International students and staff at British universities are having to deal with continual difficulties and costs in applying for visas, after parts of the application process were outsourced to a company charging up to £200 for appointments.
The numbers of people trying to renew their student visas within the U.K. is already a challenge for the system, run by the French IT services company Sopra Steria, and it is feared that the situation will only get worse in September when more than 40,000 students are expected to use it.
Students now have to book appointments through six Sopra Steria-run centres around the U.K. or pay extra for appointments in other cities. Unfortunately the process does not appear to be as clear cut as intended, with students finding that they are unable to book free appointments required to scan documents and take fingerprints.
If people are finding it hard to book free appointments Sopra Steria do offer ‘enhanced‘ appointments at its main offices but applicants must pay between £100-£200 for the privilege and these costs are in addition to the £475 that international students typically pay for a Tier 4 visa plus £300 a year Health Surcharge.
For applicants who want to try to get a free appointment, they are apparently between 10am and 4pm at the company’s core centres, in Birmingham, Belfast, Cardiff, Croydon in south London, Glasgow and Manchester. In some other cities “enhanced service points” offer appointments for £60 to £125, which in many cases are located in public libraries. Unfortunately due to the problems with the free appointment process, some students are paying to fast-track their appointments and travelling to one of Sopra Steria’s centres, often many miles away from where they live.