This month Home Office waiting times for processing family reunion visas for refugees or those with humanitarian protection increased from 12 weeks to 9 months. Our current experience is that families often wait 12 months or longer for visas for their family.
Refugees are only able to apply for family reunion visas once they have received Refugee Status in the UK. Each week we get desperate pleas from those who are caught up in the back log of asylum applications and remain in limbo as they wait for their asylum claim to progress. Both those granted and waiting for Refugee Status are desperate to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their family.
H is an Afghan refugee living in the UK and has been receiving support from mental health services for issues relating to his torture and trauma suffered at the hands of the Taliban. He suffers from PTSD and this is triggered by difficult or stressful situations. His wife was unable to stay in Afghanistan due to concerns for her safety and she travelled to a third country on foot with a friend. She then found herself alone with no money or means of support and undocumented. Large agencies working in the country have been able to offer support due to her undocumented status but a small charity offered to accommodate her whilst she waits for her family reunion visa to be issued. She now remains, waiting, in a country where she continues to be at some risk as a lone, undocumented, female and due to the ongoing political situation causing unrest. Her only financial support is from H sending what he can from his benefits. A 12 week wait for H’s wife would have been difficult enough, waiting 9 months before even being able to follow up on their application will be agonising.
Many of those waiting for family reunion visas are in similar, vulnerable situations to H and his wife, most are in countries we would deem dangerous and unstable, some are children. One client F is supporting his teenage sons who are displaced in a third country. This is at considerable cost to F and the wellbeing of his family in the UK and his sons. In the country where his children are living in there is a volatile situation with many demonstrations and arrests. As he reaches the 11th month of waiting following submitting the application for his sons to come to the UK he worries that their safety will be more at risk from as unrest escalates in advance of the upcoming election.
We appreciate that greater transparency over delays may be helpful to manage client expectations but this message from the Home Office is likely to cause more worry for already desperate families.