BHC Lost 4,000 Pakistani Passports Contract of firm handling UK visas cancelled
ISLAMABAD: A courier service handling UK visa applications has lost its contract and the management of British High Commission’s service provider running visa application centres has been forced to quit amid a controversy over stolen visa stickers and lost and defaced passports.But, emergence of another case of defaced passports after the two companies were forced out suggests possible involvement of elements inside the high commission in the scam.
The issue is believed to have been discussed during the visit of United Kingdom Border Agency chief Lin Homer’s visit to Islamabad earlier this week.
Ms Homer, whose agency manages Britain’s visa operations, apart from discussions with Interior Minister Rehman Malik and senior FIA officials held a number of internal meetings at the BHC, some of which were attended by the staff of Gerrys the subcontractor for VFS.
Other topics discussed during the meetings pertained to visa application procedures, transfer of passports to Abu Dhabi hub and verification of passports by FIA.
A large number of passports, possibly running into thousands according to Pakistani investigators, had been lost by the BHC or were defaced during processing of visa applications last year. The findings of the investigations instituted by the high commission have neither been shared with the Pakistani officials nor has there been a public statement on their outcome.
Though people nervous about consequences of loss of their documents including identity theft, keenly wait to know what happened to their passports, BHC merely states:“We have fully investigated the lost passports and implemented new safeguards to provide additional protection against further losses.” The high commission officially admits to have lost 150 passports. Additionally, several visa stickers of Western countries were also stolen from the passports of visa seekers.
The Pakistan based management of VFS – an Indian origin company, which is Britain’s one of the global partners for visa services, had resigned recently.
The company which didn’t have any authorisation to work here, senior Pakistani officials insist, operated illegally.
A BHC spokesman said:“VFS is UKBA’s contracted commercial partner in Pakistan and in many countries across the world. VFS subcontracts its operations in Pakistan to Gerrys to provide visa application facilities in Pakistan. We encourage our commercial partners to look for value for money with all of their subcontractors and one area that was recently reviewed was the arrangements in place for couriering documents pertaining to visa applications.”
The spokesman defended VFS working in Pakistan, saying it functioned within the ambit of law.
“There is no question of any company sanctioned by BHC operating unlawfully.” However, he admitted that VFS had to subcontract its operations to Gerrys – a local company – to comply with the local regulations.
Sources in Gerrys, which has also fired number of its employees for whistle blowing, confirmed that change in courier service and forced quitting of VFS managers was related to the affair.
Subsequent to these changes, a source disclosed, another case of a passport book with a torn page was reported.“One of the visa seekers after getting back his passport reported that a page had been removed,” the source said adding the incident shocked many who believed that the changes would stem the problem