UK Transit Visa Waiver – Denied

My wife and I were in transit in London yesterday. We had arrived on a flight from Los Angeles and were going to catch a flight to New Delhi. The UKBA website has some confusing information on a Transit Visa and a visa waiver.

Apparently, if you are flying to/from the USA/Canada/Australia/New Zealand, then you can get a transit visa waiver – at the discretion of the immigration officer. This means three things for us Indians:

  • If we are flying to a country not in the above list, from a country not in the above list and transiting in the UK, we need to apply for a Transit Visa before we travel. I.e. if we are flying, say from India to Argentina via London, we would need to get a transit visa before traveling. This applies even if we are NOT passing through immigration in the UK and NOT exiting the airport.
  • If we are flying to/from the above countries we can transit air-side (i.e. not exit the airport or go through immigration) without a transit visa. In my experience, flying from India to the USA and from the USA to India via London was pretty smooth WITHOUT a transit visa, as long as we stayed air-side.
  • Now comes the tricky part. If you are flying to/from the above countries via the UK, and want to GO THROUGH immigration (i.e. leave the airport), and don’t have a visitor visa, it is at the immigration officer’s discretion whether they will grant you a visa waiver or not.

We got caught up in the last point on our way from LA to Delhi. We had 7 hours to kill at Heathrow in transit, and thought we’d try our luck with the visa waiver. The immigration officer asked us detailed questions about our visa history and the history of our visits to Britain. Finally he told us 2 things:

  1. If we had a legitimate reason to enter the UK, like “collection & rechecking baggage” we could be given the visa waiver
  2. Because we had taken UK visas before, we know the visa law, hence we are knowingly in violation of the visa law by trying to enter without a visa.

Anyway, in the end, he didn’t let us enter. We had to stay airside. He didn’t give us any ‘entry denied’ stamp or anything similar – which was nice of him.

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UK Tier 2 Visa – oh what a mess

Target country: United Kingdom
Passport country: India
Type of Visa: Employer sponsored Tier-2 General work visa

Experience:
UK Home Office is seriously trying to limit immigration into the country. This means they have tightened up a lot of processes that made it easier to get a Tier 2 or Tier 1 in the past.

I did not have time to apply for my Tier 2 by post, because of essential travel plans. The postal application takes upto 3 months to process.

So I had to go for a ‘premium appointment’. I had a look through the UKBA website, and there were no premium appointments available for the whole year! Crazy! In the past it was possible to call the UKBA and get an appointment over the phone. Now that phone number has been withdrawn. Also, in the past, Lawyers were able to access the appointment system through a separate interface and get premium appointments for an extra fee. That has also been shut down.

So, after much fretting, my lawyer (Fragomen Plc) was able to get me a premium appointment at the Sheffield public enquiry office. I went there on the day with all my paperwork, to find that there was a ‘problem with the computers’. I had to wait all day (6 hours) at the office. Even then, my passport wasn’t returned the same day (as it used to be in the past). The passport and biometric visa card came in the post almost a week later.

All in all, very frustrating and stress inducing.

To top it all off, when I tried to enter the UK at Heathrow for the first time on my new Tier 2 visa, I was ‘detained’ at the border for 15 mins. Apparently they recorded the wrong fingerprints on my biometric card. So now every time I travel to the UK, I will have to wait around for 15 mins while the officers perform additional checks before letting me in.

But here are some photos to inspire you to go live in the UK!
London Central Mosque on a Snowy Afternoon Inverness by Night Cove near Fistral Beach, Newquay

UK Tier-1 Post Study Visa – Welsh Hospitality!

Note: This is a description of my experience. I do not guarantee this will work for you. Please check with the UK Border Agency before applying. If you have further questions about the process, please comment on this post and ask.

Target Country: UK
Passport: India
Purpose: Work (Post Study)
Processing Office: Cardiff, UK
Documents submitted:
1. Filled out form (See UK Border Agency Website). It is important that the applicant has enough points – this is a point based system.

