Victoria from our casework team accompanied a client to Manchester’s UKVCAS Core Centre in early December to see how / if it worked as advertised. This is what she found …
Go through the main entrance in Central Library and turn right to go downstairs to City Library. The UKVCAS centre is at the back of City Library. The library staff, when asked, recognise it as the ‘visa centre’.
There’s no obvious greeting point when you arrive; there was only one staff member with a raffle ticket book using this to organise appointments. He gave a raffle ticket to our client and we waited before he called out the number. He noted down the stage of the process on the raffle ticket booklet he kept hold of to keep track of where everyone was up to. He did mention to me that there were normally two people doing his job of greeting and organising the appointments, but that they were short-staffed today.
There’s no demarcation between the UKVCAS centre and the library. The staff member organised people onto four seats outside the biometric pods. Other clients sat at a computer bank which had four seats, but other library users took some of these spaces to access the internet etc. Mobility access seems fine, there are lifts and accessible bathrooms, just not much space. Once two families with young children in prams arrived there was almost no room. Also, I am not entirely sure if a person could fit in the biometric booth in a wheelchair.
There doesn’t seem to be anywhere to sit in the 3 cubicles next to the biometric pods. One young girl had a large boot on her leg for a broken bone and struggled to stay standing up while her family’s biometrics were checked.
On arrival, clients need to show their appointment confirmation so that the barcode can be scanned. Their passport also needs to be checked briefly. Clients are then given a raffle ticket which needs to be kept hold of throughout the process.
There were 3 biometric pods and three interview pods.
The client was asked to take his appointment confirmation page with the barcode and passport to one of the three cubicles. The staff there scanned the barcode and looked at passport, comparing it against the client (similar to an airport passport check).
The client’s biometric information was then taken. The biometrics booth used written English to instruct clients on what to do so some clients who were not confident in their English ability had to be directed by the staff member who was also organising all the applicants.
Our client was then recalled to the cubicle where a staff member checked his biometric information had been uploaded correctly and then scanned the entirety of the client’s passport. This took about fifteen minutes.
In total the appointment took an hour and twenty minutes.
I didn’t see any interpreters and there only seemed to two other members of staff present who stayed out of sight in the cubicles.
The staff member organising everyone was approachable and friendly, and people responded positively to him.
Some people seemed confused about the process, particularly about when to go. One woman tried to leave after submitting her biometric information and had to be called back to complete the appointment. It would have been easy for her to leave without UKVCAS staff noticing, however.
Due to the limited space, a family of 5 moved to a different section of the library and therefore missed their number being called. Eventually, they came to check on whether they were needed and were put back into the process.
After asking the staff, I was told that they have two scanners – one is for irregular sized documents and one is for A4 documents. Everyone waiting seemed to have opted to self-upload. The staff member mentioned that there is no colour scanning available and wasn’t willing to say exactly how long scanning a bundle the same size as our client’s would take.
One person couldn’t find his appointment barcode on arrival but was able to find the appointment confirmation in his email. He was able to use the email to be scanned for the appointment as well as for submitting his biometric information.