UAE - Many UAE expatriates, who wished to travel to the UK for the summer holidays, were forced to cancel their holiday plans as the visitor visa processing time now exceeds seven weeks.

Residents with plans to visit their loved ones, attend graduation ceremonies and weddings, and those with leisure travel itineraries were forced to cancel plans as their travel documents did not make it ‘back on time’.

The delays are part of wider failings in visa processing that have left families stuck waiting to return to the UK. Adding to the travel woes, London Heathrow Airport’s decision to cap the number of departing passengers at 100,000 a day to limit queues, baggage delays and cancellations has also begun impacting flight schedules.

Monica Banerjee, an HR professional based in Dubai, said she submitted her application to Visa Facilitation Services Global (VFS) on May 10. She hoped to attend her only son’s graduation ceremony at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland.

“His graduation ceremony came and went. I was stuck in Dubai without my passport or visa,” said Banerjee. She finally received her visa in July, shortly after her son’s graduation ceremony.

In an emailed statement, the UK Home Office confirmed that standard visitor visa applications take, on average, seven weeks to process. However, some applications might take longer. “The ongoing visa delays are due to several factors including significantly higher demand since the end of the pandemic, due to the ease of travel restrictions and vaccine roll-out,” added the statement.

“UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) are working hard to process applications to get back to the three-week service standard,” the Home Office has promised.

British mission reintroduced the limited priority and super priority services, offering faster processing of visitor visas from the UAE on July 15, bringing much-needed respite to travellers still awaiting their travel documents. “UKVI continues to respond to urgent and compassionate cases, where applicable,” added the statement.

Banerjee said, “When I finally got the visa, I just kept my passport back inside. It was heartbreaking. My sisters flew down from the US to meet me in the UK and attend my son’s graduation. I wasn’t able to see them either.”

The HR consultant said the lack of communication or assistance from the British missions made the process extremely frustrating. “Every time I went to the mission or VFS, all they asked me to do was send an email. There were no responses to that email. My passport was with them for nearly two months. Luckily, I didn’t need it during that time,” said Monica.

A spokesperson for VFS Global told Khaleej Times, “UKVI is currently prioritizing applications made under the Ukraine Scheme. As a result, applications for a visit, transit, study, work and family visas may take longer to process.”

However, UKVI applicants may avail of the ‘Keep My Passport When Applying’ service, wherein applicants can hold on to their passports until UKVI requests it. “This service is optional and available at an additional cost,” VFS explained.

Jamie Holiday, a British expatriate, said, “My wife and I were hoping to travel to the UK for the summer. She’s from Brazil and realizing there would be difficulty in getting a visa, I applied well in advance. We planned to leave the first week of July and applied for the visa in late May. When we didn’t hear back from them even end of June, we lost all hope and cancelled the plans and all other bookings.”

The couple received the visa two days after they resumed work. “We’re hoping to make it home for Christmas,” said Jamie.

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