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Saturday, September 05, 2015

Applying for Canadian Visit Visa from the UK

Being a non-British, I do need to apply for a visa if I plan to visit Canada. Below is an account of my experience of the overall process. Please note that below is not an immigration or application advice in any way; just an account of how I applied for my visa.

Canadian visa applications can be submitted in-person, by-post or online. I would have preferred in-person if I was living close to London, but I wasn't. The next preference was to apply online as post usually takes days and I personally don't like the (albeit slim) chances of getting mail lost.

I found out that online applications are submitted via Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website. A lot of scanning is required if you don't have the documents scanned already. On the other hand, in-person applications probably need photocopies; they are submitted via VFS Global's Canadian Visa Application Centre (CVAC) in London. As far as I know, in-person applications can only be submitted in London. The CVAC website has a lot of information about the application process.

Step 0 - Getting Ready

One needs to gather all documents required. In my case, I found that the following should be sufficient to support my visa application:

  • Invitation Letter from Canada
  • Sponsorship Letter from the Current Employer
  • Old and Current Passport
  • Biometric Residence Permit
  • Recent Payslips
  • University Degree
  • A few months' Bank Statement
  • Photograph (although this is not really used in some cases, as stated later)

Step 1 - Online Application and Scanning Documents

If you are applying online, you'll need to generate something called a GCKey. This will be the id to login to the online application system.

Application forms are available for download as PDF. One of the things that I found that the application form needed details of all family members, including spouse, children, parents and siblings.

As I said earlier, a lot of scanning was required. The online application form has various categories and only one file (such as a PDF or JPG) is accepted. This means that for something like "Travel History", if I need to scan multiple old passports, all of them should be submitted as a single PDF. Moreover, there are restrictions on the file size too. One of the tools that I found very useful in merging scanned documents is PDF Joiner.

There are special requirements for submitting a photograph online. One needs to read the file size, resolution and other details carefully.

Step 2 - Pay and Submit Online

I submitted the application with supporting documents online. In my case, I need to pay the application fee as well as the biometrics collection fee via credit card.

The application processing times based on application centres are listed online.

Step 3 - Biometrics Collection (Surprise, Surprise)

Once I applied online, I received a message to submit biometrics collection. I found out that I did need to visit CVAC in London for this. This was a surprise for me because the whole idea behind the online application was to avoid taking time off from work just to visit the application centre. Any ways, I had to do it. The online documents that I took with me were my passport and a print-out of the biometrics collection letter. I found out that there is no need to book an appointment.

If you are planning to visit, make sure that you are not planning to visit on a public holiday/ closure date. Also, do make a note of the opening timings and the address.

At CVAC, they will take the collection letter and passport from you. They will take your fingerprints and a photograph, and return your passport after a while. This will be forwarded to the CIC authorities directly by CVAC.

Note - Security Regulations
Although there is a long list of prohibited items, I found that CVAC doesn't have an airport like security system. Coming from a different city, I did need to carry a mobile phone and keys, which didn't cause any problems at security. Previously, visiting the US embassy for a different purpose, I did find out that even taking a set of keys could be problematic, but not with CVAC.

Step 4 - Sending Your Passport

If your application is successful, you will need to send in your passport, once again via VFS Global's CVAC. I am not sure if there are multiple ways of sending the passport, but what I did was as follows: I sent my passport and additional fee (detailed next) to CVAC, who forwarded it to CIC. The additional charges cover the cost of forwarding the passport to CIC as well as the return postage. They payment this time has to be as postal order, bank draft or demand draft. Service charges for the two items can be found on CVAC's website.

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