2. Letter from University stating that I have successfully completed the course (It has to be an approved course from an approved institution). This letter can only be issued once you have graduated. My college had the option of graduating early — those who graduated early, were able to apply for their visas early.

3. Bank statements from last 3 months – showing that I had at least £800 in my account for the last 3 months before applying. A printout with the bank’s stamp on it sufficed. (Note: If applying from outside the UK, you have to show £2800 for a single applicant for 3 months. The amount is higher if you have dependants).

4. Two passport sized photographs, as per the specifications of the Border Agency. Any regular photographer in London should be able to give you these.

5. Current passport

6. My older passport (this had my student visa, but the passport had expired).

7. £800 processing fee (I made a premium application in person for fast processing. Normal postal applications within the UK cost £550 at present).

Process & Experience:
It is possible to get the Tier-1 visa in 1 day. For this you need a premium appointment at one of the UK Border Agency’s offices. These appointments are very difficult to get. You must book one a month in advance. It also helps to ring everyday and hope someone cancels (this is what I did!).

After ringing for 3 days in a row (ringing a premium number, set me back by £20 in total), I got an appointment at the Cardiff office. The catch was that Cardiff cannot print visa labels. While they can approve/reject your application on the same day, they normally send your passport by courier to Sheffield (or another office) for pasting the visa in your passport. I got my passport back 3 days after I applied.

The people on the phone were very friendly and helpful. I have never spoken with more helpful, efficient and polite government employees. After confirming my appointment, an officer from the Cardiff office rang me, and made sure I understood all requirements. He was extremely polite too.

Upon reaching the Cardiff office, I was let in by the security guards (who held on to my phone and other electronics). I recommend carrying a good book, since you may have to sit around for some time. After a 5 min wait, the officer called me, checked my application and asked me to pay. After paying, I went out and sat in a cafe for 1.5 hours. Then I had to return to the office and wait for another 30 mins. Then the lady came and gave me a letter saying that my visa had been approved. And I was free to go.

The passport came 3 days later by courier.

Overall – a very pleasant experience. The people at the Cardiff office were very helpful and friendly. A little more expensive than the normal postal route, but you save almost 6 weeks! So totally worth it.

Manchester & Birmingham

I spent the day yesterday traveling to Manchester and Birmingham. Its always interesting to see the lives of Indian expats in the British Midlands. The most striking experience was a conversation I had with a middle-aged Gujarati gentleman who had emigrated to Britain in the 60s. He, and others like him, have lived a tough life. He spent his early childhood in rural Gujarat. Then one day his father, who was a farmer, decided to take him away to Mombasa (Kenya) – where he received his high-school education. Then to avoid persecution during the nationalist movements of Central Africa in the 60s, this gentleman moved to the Midlands without a penny to his name. He struggled through labour-jobs in racist factories. He became an electrician, though he wasn’t qualified. Through holding many such jobs, he got a house, brought his parents over to England, and raised a happy family, giving his kids all the opportunities and comforts he could only have dreamt of in his childhood. His is an inspiring life. And such are the stories of many immigrants in Britain.

In Manchester, I went to see a premier league football match – my first.
Wayne Rooney winning multiple awards
I even met Denis Irwin and got the chance to hold the Carling cup in my hand. I wish I knew who Denis was and what the Carling cup was. I had to explain to my friends later (after I did my research) that Denis was like the Kapil Dev of football, and the Carling Cup was like the Ranji Trophy. And like a true Indian, I wasn’t satisfied with seeing the Old Trafford football ground. I went and paid homage to the Lancashire County Cricket Club (or the Old Trafford Cricket Ground). I even wanted to end the night at the “Curry Mile” of Manchester, but the horrendous post-match traffic, moving at 5 miles an hour, made sure I didn’t make it 🙂

But it was a fun trip. Went to a nice pub called the Britons Protection. This was rated as one of the best places for a pint in my Lonely Planet guide – and Lonely Planet is always right. If you are ever in Manchester, ensure you go there and try the “Witches Cauldron” (I think I got the name right) beer. And Gay-pride parade is quite a spectacle too!
Maggie Thatcher coming out!

