HC Deb 01 May 2001 vol 367 cc733-4
2. Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

If he will make a statement on the waiting time for visa applications submitted to the British high commission in Dhaka. [158608]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)

I am pleased to report considerable improvement in recent months. All straightforward visit visa applications are resolved within 24 hours. Applicants for visit visas that require an in-depth interview currently wait eight days.

Current queues for settlement visa applications are: 18 weeks for right of abode and dependent relatives over 65; 26 weeks for spouses and dependent children; 18 weeks for fiancés and other settlement categories; and 38 weeks for reapplicants.

Ms King

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I also wish to put on record my thanks to Adrian Loxton, the second secretary at the British high commission in Dhaka. He and his team have worked incredibly hard to reduce waiting times for settlement applications. Will the Minister reassure me that our post in Dhaka will receive the necessary resources so that applicants do not have to wait longer than people in any other part of the world? Will he also give us some idea of when the new visa section in Sylhet will open? If he does not have the information to hand, perhaps he will write to me about it because it is important to my constituents.

Mr. Wilson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her comments about the staff in Dhaka. I will ensure that her message, which will be much appreciated, is conveyed to them. Like me, they know of her long-standing interest in the matter.

The number of applications in Dhaka continues to increase. It is a busy post, and the first three months of the year show an increase of 36 per cent. in new applications. To some extent, that reflects the better service that is being provided. However, we are working on providing additional staff for Dhaka to improve matters further.

I assure my hon. Friend that plans for Sylhet are going ahead and that there is a close working relationship with Dhaka. Premises have been identified for the new office. The high commissioner has the seen the proposed premises and we hope to establish the section later this year. We will certainly do so according to the tightest timetable. I shall write to my hon. Friend with further information.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Will the Minister confirm that a new visa section will open in Sylhet? When will that happen? In the meantime, will the immigration advisory service be funded fairly for its invaluable work and advice in that part of Bangladesh?

Mr. Wilson

The function of the office in Sylhet is to provide advice and information to visa applicants in the region. The staff will be able to accept, check and forward applications to Dhaka for decision. However, the additional cost of posting UK-based entry clearance staff to Sylhet permanently would have been unacceptable.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

The Minister reported figures that revealed that spouses and their children trying to join people here in Britain still have to wait six months in Bangladesh for an interview for entry clearance. We have made great progress in speeding up some of the queues, so will we soon be able to tell our constituents that they will not have to wait that long for their families to be reunited?

Mr. Wilson

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. The figures that I quoted show that two of the four categories are still falling short of their targets. In the case of spouses and dependent children, the target is 13 weeks and the actual figure is 26 weeks. I assure her that every effort will be made to reach the target figure and that the necessary investment and resources will be put into ensuring that that can happen. I hope that that is a positive message. Equally, I hope that it sends a positive message that so much has been done in recent months to improve the previous position.

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