By Andrea Karan
I come from a non-EU member, but an EU candidate country, Serbia. Serbian citizens are allowed to stay in EU countries up to 90 days without a visa. However, the UK and Ireland require visas. A couple of months ago I got an invitation from ’United Europe’ to attend a seminar in London. This meant two days of seminar with young professionals discussing hot political topics + two days of an express-touristic visit. What good reasons to finally visit London!
Firstly, I needed to apply online for my visa. My, oh my! How many questions! The British website had far more questions than any other Visa application form I had ever filled. Some of them were very bizarre like:
- ‘How long have you lived at this address?’-to express in years and months (!). I could just about remember the year, but the month? I had to search for the contract which is more than 15 years old. Anyway, is this really important?
- Have you ever traveled outside your country of residence in the last 10 years? List the countries, the dates and the reason why. Luckily, there was only enough space to list ten trips. I chose the ones which had a readable stamp in my passport.
- Then a question about my parents: when they were born, but no question about the country where they were born.
- How much do I spend each month on living costs? Well, quite a personal question. Also, do I have savings in shares and stocks, and the cost of my living expense during the trip.
I thought I would never finish the application. Anyway, I submitted. The next step was to book an appointment and, within next three hours, to pay the hefty fee of 85 GBP.
It was then that the problems started. I chose the option to pay via Paypal. The system blocked my 85 GBP, but the transaction was not successful. Consequently, the appointment was cancelled after three hours.
I contacted the Support team and wrote them an e-mail (I couldn’t do it by phone – that was another issue) and I could use only up to 500 characters. (M: me, T: them)
T: Please try again to book the appointment and to pay.
M: Can you please first release the blocked funds and I will restart the process? I have the proof that you received my money. Please accept it or abort the process.
T: Check the Internet browser and accept the cookies.
M: Everything is fine with that. Please abort the payment process and de-block my 85 GBP. I’ll try to repay afterwards.
T: Please, check the card with your card issuer.
M: Which card-issuer? I didn’t pay by card! Are you reading my e-mails? Please solve my problem.
T: …Check again your browser… accept the cookies… check with your card-issuer…restart the whole process.
Is this real? Apparently yes. Ten days passed, and I was given the same responses over and over again. I wrote an email to the UK Embassy in Belgrade to complain. No answer.
I decided to create a new application, spent another three hours on all those detailed questions, booked the appointment, paid again, and guess what – another 85 GBP were blocked and the transaction failed again! I now have 170 GBP blocked… Are they ignoring my problem on purpose? How can anybody apply for a visa if the server is not working? Are they doing this on purpose to keep people from coming to the UK?
Finally, a friend in the EU paid for my visa through her own credit card. How nice! The next working day I had my appointment at the Visa & Immigration office in Belgrade. I brought all the documents and told the agent about the problems I had had. She didn’t care.
The agent also said that I would get the answer about my Visa within 15 working days. Three weeks? That would be just two days before the seminar was supposed to start! I told her how long I had been trying to apply and failed because of a bug in their software. She answered that if I was in such a hurry, I could pay an extra 150 GBP for express treatment…
Did I feel like a target of a Western government’s populist anti-immigration campaign? Are there some political reasons behind the story? I don’t know. I would love to think that it was a technical issue and that they simply happen to have a horrible customer support.
Countries have their own rules on how to enter them. But do they really have to humiliate people that way?
P.S. The visa finally did get approved! And in good time for my trip and the seminar. Hooray!