Wednesday, 18 May 2011


I finally got my  UK visa today after a week of aggravation and stress. 

Submitting the application

I submitted my UK visa application last week Tuesday - I was in the visa centre from 9 to 3 PM that day! It was real torture, we weren't allowed mobile phones or any other device. Haresh was accompanying me so we managed to create some entertainment for ourselves by chatting to other applicants. We also took a coffee break at the nearby swanky Chase restaurant. That was a welcome relief before we had to go back into the concentration camp. 

I haven't travelled to the UK twice in the last 2 years therefore they treated my application as a standard one and not return my passport until one week later. However, we spoke to a lady in similar circumstances who got it in 2 days. So that was encouraging! We were told to go the British High Commission on a Thursday at 0730 to try to appeal to them to release my passport earlier but we thought it best to just let the damn thing take its own course. We paid some extra money for  the SMS service so we would be notified in case the passport was processed earlier which we secretly hoped for.

Each time I go through the UK visa process it has become more and more tiresome and expensive - for instance I spent $ 450.00 for a 2-year visa. And the fees are non refundable. 

The visa centre is manned by security guards who harass the applicants at every step. "Sit here!" "Don't pass through this corridor, go round the longer way." "You lost the seat because you had to go outside? sorry you lose your seat." They keep barking orders at the applicants as they sit in one queue after another for hours and hours as if they are criminals even though they have paid handsome sums of money.

The visa centre is of course separate from the British High Commission which has outsourced the visa application process to a company called VSF. Therefore, one doesn't even meet Brits in that centre but Ghanaains, who are trained to do everything v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. At one point 2 ladies got up to take their lunch and left 2 desks unattended for 30 minutes. The lady who attended to me put a 6-months sticker on my application and unless we hadn't pointed that out, my $ 450.00 would have gone down the toilet. Not to mention she had a bizarre lisp on a strange high frequency which actually made listening to her a pain in the neck. I bet she could tune into a local radio station or communicate with dolphins.

I was given ticket number 60 so it took me 6 hours to queue up to pay my visa fees, queue up to present my application and supporting docs to an officer, and do the bio-metrics. It's an exhausting, humiliating process and really makes me question why I bothered to ever go to the UK.

And to add to insult upon injury, the whole time we were subjected to ABBA and Westlife. Talk about torture!!!

Collecting the passport
I thought this bit would be straightforward and pain free. Guess again! 

Collection times are between 2 and 4 PM according to the website. We got there a bit earlier and lo and behold, there were long queues already. We were given a ticket numbered 44. My heart sank at the number because I hadn't brought any reading with me.That was my first worry. Hahah!

Haresh though jumped up and asked someone inside the centre to see if the passport was ready. So we went in there and the lady told us and another patient group that because we hadn't received any SMS notifications we should only come back after we get it. It could be a week, 10 days whichever. I nearly had a HEART ATTACK! We told her we live in Liberia and can't wait around for a visa spending money on hotels! Not to mention we were booked to fly tonight! We would have to pay date change fees otherwise!  That lady didn't register any of this and went on to tell us why don't we just apply for the courier service and they would DHL my passport back! I asked her, which airport would let me travel without a passport?? Anyway, huffing and puffing, we asked to speak to the supervisor. We were told to wait for another ten minutes before we could see him.

We went out into the street, frantically trying to figure out why we hadn't received the damn SMS. I phoned my office to pump my Liberia SIM with dollars in case I hadn't received the SMS because I was out of money. Haresh frantically tried to call the travel agent to cancel the ticket but could not get through. We paced up and down the street in front of the VSF centre, shouting into our cell phones, arguing with each other and at the same time, warding off the local hustlers who kept asking us whether we needed a British visa application. The ten minutes were up and we did not cancel the ticket and rushed back into the centre. 

We met the supervisor who luckily was a bit more reasonable and when we requested him to telephone the High Commission and confirm whether the passport was ready and coming in another batch before the close of day, he obliged. We waited with lumps in our throats and amazingly, the High Commission told our friend that the passport was ready and we don't need to post pone our flight! Hallelujah! We thanked him profusely for diverting our heart attacks! 

We still had to wait for another 2 hours before the next batch of passports came in in which my book was in. Goddamit, the whole process was like waiting for your exam results or some dreadful medical examination results! SO MUCH TENSION AND STRESS! Will I get it? Will they give me 2 -years or less? Bite bite nails, long long sighs, angry angry with the whole world and the whole system, so so fed up and frustrated! 

But there it was! I can FINALLY get on with my journey after a few more grey hairs and less money in my pocket.

After all said and done, I can finally sort out my masters, meet with all of my friends and siblings and enjoy some good-old consumer capitalism!!

PS. I never got the SMS until the next morning. So much for the extra 3 Ghana Cedis we spent for the automated notification service. 

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