Thai applicants for UK visas now have a further, if expensive, choice about how to process their paperwork. They no longer need to visit the embassy in Bangkok provided they enroll for the outsourced VFS Global On-Demand Mobile Visa Service in connection with their planned visit.
The new service, originally launched six weeks ago, allows applicants to schedule their dates and their personal venue for the visa application and for biometric data collection. There is no need to join the queue at the Bangkok application centre and the whole process can be completed in Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Phuket or anywhere else in Thailand. The processed documents are sent to and from VFS by courier mail, and three days notice is needed to activate the procedure and pay the fees online.
Feedback so far is that the new service is useful for groups applying to visit the UK, such as student tours or business men and women, while the cost is prohibitive for individuals. The minimum cost is around 51,000 baht for up to five applications, including singles, with a further 10,000 baht to pay for each group member over five. The ordinary fee for a standard visa to UK is around 5,000 baht. The new mobile visa service is available for all except the long-term student visa which requires a full interview.
UK ambassador Brian Davidson said, “The new initiative further enhances the services offered by the embassy to make Britain more easily accessible to their Thai friends and partners.” A similar system is already in use in China and India for British visa applications, according to internet sources. Because those countries are much larger than Thailand, there is a potential market from those who would have a long and difficult journey to visit the processing centre in person.
An international school located near Pattaya is believed to be considering the new mobile option to avoid a large group visiting Bangkok to hand in the paperwork for a holiday trip and having their fingerprints taken there. A spokesman said anyone interested should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to register an interest and to receive the full instructions. He added that each application costs about double the cost by the traditional route, but avoids travel costs and the inconvenience of using the VFS processing centre in Bangkok.
But British expats hoping to obtain a visa for their Thai partner said the mobile visa option was simply too expensive for individuals. “Nobody I know is going to pay over 50,000 baht just to avoid going to Bangkok to hand in a single file,” said one, “it’s just a bridge too far.” Another pointed out that the new procedure was not a fast-track option. “You still have to pay an extra fee if you want an answer in three days.”
Commentators say that the outsourcing of some British embassy services in recent years has led to an emphasis on profit-making and revenue collection as the most important factor. What concerns many Thailand-based visitors and expats is the perceived reduction of front-line services for Brits with a personal problem.
They point, for example, to the closure of provincial consulates in Thailand at a time when other European embassies seem to be expanding theirs. British embassy spokespersons argue that resources need to be centralized to concentrate on the most needy cases.