Kampala. Ugandans who wish to get a United Kingdom visa will have to pay Shs£5.48[Shs25,427] for every email they send to the British government.
A private firm, Sitel UK, has been contracted to manage customer enquiries.
The charge, which applies to all non-UK residents, came into effect on June 1 but has been criticised as unjustifiable and unfair to people seeking visas, who have to pay other fees.
“The new contract will see a number of changes for customers, to help the government[UK] reduce costs and ensure those who benefit directly from the UK immigration system make an appropriate contribution,” Mr Samuel Paice, the head of communications at the British High Commission, said in an email response to our inquiry.
Mr Paice explained that the expense will include initial e-mail inquiry plus any follow-up e-mails to and from the contact centre relating to the same inquiry .
He added: “Phone calls for customers applying from outside the UK will continue to be paid for as they were previously, by credit or debit card. E-mails will be paid for by entering card details prior to submitting an inquiry . Customers who do not have access to a credit or debit card may choose to use a trusted third party such as an agent or sponsor,” he added.
The fee covers only general enquiries and not the full visa applications which are separate.
All phone numbers and opening hours for customers applying from Uganda have changed.
The English service phone line (+44 (0)203 481 1736) will be open 24 hours, from Monday to Friday while other languages will be available “at times that reflect standard business hours where possible”.
Mr Paice advised Ugandans wishing to apply for UK visas to take advantage of their website which he said has all the information they need.
“We provide free, comprehensive immigration and visa guidance and information through our website, at www.gov.uk. We recommend that those who have questions about the visa application process consult this website,” he said.
The number of languages the service has been providing has also been reduced. Previously, the service was offered in Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese, English, French, Guiarati, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Sinhala, Spanish, Tamil, Thai, Turkish, Urdu and Vietnamese.
Now it will offer English plus Arabic, Cantonese, French, Hindi, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish.
The UK Home Office says the cut to language services will affect one in 25 calls and e-mails to UKVI.