If you are friends with me on Facebook, you probably saw that I was hijacked to appear as if I was in Manchester. Actually, at that time, I (including the one who hijacked me) was already planning to go there. We were participating in a hackathon, and fortunately, my team got selected to the final, which would take place at the Theatre of Dreams, the Old Trafford. All expenses would be covered by the organizers, including the flights. How cool is that?
Well, it would be really cool if I can actually go there. I didn’t expect that getting a UK visa is hard.
This is the process of getting a UK visa, or at least what I have experienced.
- Fill in an online application form here. (Note: I really like the UI/UX)
- At the end of the application, you will be asked to do two things:
- Pick a schedule for your appointment. If you are based in Jakarta, the appointment is in VFS Global in Kuningan City. There are time slots for every 15 minutes. You can change this even after you complete your payment, and you can make changes to this up to 24 hours before your preferred schedule. Don’t be panic if you’re late for your appointment, as you will queue again once you’re there (but don’t make it as an excuse, please be on time)
- Pay for visa fee. It costs USD 121 for standard service and USD 370 for priority service. Standard service takes about 15 working days, and priority service about 5 working days. More on this later.
- Come to your appointment with all supporting documents. You will only hand in the documents and take some biometrics, no interview or question about your visit. So if you want to state anything, please mention it in your online application. Only two questions will be asked:
- Would you pay more for priority service? This is only for those who choose standard service.
- Do you want the passport to be mailed or do you want to pick it at VFS?
- For Indonesian, the documents will be sent to UK Visa and Immigration in Manila. They are responsible for the decision.
- You will be notified via email once the decision is made and your passport is being sent back. You will get another one once it is ready to be picked up.
The emails to the finalists were sent out on August 9, but we were asked to start applying for a visa only a week later. In the email:
PFA the invitation letter from HCL. This letter will help you with your VISA approvals. We request you to initiate the process for your VISA at the earliest.
We thought that we could not make the appointment before receiving the invitation letter, so we waited for that. (Note that even though the email said PFA/please find attached, it was not the actual letter. It was a Google docs consisting the invitation letter template. We were instructed to fill in our details such as name and passport number.) On August 23, we received the signed invitation letter.
My appointment was on August 25 and the event would take place on September 13-16. I knew that if it really took 15 working days my visa would only be finished on September 15 (September 18 actually, I did not count for Eid Al-Adha holiday), but I still used standard service for couple reasons:
- I clearly stated when the event would take place.
- 15 working days is an estimation. I heard lots of people got theirs in less time, usually 1 or 2 weeks (5-10 working days)
Around September 6, we started to panic because we had no updates about our visa status. I joined a group of other finalists (mostly from India) only to found out that most of them experienced the same. Some of them opted for priority service and already got theirs, but there are few who got rejected.
We called the UKVI only to hear that the decision had not been made and that there was nothing we could do to speed up the process. We pushed the organizer to push the UK embassy to expedite our process, and they said they had done it, but we still heard no words about our visa. So we did the only thing that we could do: we waited.
On September 11, one day before the day we should fly to Manchester, the organizer started to book tickets for us, even for the ones who did not get their visa. They also decided to fly people who get their visa as late as September 14 anyway. At this point, some more people got their visa, but also some more people got rejected.
We came to VFS to check it directly whether they have our documents or not (they didn’t). Then the day after that, I received an email saying that my document was on its way from Manila. We came back on September 13, but VFS had not received them yet. Right on the deadline on September 14, we finally got our passport back. However, there was no visa on mine; I got refusal letter instead.
My refusal reason is the most common among the others who got rejected as well. The complete rules can be found here.
Funds, maintenance and accommodation provided by a third party V 4.3 A visitor’s travel, maintenance and accommodation may be provided by a third party where the decision maker is satisfied that they: (a) have a genuine professional or personal relationship with the visitor; and (b) are not, or will not be, in breach of UK immigration laws at the time of decision or the visitor’s entry to the UK; and (c) can and will provide support to the visitor for the intended duration of their stay.
Analysis is just a polite way for me to say that I am gonna find out whose fault is this. Maybe it’s not best to point out fingers, but I really need to dig this down, so that this won’t occur the next time I apply for other visas, especially to the UK.
There are two main problems here: that my visa (and others) took so long, and that it is refused in the end.
- Did not choose the earliest appointment. I was really confident that it won’t take that long. I once applied for US visa 2 days before the flight. It usually takes 3 days to get a US visa, but it was finished on the next day because of that. Actually, it was possible to pick appointment date one or two days before my actual appointment date, and I chose August 25 just because it fit my schedule well.
- Did not opt for priority service. Perhaps I should be grateful for this, as there are people who are rejected using priority service. I would lose IDR 5 Mio++ if I did.
- Did not provide complete documents. Well, the only thing I did not provide is the translation of the documents showing where I live (i.e. KK/KTP). It is optional and it is not even listed here. And should this be the case, I expect it to be stated in the refusal letter so that I include them in later applications.
- Were late in handing out invitation letters. However, even if they were, probably it wouldn’t change the decision. The problem is in the invitation letter itself. It somehow looks unprofessional (in my personal opinion), and it doesn’t state the details of the event such as itinerary or how much the sponsors are going to pay for our accommodation.
