According to a number of unsuccessful Thai applicants for visas to visit the UK, there has been a “toughening up” of the rules in recent months. They explain the increased difficulty of obtaining a visit with reference to the Brexit referendum last June which mandated the withdrawal of Britain from the European Union in due course. However, British authorities have denied that the Brexit decision has led to any change in policy in awarding visas. A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who declined to be named as he was not authorized to speak officially on the matter, said he was not aware of any instructions to embassies to change their policies post-referendum. He explained that, in any case, Britain is not part of the Schengen visa scheme operating in most European states.
Many British visas issued in Thailand by the British embassy are either visit or settlement visas. The visit visa, which lasts up to six months, is for tourism purposes or to meet up with family in UK or to spend time with a partner. The sponsor will normally be settled in the UK and be able to show a reasonable income (no minimum is formally set), including bank statements for six months, and long-term access to a suitable residence.
The applicant must be able to show by paperwork how he or she lives economically – bank book or cash transfers from the sponsor to Thailand – and has to offer clear evidence of the reasons to return to Thailand after the holiday is over. Evidence here could be a dependent family or a job being held open or ownership of property or land. There is also the need to show ongoing contact between sponsor and applicant when they are separated, most likely social media proof or evidence of regular phone contact together with photos taken over time.
Settlement visas, which allow the applicant to live in the UK, are usually awarded to Thais who wish to join a “settled” UK citizen, typically but not necessarily a spouse. Detailed information has to be provided on the history of the relationship as well as documentation on family connections, any previous marriages and a minimum income earned by the sponsor of 18,600 pounds a year. This minimum rises if there are dependent Thai children included in the application. If the sponsor is self-employed the paperwork required is particularly complex. The granting of a settlement visa means that the Thai applicant can work in the UK. All visas are subject to security and criminal background checks. It is very difficult for the Thai applicant’s wider kin, for example parents or nephews and nieces, to be included as part of a successful settlement visa application.
As evidence that British visit visas are becoming harder to obtain, several disappointed Thai applicants showed their rejection letter to this newspaper. One Thai woman in her early 30s had visited her British boyfriend for three months in 2015 and was hoping for a similar period from Christmas 2016. The couple had proof of an ongoing relationship for several years and the sponsor’s finances and accommodation were in good order. The rejection letter acknowledged that the woman had visited the UK on a previous occasion and had kept to all British immigration rules, but pointed out that she had failed to provide adequate evidence of how, at present, she lived financially from day to day. The woman in fact had provided evidence of admittedly modest Western Union transfers from her boyfriend and had stated that she worked part-time for her uncle on a market stall. She explained that her uncle simply paid cash as and when business was good and that there was no requirement in Thailand to provide wage slips or documentary backup in this type of informal arrangement. Her point was that this level of scrutiny was not enforced in the previous and successful application.
Pattaya Today has seen several other recent rejection letters, most of which do concern detailed questioning of the applicant’s current income even when proof was provided of an overseas sponsor’s cash transfers. One applicant was refused a visit visa after failing to provide evidence she was working at a pig farm. She had a healthy bank balance, but no way of proving how the cash got there. A male applicant, who was hoping to visit his boyfriend in UK, was refused permission after the foreigner’s name on the Western Union transfers was not that of his partner. The applicant had explained that his partner’s next-door neighbour had actually sent the remittance on the sponsor’s behalf. Pattaya Today has no way of verifying these claims by applicants. But the main points they make are that they had been granted visas in the past and that their material circumstances had not changed in the meantime.
It is also undoubtedly true that some visa applications are submitted without due attention to detail and may even include false information in a futile attempt to trick the awarding authorities. A London-based entry clearance officer said, “There is comprehensive information on the government websites. But what is most important is for applicants and sponsors to back up all their claims with up-to-date paperwork.” He added that the days had long past when applicants were subjected to an in-depth interview by an unfriendly person behind a grille. “Nowadays the paperwork is what counts, perhaps supplemented by a short telephone interview.”