Computer Says No

Computer Says No

A few weeks ago I had a diary reminder that the business needed to take action as a staff member’s visa would be due to expire in a number of months. Nothing extraordinary about this except it required application for a Sponsorship Licence if we wished to retain non EEA staff employed on post study visas.

Immigration is a serious thing and when I saw the size of the guidance notes I stopped in my tracks. This is the new system? I downed tools and started to read what the business was committing to via my signature. Well, I say signature but actually not. The UKBA is online only; not a paper application form in sight.

I consider myself to be fairly IT savvy – I manage to post these blogs and can handle Internet banking but, other than pay road tax online, I can’t think that I’ve had to make use of a government IT process. Well, now I have and finally I’m out the other end but it isn’t without emotional scars and a less that positive view.

As with most sites as a user I had to set up an account with security issued user name and editable password. The ‘small’ thing that I hadn’t realised is that the UKBA login screens vary and the username/password combo could only be used in one area. What set my login screen apart was the lack of size 8 font in the thin dark blue line underneath the logo. Apparently. So my logic that creating a business user account would always take me through to the business section was my first #fail.

Next I took advantage of the ability to save data as I went along. My wisdom and foresight is frankly amazing except, it appears, that the save functionality is known to be problematic: bye-bye semi completed document; hello head to desk. I thought I would ring the call centre and a 23 minute wait later i’m told I’ve made the wrong selection from the choice of 1 or 2 (‘help – your online application is driving me nuts not being available’) and I’m asked to call back as they can’t actually transfer me to another department. I also could consider calling between 2 and 3 when they are quieter. Call centre staffing #fail.

Calling back within those times and I get through and I’m told to wave goodbye to saved info, to start again and complete start to finish in one hit. But, in the meantime they’ll send links to proformas. Great I say – knowing that will really help me to be prepared.

The information arrives and the link is broken so I go round and round trying to trigger the link until I down tools and give up. The next day I start again and complete it all except for one question for which I click on the ‘help’ button. Until this point I was well ahead of myself feeling confident at my progress yet the wording of the help section perplexed me so much I had to take legal advice! It transpires that leaving a word out of a definition total distorts the value of the help function and is costly too.

So finally I get there. Payment made on line and I fist pump the air. Now to conclude the online process I copy and certify documents and put them in the post…

I’m sure you feel sorry for me (i jest) but there were other thoughts running through my mind as I ‘enjoyed’ the experience. How bad would this experience have been if english weren’t my first language or if I hadn’t (finally) been able to complete the process on my own? Incomplete, wrong or just downright expensive? There are implications for getting things wrong which have human outcomes. At times it did cross my mind that the process was designed to stop applications but what if the ‘too difficult’ light comes on mid-way through? Do people, like me, down tools but then decide not to bother to carry on?

The site clearly contains a lot of information but its not user friendly – I had to wade through a lot of gumpf to get what i needed. @_Millymoo published a blog talking about the journey to access court forms. Much of what Milly said resonated with my recent experience; if something isn’t obvious online it reduces access. And finally the cost: £1025 of your english pounds to employ people lawful.

And that’s the thing about rules: if you care about them and getting it right you’ll do what’s needed. A process or procedure should never be a barrier to entry; it should be an enabler.

Postscript (8/12/2011):  It wouldn’t be fair to leave the post without adding the outcome.  My company is now the proud owner of a Sponsorship Licence and actually, giving credit where credit is due, the process once the forms went in was very smooth.  Now to tackle the Sponsorship Management System (SMS)….

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