Visa delays leave UK families with adopted babies stranded in Pakistan

British couples who travelled to Pakistan to adopt children have been left stranded after the Home Office told them to expect months of delays in processing visas because of the Ukraine refugee crisis.

The delays are part of wider failings in visa processing that have left families around the world stuck waiting to return to the UK.

Zainib* has been in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, since November. She told the Guardian that the delays had left her feeling abandoned.

“Dis 37 degrees here, there are shortages of gas and water, and the electricity goes off for several hours a day," sy het gese. “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 18 Januarie. Aanvanklik, 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,” Zainib added.

“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.”

Aan 11 Mei, 16 weeks after she applied, Zainib and several other families had a letter from the Home Office saying waiting times would double for family visas.

It read: “Due to the humanitarian crisis caused by the invasion of Ukraine, UKVI [UK Visas & Immigration] is prioritising 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.”

Direct adoption from Pakistan to the UK is not allowed as there is no bilateral adoption agreement. In plaas daarvan, British couples or individuals use a well-established route of securing legal guardianship of the baby and then travelling back to Britain, where the authorities formalise the adoption.

Families go through a lengthy vetting process with the UK Department for Education before travelling to adopt, but it is the Home Office that provides return visas.

Twee jaar gelede, the Home Office was criticised after Nina Saleh, an EU citizen and UK resident, was stranded in Pakistan after being refused a visa three times. She was eventually given her visa after media reports on her case.

Satwinder Sandhu, chief executive of an international adoption agency, the Centre for Adoption, gesê: “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.”

Maya* is also trying to get home with her adopted child. She has been in Pakistan for nine months, and her newly adopted baby is eight months old. She has a skin condition that is stress-related and worsening.

She said she could not understand why, after being approved by British authorities, there had been such long delays. “We went through a very thorough and intrusive process in the UK, where the Department for Education approved us for international adoption.

“My husband has barely had a chance to spend time with his new child because he had to get back to the UK to work.”

Zainib said there was a lack of understanding among MPs about international adoption. “One of us was told by an MP that we need to justify why we can’t just leave the baby here. But we were cleared for adoption by the Department for Education. The orphanages here are horrendous. I wouldn’t let an animal live in one, and justifying this is not part of the process.

“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 prioritising Ukraine Familie Scheme and Homes for Ukraine applications in response to the humanitarian crisis caused by 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.”

* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the adopted children

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