Families waiting for spouse visas say they feel forgotten as Home Office staff manage Homes for Ukraine workload
Families waiting for the results of visa applications say they are enduring huge emotional and financial turmoil because of long delays at the Home Office in processing their requests.
Couples separated because one member is not a British national say the wait for official paperwork to allow their husband or wife to enter the UK has become so long that lives are being left in a permanent state of limbo.
Spouse visas used to take around 12 weeks to be determined once official paperwork and face-to-face biometric appointments had been completed.
But there are growing reports that couples, and in some cases babies and young children they share, are now waiting six months or more to hear where and when they might be re-united in this country.
While the government's Passport Office is facing similar accusations of lengthy delays because of a backlog of applications, and the DVLA has been forced to defend its processing times for driving licences in recent months, the extensive wait time for family visas is understood to have been made worse because government officials responsible for allocating visas are also now managing a considerable additional workload in processing thousands of emergency applications under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
One man, who asked to remain anonymous, says he has been waiting over four months to hear if his wife can join him in the UK, despite starting their application in early December.
Having paid £3,000 to complete all the paperwork and attend official appointments the young couple, who married last November in Africa, were told on January 4 that their application had been transferred to the decision making centre but then got another email on March 20, around three weeks after war broke out in Ukraine, to say that officials will no longer be able to process their paperwork in 12 weeks because of the crisis.
He explained: "Every time we have contacted them we get a standard response saying 'Thank you for contacting UK Visas and Immigration International Contact Centre. With regards to your inquiry about the status of your application, I can confirm that your application is being considered and is currently awaiting a decision. We understand how frustrating these delays are and apologise for any inconvenience this may cause you' and they are unable to provide an estimated time line of when the decision could be made.
"There are so many people in the same boat as us."
An adult can apply for a spouse or partner visa if they can prove either they're in a civil partnership or marriage that is recognised in the UK, that they've been living together in a relationship for at least two years at the point of applying or that they're already a fiancé, fiancée or proposed civil partner and will marry or enter into a civil partnership in the UK within six months of arriving.
Often these are couples where one half has been working away from the UK abroad, met someone from oversees and started a family, and then the work placement has ended or the job has changed and they wish to bring their spouse and children back to Britain.
Families awaiting visas also aren't able to use holidays or short visits back and forth to also remain in close contact because all passports and identification documents are taken by officials when the application is made, so separated couples or parents can't see each other again until visa decisions are finalised and passports and other travel or ID documents returned.
Social media is full of desperate tales from families, both couples and those with children, awaiting news of their visa applications while each email to the UK Visas and Immigration department, they say, to check the status and progress of an application which has been submitted also costs almost £3 to submit before you can get an update.
The young IT worker added: "We understand there are delays due to the Ukrainian crisis but we feel like we have been forgotten about.
"These delays are unacceptable and are causing frustration, anxiety and a negative impact on our mental health for both my wife and myself.
"We’ve been away from each other for five months now and this isn’t the ideal start to married life. We have gone down the correct route with the fees and yet they can’t process it or give us an estimated decision time.
"It’s extremely frustrating not knowing when the visa will arrive and when my wife will be here with me to start a life together."