- Did not provide hotel and flight bookings. They did book hotels in advance but that is not the case with flights, for they were waiting for the visa before booking flights. Nonetheless, the booked flights for everyone in the end. These would be strong evidence against rules V4.3(c). However, it contradicts with section 4 of this which states that flight and hotel bookings are not required unless specifically requested.
Personally, I think this is where the most problems come from. <insert your rage here>.
- If the problem was about the invitation letter, it doesn’t explain why there are people who got their visa using the very same invitation letter. It seems that their decisions are subjective and not deterministic.
- If they were unsatisfied about my relationship with the sponsors, have they asked the sponsors? I included two invitation letters, from HCL and Manchester United, and there are contact numbers in both letters. I think 15 working days is a long time to do such a simple verification.
- We used UKVI call service several times to check our application statuses. We did not get any useful information from here; they always answer with “your application is waiting for a decision”. We even tested them. A friend got an email from Manila early (on September 7) that the decision had been made and the document was on its way. We called UKVI on September 8 to ask about his application status, and the answer was the very same. After that, we stopped making another call. Oh, and by the way, it is a paid service. Before talking to the customer service, we were asked to enter credit card number, and we were billed £1.37 per minute in addition to the international call fees.
- Two friends got other reason for rejection in addition to what I was getting.
- One got something like: there are funds in his bank statement which did not come from his salary, and therefore its source is questionable. Does it mean that we should explain everything in my bank statement? By the way, the fund was a yearly bonus from his employer.
- This one is really strange. The other got something along the line: “you stated that you are an employee of company X but you did not provide any evidence.” Does not look so strange? The only problems are, he did provide a letter of employment from his employer, which is not company X and we never even heard of X before. The only logical explanation is that his documents got mixed up with someone’s document, an employee of X who was also applying for UK visa. And if that is the case, their credibility is so doubtful.
- And I have no right to appeal or to request an administrative review for my decisions.
Although it is still unclear why some people got their visa and some others don’t, there are still things to learn from this.
- If you are going to organize international events like this and you will be sponsoring for participants’ expenses, please provide details as much as you can, book tickets early if possible. We did not get clear itinerary even until the D-day of the competition.
- If you want to apply for a visa, especially for the UK, pay attention to the processing days. If they say it is gonna take 15 working days, be prepared for that. Sometimes they don’t even care when you are leaving. And I don’t know will they speed up the process if we have the tickets from the very beginning, but if you can provide them, do it.
- Provide complete documents as possible.
- I did not provide translated documents of KK/KTP (although I did provide the untranslated ones, I don’t think those are gonna be useful) only because translating them is expensive (“only” cost you around 100K per document). I do not know whether my application would be successful if I did, but the chance would be greater (I think).
- Pay attention to your bank statements. Provide proof such as salary slip for all income (esp. with huge amount) in your printed statements.
- Provide flight and hotel bookings if possible. Apparently, you can book flights without paying first.
- Some visa application process does not include an interview (just like this one), so there is no moment for you to explain stuff. Provide as many details as possible in your application.
- Specifically, if you are going to apply for UK visa, I suggest not to call the UKVI call service. Chances are they are not going to give you any useful information. And keep in mind that you will be charged for that. The email service is just the same. Another participant used the email service, and it took longer (2 days) to get a reply and still there was nothing useful in the reply.
- There are some points specifically for deliveries of UK visa decisions to VFS in Kuningan City, which may be helpful:
- The schedule for document collection is 3PM-5PM. Queue earlier (around 15 minutes before 3PM), as the waiting time can take up to 2 hours even if you are coming by 3:05PM. However, the documents can actually be collected from 12PM; the time 12PM-3PM is reserved for travel agents. They will let you in if you have urgent matters (for example if you should be flying on the evening the same day). You may even enter earlier at around 11AM if it is for stronger reasons.
- There are deliveries from Manila to VFS every day except Tuesday.
- Usually, it takes two days from receiving the email from Manila to deliver the passports. Some friends of mine did not get the email from VFS when the passports are ready to be collected. If you do not hear anything within 3 days after receiving email, there is a high probability that your document is already there.
- It should be easier to get a visa if your sole purpose is for leisure and by your own fund. You will not be questioned about your relationship with your sponsor like I was (because you are the sponsor).
In the end, I should blame no one but myself for this. I should pay more attention to details, prepare for the worst thing that can happen, and provide as complete information as possible. I believe that the organizer of the event has done their best to arrange this event (perhaps this is their first time), and I also believe that the decisions made by UKVI are for reasons (better be good reasons).
Moreover, I should be grateful anyway. There are people whose conditions are worse than me. There were people using priority service and still got rejected, and there is one person who used priority service twice; he reapplied after being refused. I heard that the second application didn’t make it on time. Man, you can get standard UK Visa plus round-trip tickets to the UK for that amount of money.
Should my visa got accepted, I would only have about 24 hours to spend there so I wouldn’t be able to see much either. Minus the actual hackathon and sleep (and jet lag), probably I would have only about 4 hours or so. And then there’s this Parsons Green attack right on September 15. Even though that the attack was in London and the hackathon was in Manchester, I should still be thankful. As far as I know, no participant was harmed by the attack in any way.