Felix Osike writes that Visa Guidance Services (VGS) Ltd says it can guide people on how to secure the visas smoothly. The company is located on the ground floor of Hill View Apartments on Clement Hill Road in Kampala.
However, VGS is not authorised by the British High Commission (BHC) to handle their visa applications.
It does not have a file at the registry of companies. It is charging heavily for guidance that would be given free of charge by embassies or the official visa handling company.
The companyâ€™s location, less than 20 metres from Visa handling Services (VHS) Ltd, the official handler of British visa applications, has sparked off controversy.
On Monday, a New Vision reporter who was going to VHS was tapped by a VGS lady, who handed him a flyer offering their services. The lady was wearing a uniform that closely resembled that of VHS.
â€œIt is strange that they set up their offices near ours. We totally disassociate ourselves from their services,â€ said Declan Peppard, the VHS managing director.
â€œIt is important that Ugandans are aware that these people are exploiting their ignorance,â€ said a manager at VHS.
British visa handling was privatised last year following complaints of overnight queuing, mistreatment and conning.
Only VHS was authorised to handle the applications on behalf of the BHC. Those who get services from any other company would still have to go to VHS.
The US visa application is still handled exclusively by the embassy. Officials said it is useless to go through any agent.
â€œYou donâ€™t have to go through anybody. You pay the $100 (visa fee) and you get your visa or you donâ€™t,â€ a US embassy official said.
VGS also claims it helps with getting visas of selected countries like the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Egypt, Kenya and Tanzania and handles flight and hotel bookings. However, embassy officials say processing of visas to these countries can be made without going through agents, if you have proper documents.
The New Vision visited the VGS office twice last week posing as a client, to establish how the company processes applications.
â€œWe cannot give you guidance or avail you the list of requirements unless you pay us our fees,â€ one of the company managers told the New Vision.
Their fees range from sh50,000 to sh200,000.
New applicants pay a non-refundable fee of sh80,000 while those whose applications have been rejected before, pay sh100,000 to re-start the process.
The New Vision deposited part of the new applicantâ€™s fees for a visitorâ€™s visa and was made to sign a disclaimer form saying, â€œVisa Guidance will not play a part in the processing of the application and will not guarantee its positive outcome.â€
Advice on resident visas costs sh200,000. The company makes it clear that if you fail to get a visa thereafter, it is not its responsibility. Applicants are asked for copies of their invitation letters, bank statements, pay slips for four months and spouseâ€™s clearance letters. A panel then scrutinises the documents before giving advice. â€œWe give guidance and when all the documents are in order, the application is submitted to Visa Handling Services,â€ said an official.
VGS has displayed photographs of 10 successful applicants as proof that it helps. They say although they cannot guarantee the outcome of the application, they hope to significantly raise the chances of success.
On the other hand, the official company, VHS, offers free consultation but charges a minimal sh30,000 for processing the visa.
Peppard said all visa applicants are advised to hand in full supporting documents when submitting the applications. Applications are made to the Visa Handling Services in person for fingerprinting before being sent to the embassy.
Peppard added, â€œWe are the only approved outsourced partner for the BHC. Our function is to accept applications on behalf of the BHC. We check the application, make sure the supporting documents are available. We collect visa and processing fees, which are non-refundable, and then we send them to the embassy for their consideration. The decision to give a visa rests entirely with the commission.â€
The company runs two systems; a fast track one for frequent travellers to UK, US and Schangen states (EU member countries) which is processed within 24 hours and another for first applicants or rejected applications which takes up to three working days.
â€œWe do not know anything about the decision. The documents come back to us in a sealed envelop and addressed to the client. Anybody appealing has to go to the BHC,â€ said one of the managers of VHS.
Sources said there is no advantage in using agents because you have to pay more money when handing in your application to VHS.
Embassy officials have also clarified that the visa forms are provided free of charge. UK visas website www.ukvisas.gov.uk gives further guidance about the requirements of immigration rules and lists the documents for each category of visas.
For those who cannot access the internet, the BHC visa office is open to the public from 1:30pm to 4:00pm from Monday to Thursday for further guidance on travel requirements. For instance, students who want to study in the UK must ensure that establishments at which they propose to study are registered with the UK Department of Education and Skills.
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