Laura Davies » Deputy High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives

Laura Davies

Former Deputy High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives

Part of Chevening Conversations UK in Sri Lanka

18th August 2016 Colombo, Sri Lanka

Visas made easy…

Since arriving in Sri Lanka, I have become a bit of an expert on visas.  In fact, when my phone rings, there’s almost a one in two chance that someone is calling about their visa.

Getting a visa can be complex, frustrating and time-consuming.  My colleagues in UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) work really hard to fulfil a difficult mandate: giving a swift service to legitimate applicants, while spotting and weeding out the fraudulent applications.  It’s a stressful job, and they do it very well.

VFS Global visa application centre in Colombo
VFS Global visa application centre in Colombo

August is one of their busiest months: from students to holidaymakers, everyone wants a visa to the UK.  Applications from Sri Lanka and Maldives are processed in Chennai.  Their target is a 15 working day turnaround for all non-settlement applications. A lot of the frustration I field comes from people who just haven’t allowed three weeks for their visa: it’s an avoidable own-goal for applicants.  If you need your passport during that time, then VFS offers a Passport Pass-back service, which allows you to keep your passport until a visa is ready for printing.

British High Commissioner James Dauris (centre) during a recent visit to the Visa Application Centre in Colombo
British High Commissioner James Dauris (centre) during a recent visit to the Visa Application Centre in Colombo

British High Commissioner James Dauris (centre) during a recent visit to the Visa Application Centre in Colombo

Another source of frustration used to be the complexity of the form itself.  Fortunately, the UK Home Office, the government department responsible for immigration, has just launched a new intuitive visa application form. You can see it at Access UK. It’s shorter, more logically ordered, displays the application fee in local currency, and can be viewed in a range of languages, including Tamil, with Sinhala to follow soon.  There are a number of other benefits too, including a quicker, mobile friendly application form which can pre-populate a Schengen form so customers can apply for both visas with less effort. It’s available to anyone from Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan or Bhutan who is applying for a visa to visit the UK.

The summer rush is also down to the number of students heading to the UK on Tier 4 visas. The UK remains the second most popular destination in the world for international higher education students. We’ve seen a 16% increase in student visa applications for universities since 2010, and a 39% increase in visa applications to study at our elite Russell Group universities. We continue to have an excellent offer for graduates seeking to undertake skilled work in the UK after their studies.

One of our Chevening Scholars Nadeeka Jayaweera at St. John’s College, Cambridge.
One of our Chevening Scholars Nadeeka Jayaweera at St. John’s College, Cambridge.

The Home Office is also testing a pilot programme with four universities, delegating eligibility checks to the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Bath and Imperial College London for Master’s courses of 13 months or less.  This means that their students can submit fewer documents with their visa applications, simplifying the process further. These students will also be granted up to six months leave at the end of their courses, allowing them more time to find a suitable graduate level job and switch to a work visa route.

This year we will also be offering a special service once again to students from Maldives, hosting a temporary visa service in Malé on 24 August 2016. The service is aimed at students from Maldives who would otherwise have to travel to Colombo to submit their application for a UK visa. The temporary Visa Application Centre will be based at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the deadline for booking an appointment is 22 August 2016. This was a big success last year, and I hope it will be again.

The UK encourages all genuine visa applicants.  We hope these services will mean a more hassle-free application process for visitors and students this summer – and less time on the phone for me!

Applications for 2017/2018 Chevening Scholarships and Fellowships for Sri Lanka and Maldives are now open. You can read about some of the experiences of recent scholars in the following blogs: How Chevening changed my life, A Maldivian experience of Chevening and Teaming up to transform the world with Chevening.

16 comments on “Visas made easy…

  1. Dear Laura,
    Thank you for the wonderful article which explains how much has been done to make the visa process smoother. But with my own experience, I’m extremely sorry to say that it is not the case. With all such wonderful procedures and processes in place, I am still waiting for a decision on my PBS Tier 4 Student Visa Application even after twenty four (24) Business Days have gone past since I have paid my Visa Fee online. I have made two calls to inquire about the status of my application after paying nearly Rs. 10,000/- but only response which I have received thus far was that it has been escalated.
    I understand totally that some applications might take longer than usual 15 Working Days promise but I expect at least an email or a telephone call to update the applicant of such delay as stated in the Home Affairs website. But the only communication which I have received thus far was the acknowledgement of receipt of my online application.
    Appreciate if you can suggest a way to find out more information about this delay?
    Thanking you in advance.

