UK gives green light to travellers from SA, but now there's a huge visa backlog
The UK may have dropped its “red list” travel ban on people arriving from South Africa, but for South African passport holders, massive delays in the issuing of visas means their travel plans are still up in the air.
Lee-Ann Collingridge of Johannesburg applied for her UK visa on November 12, having booked three seats on a British Airways flight which was due to depart on December 10. That flight was cancelled, thanks to the travel ban, and the family has just rebooked for a December 21 flight, but Collingridge has no idea whether her visa will be issued by then.
“When I applied for my visa, I was told it would take up to 20 working days to process, but last week I received an e-mail from UK Visa and Immigration apologising for the delay, which, they said, had been caused by the travel ban,” she told TimesLIVE.
She was also told they couldn’t give her a date by which she could expect to receive it.
“So my reality is now that even though British Airways has increased the number of flights available and I can now fly to the UK, I can’t actually do so without my visa, and there is no indication of when I will get it,” she said.
UK Visas & Immigration are experiencing very high volumes of visa applications globally.Isabel Potgieter, British High Commission head of communications
The family — Collingridge, her husband and their son — were due to spend their first Christmas in two years with her elderly in-laws.
“Should I not get my visa in time, which unfortunately seems very likely, my husband and son [who have British passports] will fly to the UK on Tuesday and I will follow when and if I can.
“So we are now facing the prospect of my being here for Christmas alone.”
Given that she applied for the visa two weeks before SA was placed on the UK’s red list, her application should have be considered by now, Collingridge said.
“What were the staff doing in those three weeks when SA was on the list? Why were they not at least considering applications and putting them in an approve or denied pile so that they could fast-track applications once the decision was reversed?”
Asked to comment, the British High Commission’s head of communications, Isabel Potgieter, urged “potential customers” to review the requirements for entering the UK before applying for a visa.
“UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) are experiencing very high volumes of visa applications globally and are working through existing cases and new applications as quickly as possible,” she said.
“We strongly advise customers not to enquire about the status of an existing application unless there is a compelling or compassionate emergency need to travel.
“Customers who want to travel soon should apply for their visit visa as early as possible.
“We urge all customers not to make travel plans including booking flights until they receive their visa.”
Asked whether those whose UK visas expired during the three-week travel ban would get the benefit of extensions at no further cost, Potgieter said no such extensions would be granted. “People should, where they can, speak to their travel insurance companies about claiming.”
Collingridge said she was not surprised by the response. “It is virtually impossible to speak to someone at the UK Visa and Immigration in person — even when you phone, for which you are charged, they generally cannot comment specifically on your application.
“I have e-mailed them — they charge you £2.74 for the e-mail — to see if I can get some clarity,” she said.
“I am not expecting this to be fruitful but am trying all avenues at the moment.”
Flight Centre Travel Group South Africa’s MD Euan McNeil had the following advice for travellers after Tuesday’s lifting of the ban:
- Any travellers in quarantine will need to remain there.
- All testing requirements remain in place, such as a Covid-19 PCR test taken in the two days before travel to England.
- A Covid-19 PCR test needs to be pre-booked before travel and taken after arrival in England.
- A passenger locator form needs to be completed within 48 hours of arrival in England.
- Travellers will be required to self-isolate until they receive their test result.
- If you are to be in England for less than two days, you still need to book and pay for a day 2 Covid-19 test.
- You must quarantine until you receive a negative test result, or until you leave England (whichever is sooner).
- Isolation/quarantine will no longer have to take place at a quarantine hotel/facility.
More details are available on the gov.uk website.
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