Home Office pledges better customer service for consuls

London’s consuls can expect a “massive improvement in customer service” and a new culture of openness following the restructuring of the UKBA, a senior Home Office official recently told the Consular Corps.

Jeremy Oppenheim predicted a change in culture within the smaller “more manageable” UK Visa and Immigration Service (UKVI), now under the leadership of Director General Sarah Rapson.

“The new Director General brings with her the view that migrants are customers,” said Mr Oppenheim, who is now in charge of ‘engagement’ at the Home Office.

Saying UKVI “owed the consular corps a relationship,” Mr Oppenheim disappointed consuls by adding that it was unlikely that the new service would be implementing a system of country or regional desk officers. Consuls have lobbied hard to have a single point of contact to handle difficult cases.

However, he personally offered to assist consuls when they were unable to get answers through the normal channels. “What is needed is a human being who responds to you and can speak plain English,” he said.

He also pledged to keep the Consular Corps informed of any new developments in immigration policy that may affect consuls and their nationals.

Referring to improvements in the pipeline, the Passport Pass-Back system got the most positive response from consuls.

This is a system being piloted in China where business travellers are able to make a visa application and have their passport returned to them on the same day for a fee.

In future, certain applicants (Tier 2, Indefinite Leave to Remain, student visa extensions and inter-country transfers) may also be eligible.

This will significantly reduce burden of issuing new or temporary travel documents for nationals who need to travel but cannot because their passports have been retained – and often lost – by the Home Office.

The Home Office is also looking to make the collecting of biometric data more efficient by sharing data with private companies and other countries, so that applicants do not have to travel great distances or to be fingerprinted every time an application is made.

Jeremy Oppenheim