Where can I travel on a UK visa?

Having a UK visa in your Indian passport can get you easier entry into some other countries too. I will try to keep this post updated as I get new information.

Please note, the information below is current as of the date of posting, and in general is only applicable for Indian passport holders.

Type of UK Visa Country of visit Notes Link
Any valid UK visa Turkey Ordinary, Special and Service passport holders with a valid Schengen, UK or US visas may get their one month single entry visas at the Turkish border gates upon their arrival. http://www.mfa.gov.tr/visa-information-for-foreigners.en.mfa
Any valid UK visa Taiwan Passport holders of India, Thailand, Philippines, Viet Nam, Indonesia, who also possess a valid visa or permanent residence certificate issued by U.S.A., Canada, Japan, U.K., Schengen Convention countries, Australia or New Zealand. Travelers meeting the above qualifications and having never been employed in Taiwan as blue-collar workers, have to first register information concerning their documents and personal data into the “Advance Online Registration System for the Visitors of Nationals from Five Southeast Asian Countries to Taiwan”. Upon completion, the printed confirmation is used to validate the traveler during the boarding and the immigration check. During the immigration check, travelers who can not show a valid visa or permanent resident visa issued by one of the aforementioned developed countries will not be admitted into the country. http://www.boca.gov.tw/ct.asp?xItem=1443&ctNode=536&mp=2
Permanent Residence of the UK or Any valid USA visa Mexico According to the new regulations, from the 1st of May 2010 it is not necessary to apply for a Mexican visa if you hold a valid visa from the United States of America -regardless the nationality- . Immigration authorities in Mexico will ask for your US visa and a valid passport when you arrive

Permanent residents in Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States of America or the Schengen countries wishing to travel to Mexico do not require visa to enter the country as tourists and business visitors for a 180-day stay and as visitors in transit up to a 30-day stay. They must obtain a blue tourist card (FMTTV migration form) from the airlines on direct flights to Mexico and ports of entry into Mexico

Link to Embassy of Mexico in London

Viva Britannia (UK Student Visa experience)

Target Country: United Kingdom (UK) or Great Britain
Passport: Indian Passport
Visa Type: Student Visa
Processing Consulate/Embassy: British High Commission, New Delhi, India
Documents submitted:

  • GBP 100 fee (Bank draft of Indian Rupee equivalent) made out to “British High Commission” (UK High Commission was not acceptable)
  • Filled application form
  • Valid passport
  • Original Bank statements for the last 6 months
  • Original passbooks for Indian bank accounts
  • Original passbooks of parents (sponsors)
  • Financial statements (certified by chartered accountants) detailing stock holdings
  • Original letter from the University saying that I have gained admission and paid part of the fee
  • Original letter from bank confirming student loan
  • Passport Sized Picture (taken on the spot, when submitting application)
  • Email trail discussing and confirming admissions interview with an alumnus.
  • Email of Visa Appointment confirmation
  • IELTS Certificate
  • Graduation certificate and transcript from Undergraduate studies
  • Transcripts from Class X and Class XII examinations
  • Income Tax Returns (photocopies) for me and my sponsors

Experience:
Relatively pain less. The application was made through VFS Global – a third party that acts as the front end to the visa offices of various consulates in India. They were very helpful and responsive. The only thing lacking was a complete list of instructions on what to bring. Once I reached, I was told that my passport sized photo was inadequate and that I needed a whole bunch of photocopies. But on the whole, it was a very smooth process.

Recommendation: Make sure you have originals AND photocopies of all documents (including passport).

Time frame: 6 working days
Number of embassy visits: 2 (well, 2 visits to the VFS office, not the embassy.)