By way of introduction, the UK divides the world into two groups where visas are concerned. These are 'visa nationals' and 'non-visa nationals'. Pakistan, for example, is a visa national country and so citizens of Pakistan must apply for a visit visa before travelling here. Canada, on the other hand, is a non-visa national country, and Canadians can apply for a visit visa at a border control point, such as Heathrow. "Officially" this is the only difference between the two groups, but experience informs us that visa nationals will experience more difficulty in obtaining a visa, and this can be demonstrated by comparing the success rates of visa national countries to non-visa national countries.
Visas issued abroad are called 'entry clearances'.
Note that all nationalities require an entry clearance if they are coming to the UK for settlement.
Using these points as an introduction, we can proceed to discuss a generic work flow.
Applications arrive at a consulate in a number of different ways: a VAC, an internet application form, by post, or in-person. The date the consulate receives the application marks the beginning of its official processing time, which runs until a decision has been reached. Processing times are an agreed upon level of performance and are reported to Parliament. A typical performance level might be stated as "to reach a decision on 80% of all applications within 20 working days".
All applications are logged in to the Proviso System. This is a world-wide network of past and current applicants. Each application is given a unique reference number so that it can be recalled from, and updated in, the Proviso System.
Postal applications are opened by an ECA (Entry Clearance Assistant) and witnessed by a second ECA.
A senior member of the government may intervene at this point to give an application a "facilitation". When this happens, an entry is made in the Proviso System and a decision is made immediately.
If the application is for a category that does not attract the right of appeal, it may be selected as part of sample to be forwarded to the Chief Inspector. The Chief Inspector reports on decision quality among other things.
The application may be selected for analysis by one of the Risk Assessment Units. These units identify forged documents that are submitted as evidence for an application (bank statements, marriage licenses, and travel papers for example). Risk Assessment Units are located within large consulates where there has been a history of applications containing forged evidence.
If an interview is needed, it is scheduled and conducted. During the interview, the ECO may announce that the application has been successful, or the ECO may opt for a break to consider the decision further. Most applicants are told to return later that day to learn the decision and to retreive their travel documents. In fast-track countries, the interview may take place on the telephone and the applicant is informed of the results by email.
If the ECO decides the application is to be refused, a GV51 form is prepared which explains the rationale. GV51 forms usually carry the suffix LRA (limited right of appeal) or FRA (full right of appeal) or no right of appeal.
Refusals of non-appealable applications are further reviewed by the ECM - usually within 24 hours. Once a consulate has issued a refusal in this category, it cannot be reversed and the only course of action is for the applicant to submit a fresh application.
If the refusal attracts the right of appeal, the appeal forms are attached to the GV51. The consulate will not reverse a decision in this category without seeing the appeal forms filled out, but may later reverse its decision within the 28 day window if the appeal forms provide a reason to do so. Failed applications are sent to the AIT for processing.
Finally, The Visa Services Directorate issues an annual report on the number of successful and failed applications which is tallied by consulate, desk, and region. The report is available on the UKBA web site. Consulates report their adherence to agreed upon performance levels in a separate document.
Reviewed 5 May 2012