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return visa processing to Islamabad, UK declines

ISLAMABAD: Britain is not ready to entertain Pakistan government’s request for exclusion of the country from the ‘hub and spoke’ programme and return visa processing to Islamabad, but says it is committed to streamlining the procedures.

theresa-may pakistan newsBritish Home Secretary Theresa May, while talking to reporters at the high commissioner’s residence on Tuesday, said: “The focus is on ensuring processing of applications swiftly and expeditiously.”

She was replying to a question that whether visa processing was being brought back from Abu Dhabi, which serves as a hub for processing of visas for Britain.

Under the hub and spoke programme, Britain processes visa applications from a number of countries in Abu Dhabi. Pakistan was placed on the list after the British embassy determined that Islamabad had become unsafe for westerners and shifted the visa processing work to Abu Dhabi, which serves as ‘hub’ for the region.

Theresa May said the issue of Pakistan’s exclusion from the hub and spoke programme had been raised by Prime Minister Gilani and Interior Minister Rehman Malik.

The inclusion of Pakistan in the hub and spoke programme because of concerns about security, fraud and corruption led to massive delays in issuance of visas in addition to a sharp surge in the refusal rate that jumped from 22 per cent to 44 per cent.

Among those people whose visa request had been rejected were leading businessmen, professionals and other eminent figures. The issue, which mostly pertained to visitor and student visas, seriously hurt UK’s image in Pakistan.

Pakistan is UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) fourth largest visa operation worldwide. Last year there were 90,000 applications for visit, work and study, which were processed in Abu Dhabi.

Ms May said that the troubles encountered by visa applicants last year had been dealt with. “I have delivered on our promise to determine all visas on time and within fifteen days.”

Earlier, speaking at a joint press conference with Interior Minister Malik, Ms May said that the visa refusal rate was now 32 per cent. “We are now granting 68 per cent of all visa applications.”

The home secretary said much of the processing of settlement (long-term) visas had been brought back to Islamabad.

“Increased amount of work is now being done in Islamabad. Some work in UK (on settlement visas) is now being done in Islamabad.”

The settlement applications last year constituted nine per cent of the total visa applications filed in Pakistan. Processing of settlement visas was shifted to the UK in January last year.

It is believed that some of the measures taken by the British government to address the complaints may have partially eased the woes of applicants, but still the real issue of applications’ processing in Abu Dhabi remains unresolved.

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