LONDON: British couples adopting children in Pakistan have been left stuck in the country due to visa processing delays caused by the sudden Ukraine refugee crisis, the Guardian reported.
The British newspaper found that Home Office visa delays were part of “wider failings” in processing, with families seeking adoption around the world prevented from returning to the UK.
One Briton, stranded in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, since November, told the paper: “It’s 37 degrees here, there are shortages of gas and water, and the electricity goes off for several hours a day. I’m afraid to go outside because of the kidnapping risk and political instability here.
“I’ve been here since November. Getting our baby took three weeks, then we applied for her visa on Jan. 18. Initially, the Home Office told us it would be 12 weeks — that was 21 weeks ago.
“My older son misses nursery, my husband is at work in the UK, my father is sick and I can’t be with him, and my employer wants to know when I’m coming back.
“I can’t put into words how difficult this is. I’m so stuck, and the Home Office is not responding. I might as well be talking to a tree. We have made at least five complaints, and other families in a similar position have made many as well,” she said.
Sixteen weeks after they applied for a visa for their adoptive child, they received a letter from the Home Office saying waiting times were expected to double for family visas.
It said: “Due to the humanitarian crisis caused by the invasion of Ukraine, UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) is prioritizing Ukraine visa scheme applications. We have therefore made the decision to temporarily amend our marriage and family service standard to 24 weeks from … 12 weeks.”
Because Britain does not have a bilateral adoption agreement with Pakistan, British families or individuals seeking adoption secure legal guardianship of the child before traveling back to formalize the process in the UK.
The Department of Education vets prospective adoptive parents, but the Home Office is responsible for visas.
Satwinder Sandhu, chief executive officer of the Center for Adoption, told the Guardian: “We have many families waiting months longer than they used to, and we understand the Ukraine war has put much pressure on an already fragile system.
“For adopters who are legally approved and had children placed, applications for visas should be fairly unproblematic. All children needing adoption have experienced trauma, separation, and loss, and they should be able to travel to their new homes in England without delay.”
The adoptive mother that the Guardian spoke to said: “Our babies have been through the trauma of separation from their original parent, and we need to get out of this situation.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are prioritizing Ukraine Family Scheme, and Homes for Ukraine applications in response to the humanitarian crisis caused by (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine, so applications for study, work, and family visas have taken longer to process.
“UKVI are working to reduce the current processing times as quickly as possible.”