Snafu forces reset for U.K. visa program

by Setsuko Kamiya

The 1,000 applicants who booked appointments with the British Embassy for this year’s working holiday visas will need to book again next week because the system started taking applications a day earlier than scheduled.

In the interest of fairness, the online application system for the limited number of Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme visas for Japanese citizens will start over again at noon Monday, the embassy said.

The embassy said the booking system is run by VFS Global, which also handles the program’s visa operations. Although the U.K. Border Agency announced that booking was to start at midnight Jan. 1, the VFS booking system erroneously started accepting applications Dec. 31.

“We obviously apologize sincerely for any problems that have been caused as a result of the problem with the system,” said Anthony Preston, the embassy’s deputy head of media relations.

According to Preston, VFS Global is contacting people who booked visits Dec. 31 to let them know their appointments have been canceled and that they need to try again.

Working holiday visas allow applicants who want to take a holiday in the issuing country to work there during the visa’s term of validity. They are mainly targeted at young people for the purpose of promoting greater mutual understanding between the countries.

After word spread last month that visa appointments could be booked earlier than advertised, applicants rushed to apply and filled the remaining slots in just a few hours.

Many angry, upset and disappointed applicants protested to the British Embassy and the U.K. Visa Application Centers in Tokyo and Osaka on Tuesday, when the offices opened for the new year.

Minoru Ikegashira, president of CEC Japan Network, an Osaka-based firm that supports people applying for working holiday visas or opportunities to study in the U.K., said one of his clients discovered the oversight Dec. 31 because the same thing happened last year.

In 2009, when the starting date for online registration hadn’t been set yet, the industry found out it was Dec. 15, setting off a frenzy of scrutiny that led some people to discover they were actually able to apply a day earlier. That put some visa hopefuls on alert this time as well, he said.

“This year, the starting date of the registration was officially set for Jan. 1, and it was clearly stated that the registration would not begin anytime earlier than that,” he noted.

The embassy doesn’t plan to allow any exceptions or increase the number of visa slots because the number has been set according to an agreement between Japan and the U.K., Preston said.

Japan also has working holiday visa deals with Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea, France, Germany, Ireland, Denmark, Taiwan and Hong Kong.