A British man has not seen his Sudanese wife and five-year-old son for more than a year amid a lengthy Home Office battle to reunite his family.
Dylan Watkins returned home from a secondment with the British Council in Sudan in September 2019 and began applying for his son and two daughters’ British citizenship while saving to pay for his wife Moram Elhassan’s family visa application.
“I spent two years in the UK alone through the Covid lockdown trying to get my kids’ passports done,” Mr Watkins told the Standard.
“I was met with stumbling block after stumbling block. The separation anxiety I had to go through… it was just awful.”
He claimed the Home Office printed an error on his son’s passport, stating he was born in South Africa when he was actually born in Sudan. Mr Watkins said the mistake took the Home Office months to fix.
“It was just a clerical error that cost our family six months,” he said.
The children’s British passports were issued in November 2021.
His two daughters, Laila, 7 and Olivia, 6, moved to Cambridge to live with Mr Watkins a month later when the situation in Sudan intensified and it was time for them to attend school.
Ms Elhassan moved to Cairo, Egypt with their young son Lawrence and applied for a family visa at the start of July 2022. She is still awaiting a decision.
“We thought it was important to get the [children] here as soon as possible because we didn’t think it would take that much longer to get [my wife’s] visa,” Mr Watkins said.
“We arranged for her and the girls to leave Sudan because the situation is getting worse and worse. I flew to Egypt to meet them and to get my wife and son set up.
“My wife and son are staying in an apartment in Cairo, where they’ve been for the past year.”
Mr Watkins said the situation has taken a toll on his wife and he worries about her mental health.
“She’s had a few jobs but it’s difficult because she’s largely alone at the moment.
“Trying to work as a single parent in a country that you don’t even belong to is extremely difficult.”
After applying for Ms Elhassan’s visa in July, they hoped she and Lawrence would be able to join the rest of the family in the UK within a few months.
But with current backlogs at the Home Office, family entry clearance applications now have a service standard of 120 working days – double the previous 60-day service standard.
The government advises that applicants “should” receive a decision within 24 weeks.
The Home Office has been prioritising Ukraine Visa Schemes applications, and the doubling of the standard wait time for family visa decisions is a direct result.â¯â¯
On top of the lengthy processing times, Mr Watkins claimed the Home Office asked for additional information on December 1 – six months after the initial appliation – to prove he is in a genuine relationship with Ms Elhassan, such as photographs and messages, even though he had already provided a marriage certificate.
This evidence was not required in the initial application.
He also said the Home Office requested bank statements from Ms Elhassan, but she cannot access a bank in Cairo because she had to send her passport away for the visa application.
“She doesn’t have bank statements, she doesn’t even have a passport. When I send money I have to send it to a friend or brother because she doesn’t have a passport.”
Mr Watkins told the Standard he is “desperate” for his family to be reunited.
“[My wife] called me last week and said: ‘If the visa doesn’t work out for me, when are you going to come and get your son?’
“She was already thinking in her head that’s it, her life with her family is done.
“Frankly, if I didn’t have to take care of our daughters right now, I would take some camping equipment and pitch myself outside the Home Office and just demand they actually take this seriously.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “All visa applications are carefully considered on their individual merits and we endeavour to consider them as quickly as possible.
“We are aware of this application and it is being processed within the service standard.”
There is a wider problem with visa processing times at the Home Office amid reported staff shortages and updates to internal IT systems.
New visa schemes introduced since the pandemic, such as for Ukrainians and British Nationals in Hong Kong, are also contributing factors.