an interview in the UK at a company where there is already a mature and abundant labour market locally. This offer is extended to someone who has been working in their current role for less than a year with no particular credentials to make a company do that. Moreover, their personal circumstances are such that they could easily drop everything and relocate.

And of course if the sponsor has previously been involved in a breach, it goes without saying that a refusal is in order.

Finally, attestations by the sponsor along the lines of "...my nephew very much respects UK law and would never overstay..." can damage the sponsor's credibility. Nobody is telepathic and telepathy is the only way such an attestation can be made. See Applied for Family Visit but refused under V4.2(a) and (c):

It doesn't cut any ice to assure them that you will return home after your visit, and assurances like that make for a particularly weak application anyway. Why should you return home?

This is stated more formally in My girlfriend was a refused a visa to visit me in the UK. What now?

A sponsor's responsibility is to demonstrate the capacity to maintain and accommodate the application. Nothing else. Your 'intentions' are irrelevant and attempting to assert them indicates that you do not understand what your role is and, by extension, that you do not understand the rules. This is a fair assumption on their part because, if your friend decided to go underground and disappeared inside the UK, there is nothing you could do to prevent it.

Sponsorship Undertakings: if the ECO thinks that a sponsorship undertaking will save the application and prevent a refusal, they will contact the applicant and ask for one. In these cases the sponsor needs to establish a sound financial picture and evidence of accommodation (from ownership or an explicit permission from the landlord). The hurdles for establishing accommodation and financial capacity are rigorously high. And to repeat: having a sponsor does not mitigate the applicant's need to qualify in their own right. See Sponsor a visa applicant: form SU07 for more information.

A Note on British Army Assessment Refusals

This is slight variant of the refusals already discussed. Briefly, midway through the recruitment process, candidates are required to report to a military installation in the UK for a two-day assessment. The variant is that the British Army will send an invitation letter (but does not participate as an economic sponsor).

Applicants from the less affluent Commonwealth nations, who are disadvantaged in the first instance, especially those in Africa, can get caught in a confusing 'catch 22' predicament. This occurs when their lifestyle and readiness to sever their homeland ties and 'ship out' for an assignment to a foreign post belie the very homeland ties that the ECO wants to see in order to qualify for the visa!

We can't debate the sensibility of the Army's policy here because this falls within the mandate of the Politics site; for us it must be accepted as part of "WHAT IS". Hence there is nothing specific to offer these applicants except what is already presented above.

A Note on PLAB Refusals

When a person finishes medical school abroad they sometimes like to "top up" their qualification by taking the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board test, or "PLAB" for short. Some portions of the PLAB are administered abroad, and some are available only in the UK.

Sitting the PLAB is an activity specifically mentioned in the rules; it is an approved activity within the scope of the Standard Visitor Visa.

The generic profile of a PLAB refusal is where the applicant's parents have funded their education and the applicant is just starting out in their medical career. Sometimes they are still living with their parents. Accordingly they have a strong premise (a medical degree) but a very weak application because they have not established an independent lifestyle.

If you fit that profile, consider putting off the PLAB until you are more settled in your career and have a credible pattern of being a medical practitioner in your own country.

A Note on Discrimination

By way of introduction, Entry Clearance Officers and staff are from a cross-section of society, so it's natural that some are gay or transexual, some are Muslim, some are black, and so on. With this sort of diversity, systemic discrimination is recognised and crushed early on.

Having said that, we can turn to this answer: Does the UK visa system discriminate against Muslims? which discusses a Ministerial Statement authorising discrimination for some nationalities.

The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): I have made an authorisation under paragraph 17(4)(a) of schedule 3 to the Equality Act 2010, to enable the UK Border Agency to give greater scrutiny or priority to particular nationalities in carrying out entry clearance, border control and removals functions.

This authorisation came into force on 10 February 2011. It replaces the Race Relations (Immigration and Asylum) Authorisation 2004, which came into force on 12 February 2004 and has been revoked.

The full text is in Hansard, but ILPA published a great summary at Race Discrimination Authorisation

The answer goes on to explain that the government keeps a list of countries where historical performance has been problematic. Applicants in these countries will have a more difficult time. The list is classified, but it's common knowledge that countries with large-scale performance problems are in South Asia and Africa.

As for Muslims we can see that Qatar and the UAE nationals can get fast-track visas and these are predominantly Muslim countries.

For the types of refusals we're taking up in this answer, where the bulk of them are predictable from the outset, claims of discrimination are more of a red herring.

Now what?

There is a piece of boiler plate at the bottom of all refusal notices...

Any future UK visa applications you make will be considered on their individual merits, however you are likely to be refused unless the circumstances of your application change.

This is an advisory suggesting that fundamental changes are needed in order to apply successfully the next time. Caution is in order because once an individual enters a tail-spin of serial refusals, they can take on a life of their own by exposing the applicant's fixation on getting in to the UK (that's a bad thing).

This article "How do I find an immigration lawyer/solicitor to help with my UK Visa application?" suggests that a 'doc check' can be helpful and goes on to explain what it is...

If your case is straight-forward but you want to make sure your application is bullet-proof, you can arrange for a 'doc check'. It means a practitioner will take your completed application and all your evidence and give you some light feedback on it. Remember that it's light-weight and not for 'complex' cases.

The article also cites an important disclaimer...

I am aligned with the school of thought that solicitors should be used whenever the applicant's case is complex. Regardless of the cost, a solicitor can prevent refusals and as we know, refusals are a permanent burden on a person's history.

If you have read this article and have concluded that the material is not helpful for your case, it may be that using the net is not going to work for you. In such cases, a practitioner should be sought.

The UK's "go to" site for qualified practitioners is the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association (ILPA). They offer a search engine that can be used to present the end-user with a list of members who are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority or the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC). Most of the time practitioners are happy to use email and Skype to sort things out thus making direct personal contact unnecessary.

I am reluctant to suggest practitioners in South Asia and Africa because there are so many con artists operating outside the UK's regulatory and ethical sphere. However, the UK Law Society operates an international division which may be helpful for very complex situations.



Notes and afterthoughts...

"Funds Parking" is a term originally coined here on this site. You cannot Google it to learn more because we're the only known site to use the term "Funds Parking" as literary shorthand to describe the visa strategy.

  • 3
    How far back does provenance of funds have to be traced? For example, I have an investment account. I get a regular sum transferred each month from it to my checking account, and everything else looks as though that were my paycheck. If I needed a UK visa, would I have to show where the investment account came from, or just that it is the source of the payments to checking? – Patricia Shanahan Apr 22 '17 at 14:42
  • 3
    The most fascinating part of your answer is that an ECO makes a decision within two minutes. Is there a reason that visitor visa applications don't give the customer a chance to have a face-to-face interview? After all, he is paying a large sum to have his application judged based on legal principles. – greatone Apr 22 '17 at 15:02
  • 9
    @greatone Probably because arranging a face-to-face interview for every applicant would increase the cost by at least a factor of ten. And as the answer says "the largest bulk of refusals were predictable from the outset" – DJClayworth Apr 22 '17 at 18:07
  • 9
    @DJClayworth They're already charging £1000 for a 10 year visa which is 10 times more than a (normally 10 year) USA visa application that includes an interview. It's a ripoff. – greatone Apr 22 '17 at 20:24
  • 4
    @greatone I fail to see how is this related to this question, but it seems rather suitable for a new one, asking why there are no person to person interviews and why UK visas are such ripoff (well, two questions but the latter would be primarily opinion based). – Tymoteusz Paul Apr 22 '17 at 23:02

protected by JonathanReez Apr 22 '17 at 13:23

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.