  2. When applying for the EEA family permit, residents of Maldives need to travel to Colombo because the temporary service is not available in Male. Is there a temporary travel document Maldivian applicants receive in order to return to Maldives after they have submitted their passport in Colombo as part of the application for a UK visa?

    Or do they need to either:
    a) stay in Colombo for the duration of the visa processing time or
    B) pay for the passport pass back service and return when the visa is ready? If so, do they get the visa straight away upon return or is there again a processing time once the real passport has been submitted?

    1. Thank you for your query. A Maldivian National will require a visa to enter and stay in Sri Lanka. The Maldivian HC provides temp travel docs and a visa on arrival service. Details will be relevant for the Maldivian HC to respond.

      With reference to applying for a UK visa – processing time of 15 working days apply. If a customer has opted for Passport Pass back service it will take 3-5 working days to return the passport. It should be noted that the passport cannot be couriered from Sri Lanka to Maldives. You will have to make plans to collect the passport from Sri Lanka. All other user pay service is available for use.

      Another way of collecting the passport is through a service offered by the Maldivian HC that involves the Maldivian HC collecting the passport on behalf of the customer from Sri Lanka and then couriering it from within the Maldives.

      “…Those Maldivians who wish to travel to any of the country for official, business or visit purposes, the Embassy acts as a intermediate for lodging the application form, collecting of Passports from the respective Embassies/High Commission or the usual visa facilitation service in Colombo. The Embassy also facilitates in collecting and forwarding passports via established procedure for those applicants who have lodged their visa application through VFS Centre in Colombo…”
      Please note that lodging a UK Visa application form has to be done in person, collection can be via the Maldivian Embassy. More about this service is available at

      I would also encourage you to look here for more information on UK Visa services

      Similar to last year we hope to host a Temporary Visa Service in Male this August.

  3. Informative discussion , I was fascinated by the insight , Does anyone know if my assistant could possibly get a fillable GSA SF 91 example to work with ?

  4. Dear Laura!
    I read the blog, it’s very useful.I’m planing to take my PLAB Part 2(OSCE) exam & to undertake Clinical Attachment in UK,for that, I have to apply for a Standard Visitor Visa, if I need to extend the visa is it possible to do it while I’m in UK?

  5. I’m studying in srilankan UGC recognized university following BBA course…
    I’m interested to study in UK
    Can i apply any courses in UK university
    I ‘m willing to apply the scoloship courses

    1. Four of the world’s top 10 universities are in the UK, as are 18 of the top 100, so it’s a great place to choose for higher and further education. For more information about your options, the British Council is a good place to start. You might like to sign up for their Mini Education UK exhibition taking place in Colombo on 10 September for the opportunity to meet representatives from a wide range of distinguished UK universities.
      Good luck with your studies!

  6. Hi, Could you please let me know whether Maldivian student visa applicants could submit their visa application to the VFS office in Chennai, or Bangalore?

    1. Thanks for reading the blog. Yes, as a Maldivian student, you are welcome to apply for a student visa in the location that is most convenient to you, whether that is Chennai, Bangalore or, of course, Colombo. Just last week, we ran a temporary visa application centre out of the Ministry of External Affairs in Male, precisely to support student applications, but I’m afraid we won’t be back again until next year.

      1. Thank you for replying so promptly to my question. Could you also please let me know how and whether I would be able to get a letter from the High Com confirming that, just so there is no confusion when I apply for the visa in India, as the route does not seem to be a commonly utilised route.

        1. Glad you found the reply useful. You won’t need a letter, but you might like to contact your closest VFS Visa Application Centre in advance so they know to expect you. You can find all their contact details at:

  7. Thank you very much for your lovely detail..i just have a question does british visa allows to schengan countries..mean can i visit with british visa

    1. Glad you enjoyed the blog. The UK is not part of the Schengen Agreement, so you would need a Schengen visa to visit any Schengen country. However, our new Access form (LINK) automatically populates a Schengen visa form for you, simplifying the process of applying for multiple visas. The Passback scheme also allows you to keep your passport until your UK visa is ready to issue. Enjoy your trip! Laura

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