Bureaucratic glitch: UK suspends visa enrolment for American citizens

Julian Borger in Washington

Biometric enrolment for American citizens seeking to move to the UK has been suspended for more than two weeks because the British government missed a payment to the Department of Homeland Security, according to sources familiar with the bureaucratic glitch.

Americans applying for work, study or settlement visas have been turned away from application support centres in the US which take the necessary fingerprints and photographs because of the suspension in service. Foreign nationals applying from the US were also affected.

The UK Home Office described the problem as a “technical issue” but provided no further details.

A source familiar with the problem said a British payment did not clear before a deadline and so the US Citizenship and Immigration Services cut off the service at the end of March. Applicants were advised to apply through a private company, VFS Global, which charges nearly $2,000 (£1,500) for a fast-track service.

“The biometric enrolment service provided by the Department of Homeland Security is temporarily suspended due to a technical issue,” a Home Office statement on Monday said. “We are working to restore the service as soon as possible and apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

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The Home Office declined to give further details of the “technical issue”.

The statement said that the UK government was trying to organise free appointments at VFS for affected US applicants, and noted that US nationals making temporary visits to the UK are unaffected by the issue.

Neither the US Citizenship and Immigration Services nor the Department of Homeland Security headquarters responded to a request for comment.

Visa applicants who arrive at application support centres have been given a slip of paper saying: “Due to unanticipated events we are unable to accept UK visa applicants at this time. We are working closely with the UK to resolve this and hope to begin processing again soon.”

“Whether it’s the special relationship or the basic functioning of a government, this stuff shouldn’t happen,” said a source whose family was affected by the temporary shutdown. “It’s affecting a lot of people and costing UK citizens and their US partners thousands of dollars.”