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Entry Clearances: Kyrgyzstan

Volume 485: debated on Monday 15 December 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department with reference to the answer of 24 November 2008, Official Report, column 1054W, on Kyrgyzstan: entry clearances, what critical IT failures were responsible for frustrating the efforts of the entry clearance team in Almaty in respect of the application made on behalf of Kyrgyz musicians and performers invited to the UK by the Kyrgyz Ambassador; and if she will make a statement. (240780)

When the musicians first attempted to submit their biometrics on 10 October there was a problem with the biometrics IT and consequently their biometrics results were not processed successfully.

When they returned on 28 October the satellite system of the Almaty office failed for reasons which have not yet been fully identified. This failure meant that post were unable to receive the results of any biometrics checks and were unable to send e-mails.

The following week (between 3-10 November) Almaty was to be transferred from a satellite connection to a leased line connection. The purpose of this connection is to provide a more robust carrier for the IT applications that are used by such a post. The supplier of the FTN service, Global Crossing (GC) has worked closely with telecom providers in the local region to allow such a connection to be possible as well as working with the technical teams within FCOS. During this installation, unforeseen technical problems were encountered by the local telecom provider that resulted in the new leased line being delayed until being made operational on the morning of 21 November.

Any loss of service is taken extremely seriously and reasonable efforts were taken to restore the service at the earliest opportunity.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when the application for entry clearance to the UK in respect of musicians and performers invited by the Kyrgyz Ambassador was first received; and on what dates the application was processed in (a) Kyrgyzstan, (b) Almaty, (c) Astana and (d) London. (240781)

The visa applications submitted by musicians and performers invited by the Kyrgyz Ambassador were received at the British Embassy Office Almaty on 10 October 2008. Due to technical difficulties the three musicians were asked to re-submit their applications on 29 October. That same day a further, but different failure in the IT system meant that post was unable to process any visa applications for two weeks. The musicians elected to retrieve their passports during this time. Their applications have yet to be processed and the British Embassy Office in Almaty is awaiting further instructions from the musicians as to whether they wish to proceed with their applications or withdraw their applications (with a full refund). Applications from these musicians and performers have not been received or processed in (a) Kyrgyzstan, (c) Astana and (d) London.

The UK Border Agency has reviewed whether it is possible for a Visa Application Centre, operated by its Commercial Partners, VFS, to open in Bishkek. On average, six applicants from Bishkek apply for visas every day. This low number means that it is not economically viable to operate a Visa Application Centre, although we are exploring whether we are able to partner with other countries and open a shared centre.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department for what reasons, following the move of the British Embassy in Kazakhstan from Almaty to Astana, entry clearance to the UK is being processed in Almaty rather than Astana; and if she will make a statement. (240782)

Although Astana does not process visa applications, staff there are able to accept applications from Government officials, which are then processed in Almaty. Given the number of applicants, it was not considered viable to run visa processing operations in both Astana and Almaty. It was concluded that because Almaty is a more accessible regional hub than Astana - important when considering how to deal with Kyrgyz applications, given that there is no Embassy there - and that the city is significantly larger than Astana, it was considered to be the most appropriate centre.