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Andrew Buncombe's Asia Diary

The Independent's Asia Correspondent Andrew Buncombe is based in Delhi. His dominion ranges over India, Pakistan, Burma, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, occasionally parts of South East Asia and - or at least he is hoping - The Maldives.

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A happy visa story from the High Commission in Pakistan

Posted by Andrew Buncombe
  • Friday, 26 February 2010 at 05:52 pm
Last year when there was a mounting row about the backlog of visas being processed at the British High Commission in Islamabad, I spoke with several Pakistani students about a situation the Home Secretary Alan Johnson would later admit was unacceptable. Many of them told me how their plans had been derailed by the agonising process to wait for their visas, because of a backlog that some claimed totalled more than 60,000. (Mr Johnson said the backlog was 14,000) 
 Anyway, among the cases was that of a young Pakistani student who had secured a place to study for a PhD in computer programming at Lancaster University but had been turned down for a visa by British officials. I was intrigued by his case, partly because a long time ago I had graduated from Lancaster, and also because the young man appeared to have been unfairly treated. He had been turned down for a visa on three grounds - that he did not have funds to pay for the course, that he had not obtained the special security clearance the visa officials claimed that the course required and that he did not have enough funds to support his wife and himself for three years.
 The young man sounded utterly sad when he told me that the university was giving him a scholarship to pay for the course, that the course did not require special clearance and that a relative in the UK had set up a special bank account with sufficient funds for the three years. He was able to forward me all of the documents to support these points .
 Anyway, the young man appealed the ruling and won. That, however, was last September and he had still not got his visa. His course had started in January but Lancaster had allowed him to delay until the end of February.
 The student got in touch with me a few days ago in something close to a panic. Having struggled so hard to win his appeal, to obtain a place on the course and to arrange funding he could not believe that his future was being jeopardied by not actually having that all important visa stamp.
 I am pleased to say the visa process at the High Commission appears to be a lot healthier and more responsive than it was just a matter of months ago. When I inquired about the reported backlog, an official told me: "There were some delays in the Pakistani visa operation last year, mainly due to protracted technical difficulties, but we have made a lot of progress since this time. The UK Border Agency remains committed to providing an efficient and effective visa service to customers in Pakistan."
 As to the potential of frustrating and angering the sort of bright, smart, young Pakistanis that the West should be reaching out to, the official recognised the importance of providing student visas in building such a relationship. He said Pakistan was the UK's 4 th largest visa operation and received almost 200,000 visa applications every year. "We welcome genuine Pakistani travellers to the UK - who wish to visit family, work or study," he added.
 I was delighted earlier today to receive an email from the young student saying that he had just received his three year visa. When I telephoned to congratulate him he sounded utterly thrilled and excited. I allowed myself a brief moment of nostalgia remembering my happy student days at Lancaster and made him promise to send an email once he had arrived. I imagine it has changed quite a bit in the time since I was there. 
 
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