Concerns raised over Home Office benefiting financially from VFS' sales of premium services
The Independent investigates Home Office's outsourcing of visa applications to Dubai-based multinational VFG Global
19 August 2019
Following on from last week's investigation into Home Office profits by The Times newspaper, The Independent yesterday took an in-depth look at the Home Office's outsourcing of visa applications to the Dubai-based multinational VFG Global (see The Independent's four articles here, here, here and here) .
VFS, which is owned by holding companies in Jersey, the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg, processes visa applications for over 60 countries, including the UK.
An investigation by The Independent and Finance Uncovered found that the Home Office has made £1.6bn from visa applicants since outsourcing the majority of overseas visa services in 2014.
According to The Independent, the profit the Home Office makes on average for each visa application has increased in that time from £28.73 to £122.56.
The Independent's investigation also found that VFS had increased its average revenue per applicant by 38 per cent in the two years between 2016 and 2018 by selling premium services to applicants.
A Freedom of Information request made by Finance Uncovered found that the Home Office takes an undisclosed percentage of the revenues generated by VFS' sales of premium services.
ILPA's Nicole Francis told The Independent that ILPA was concerned about the Home Office benefiting from the "poor level of service" provided by VFS.
Francis said VFS' premium services "may exploit vulnerable and less well-informed migrants, who may feel pressured to purchase an expensive service which will not provide them with any benefit".
One solicitor told The Independent: "We are often told by our clients that they were led to believe their application would not be processed until and unless the extras were purchased. Our clients have repeatedly said that it is the kind of behaviour they would expect from their own authorities but not from the UK authorities who they feel have 'integrity'."
Stephanie Boyce of the Law Society said: "The Home Office's duty to ensure contracted visa and immigration services are reasonably priced is undermined if it benefits from increased revenue generation. We want to see far greater accountability and transparency in outsourced visa and immigration services – a review of domestic and overseas arrangements with contractors is urgently needed."
Labour's Paul Blomfield was among MPs calling for an urgent review into the Government's outsourcing of immigration services.
"Outsourcing visa applications has led to poor service and high costs. The Home Office and private companies are making billions from ordinary people paying through the nose for visa applications. It's not fair and ripping them off damages the UK's international reputation," Bloomfield was quoted as saying.
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott called the charges "truly shocking" and said profiteering by private companies had no place in public services.
In response, the Home Office told The Independent that it demanded the highest standards from service providers. The Home Office added that it did not make a profit from visa applications and the income generated funded the wider immigration system.