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The cost of applying for a visa in the UK is already very high, and other economic factors such as the spousal visa income threshold mean that some individuals will be unable to apply for the right to live and work in the UK. This situation has been made worse with the introduction of a new rule which means applicants must pay £5.48 for every email sent to the customer service centre. The fee includes a message and follow-up message in the same thread, but a change of thread or topic would incur an additional £5.48 charge.
The changes were announced after the Home Office announced that it had contracted out its customer enquiries service for all UK visa applications to the private firm Sitel UK. In addition to the introduction of a fee for sending emails, the private company have also changed opening hours and reduced the number of languages that are offered on the service. Services will not be offered in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, French, Hindi, Russian and Spanish. The reason for the reduction in the number of languages made available is due to reports from the Home Office that other languages that were dropped from the service only made up four percent of the total calls and emails received.
There are concerns that the move will impact the tourism industry, which was responsible for 9.6 percent of total jobs in 2013. With Brexit also creating uncertainty, some are concerned that the extra barriers to obtaining a UK visa will mean that some tourists will simply look for other destinations with an easier visa process. Ufi Ibrahim, the chief executive of the British Hospitality Industry (BHA) spoke about the impact this would have on the tourism industry, saying: “Tourism is a highly price and time sensitive activity.” Putting up more barriers to entering the country is only going to hurt the tourism industry.
Charging a fee to contact customer service isn’t a new concept and applicants already face a £1.38 per minute charge for calling the customer service number. The number of languages available on the phone service will be cut from 20 to eight, including English. The information will still be on the website. According to the Home Office, one in 25 calls and emails will be affected by the change in available languages.