More than 60,000 visitor visa applications taking over 50 days to be processed

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Families abroad are missing key milestones of their loved ones living in the UK such as weddings and graduation ceremonies as the Home Office struggles to process visitor visa applications to the three-week standard.

The number of visitor visa applications that take 50 days or more to process has skyrocketed from almost 6,000 to 62,000 in less than four years, Home Office figures obtained by the Standard reveal.

The average wait-time to hear back on a decision is currently six weeks, double the three-week standard.

Between January 1 and June 30 this year, 62,779 applications took 50 days or more to process - almost double the 34,762 processed in 50 days or more across the whole of 2021.

It’s a huge increase from the 5,927 applications that took 50 days or more to process pre-pandemic in 2018.

Despite the rise in delayed responses from the Home Office, the number of applications being processed overall has shrunk considerably.

In 2018 more than 2.5 million visitor visa applications were processed by the Home Office, compared to 754,926 in the first half of this year.

The Home Office has not explained what is causing delays, but lawyers spoken to by the Standard suggest the rollout of new IT systems there, and the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, are contributing factors. Other lawyers suggest backlogs have stemmed from the pandemic.

There have also been reports of staff shortages within the Home Office, as well as claims that inexperienced and low-paid staff have been hired to handle asylum applications.

Visitor visas are needed for many African and Asian nationals wanting to stay in the UK for up to six months to visit family, attend business meetings or more recently, for eligible Commonwealth country members to attend British Army or Royal Navy Assessments.

Standard visitor visas can also be used for tourism and study on courses up to six months.

But some applicants have missed key life events of their loved ones because their visa was not granted in time.

London lawyer Vincent Febiri from Adukus Solicitors in Peckham told the Standard a number of his clients, mostly from Ghana, are having issues with delays.

“I had a client who was to attend his wife’s graduation in London and he enrolled his biometrics in Ghana on August 20. The graduation was on October 24 but the decision was received on October 31 when the graduation had already taken place.

“This client’s application took eight weeks.

“I had another client who enrolled his biometrics in Ghana on August 3 and he received his decision on October 13. This is about 10 weeks of waiting time.

“While the applicant’s visit visa application was granted/successful, the long wait meant a complete change of his itinerary including having to cancel his holidays at work and re-booking it when the decision came in.”

Mr Febiri said he noticed an increase in long wait times beginning around four months ago, with some applications taking eight to 10 weeks to process - longer than 50 days.

“When the long wait started, clients who had urgent travel requirements - such as to attend graduations or visit family for time-bound events including weddings, childbirth or birthday and anniversary celebrations - were almost all opting for the priority service which comes with an added charge of £250 per applicant—with decisions coming through between five to seven working days.

“But it seems the Home Office became overwhelmed with the number of priority visit visa applications being made too and this was completely suspended in places like Ghana where I have a huge client base.

“Eventually, the priority option returned but even that, at a rationing pace—something like 10 priority slots each day for the entire country of Ghana and it was difficult to catch a slot for any client, irrespective of the urgency to travel.”

 (Shutterstock / Victor Moussa)
(Shutterstock / Victor Moussa)

Mr Febiri said the Home Office has sent emails to applicants in some instances partially attributing delays to “the humanitarian crisis arising from the invasion of the Ukraine”.

One email shown to the Standard read: “Unfortunately, this has meant we have had to refocus our resources away from business as usual activity, which has created some delays in processing applications.”

Immigration lawyer Rose Carey at Charles Russell Speechlys told the Standard there is a wider problem with visa processing times at the moment.

“The recent introduction and implementation of new IT systems and e documents by the Home Office has caused significant delays.

“Family visas are currently taking up to six months to process and with no priority service available, families are as a result separated for long periods of time.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Visit visas, including standard visitor visa applications, are currently taking on average six weeks to process, however some applications might take longer.

“We are working hard to process applications to get back to the three-week service standard.”

A visitor visa will not be issued until all checks are satisfactorily completed. If further information is needed, applications may take longer, the Home Office said.

The Home Office allows travellers to apply for a visitor visa three months before their intended travel date.