UK visa refusals have risen by 18% over the past year. Combined with a marked restriction in the number of visas - particularly student visas - currently being awarded, there are some who argue that there has never been a more difficult time to secure a visa to live and work in the UK.

With immigration an increasingly high profile subject for political debate - witness the intervention of senior figures of the Church of England this autumn - and one seemingly that politicians such as are happy to politicise for their own personal agendas, the scenario for anyone seeking to apply for a UK visa is hardly encouraging.

On the plus side, the UK continues to award visas to suitably qualified individuals who meet the relevant criteria and - importantly - who are able to deal with the complex and highly bureaucratic application procedure. Government figures for the first quarter of 2015, for example, show that 543,647 visas were granted, an increase of 1% on the equivalent period 12 months earlier.

But with application numbers also rising, the process of application is being used as a means to slow down the numbers who are granted access to the UK. In particular, many applications can be rejected purely on administrative grounds - e.g. if the paper work is not completed perfectly. Additionally, with the right to an automatic appeal now restricted - administrative review is the far more legally restricted alternative - the necessity to make the first application as near-perfect as it is possible to achieve simply cannot be overstated.

The result is that the process of applying for a UK visa is becoming increasingly professionalised. The odds are now stacked against any private individual attempting to navigate the system without professional assistance. The rising number of visa refusals need not be a reason not to apply, but it is a signal that it is not something that should be undertaken without expert professional assistance.