PROSPECTIVE Ghanaian travellers to the United Kingdom last year paid more than ¢75 billion as visa fees.
The amount accrued from more than 75,000 applications handled by the British High Commission in Accra. It is expected to rise steeply this year as a result of increases in commission charges and a greater demand for visas.
Between 50 and 60 per cent of last year's applications, representing between 37,500 and 45,000 applicants, were rejected. But the determination to travel, backed by the ability to pay, among Ghanaians has pressured the British High Commission in Accra to open a new Visa Facilitation Service (VFS) centre in Accra.
A second centre will be opened in Kumasi on Tuesday, April 12, to service potential travellers in the northern sector of the country.
At the inauguration of the Accra centre last Wednesday, the British High Commissioner to Ghana, Mr Gordon Wetherell, said the facility was to improve consular services to prospective travellers to the UK.
He said the centre, which is the first in Africa, would enable the High Commission to offer better services to people applying for UK visas in Ghana.
“This flexibility, accompanied by the fact that the VFS centres will be opened for longer hours, should result in reduced queuing for visa applicants,” he said.
He added, however, that the ¢75,000 charged previously as commission on the banker's draft for visa fees would be increased to ¢140,000 to include Fedex and VFS services.
Currently, an amount of ¢628,000 is charged for standard visa, student standard visa and transit standard visa. Direct airside transit visa costs ¢471,000, one-year visa, ¢1,046,000, two-year visa, ¢1,220,000, five-year visa, ¢1,534,000, and 10-year visa, ¢2,615,000.
The rest are settlement visa, ¢4,532,000, GV 3, ¢523,000, long-term visa, ¢1,307,000, and returning resident visa, ¢628,000.
High Commission sources attributed the high percentage of rejected applications to forged documents and false presentations, but the High Commissioner was optimistic that with the inauguration of the centre, applicants would have credible and reliable information.
He explained that there would be trained staff on duty who would assist applicants in processing their forms to reduce the role of middlemen who usually misled applicants and charged prospective travellers exorbitant fees.
According to Mr Wetherell, the demand for UK visas was growing worldwide, thereby increasing the pressure on visa officers to process applications more efficiently.
“Consistent with the provisions of their own charter, which states that VFS centres dedicate themselves to creating value for their customers and striving towards perfection, I am confident that VFS and their partners will deliver outstanding services here in Ghana,” he said.
The Director of Visa Services at the British High Commission, Mr Andy Holden, said with the opening of the centre, the processing of applications could take between five and 15 days, depending on the travelling history of an applicant.
He said it would not take long for a person who had travelled before to get his or her documents processed, saying the documents of a first-time traveller would have to take some time.
He said there would be no need for people to go to the British High Commission to process their visa application forms, since the VFS had been mandated to do that.