Dubai: It’s still no-joy for UAE residents wanting to take UK visas, with waiting periods extending to more than two months. The irony of it all is that in the coming weeks, UAE-UK air travel volumes are showing more signs of a return to normalcy after a hectic summer that involved daily limits on outbound passengers from London Heathrow.
Though getting an appointment only takes around 10 days, the actual visa is taking more than 60 days, according to travel industry sources. “UK visa is in high demand right now, but the long waiting time is really discouraging people from going ahead with it,” said a spokesperson for Zabeel Travel. “Earlier, it used to take only 5-10 days to get the visa and the process was really easy.”
The difficulties in obtaining a UK visa comes even as getting a Schengen visa is becoming relatively easier for UAE residents after several weeks of long waiting periods. As opposed to waiting 3-4 months for a visa interview, it’s now down to one month or under.
But for the UK, visit visas, including standard visitor visa applications, are taking on average seven weeks to process. However, some applications might take longer, said UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) and VFS Global in a statement.
“UKVI are working hard to process applications to get back to the three-week service standard,” said the statement. “We are experiencing very high global demand meaning in some cases, it may take longer to process visas.”
For those willing to pay a premium of Dh1,500, UK has introduced a ‘Priority Visa Service,’ with a drastically reduced processing time of 5-6 days. This is for new customers applying in the sponsored work routes and students.
Industry sources said the backlog is mainly due to an influx of Ukrainian refugees wanting to enter the UK, plus the flight disruptions have only piled on to these issues. Thousands of flights have been cancelled in UK and Europe over the last few months due to staffing shortages and union strikes. Despite this, UAE-UK is among the busiest air routes in the world and London was Dubai’s top destination in the first half of this year with 1.3 million passengers. (Saudi capital Riyadh came in second with 910,000 passengers, followed by Mumbai with 726,000 passengers.)
There will soon be easier entry Emiratis and nationals of other GCC countries as they will be exempt from visa requirements to visit UK from 2023. This will make them the first countries to benefit from the UK’s new visa scheme, the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).
The travel permit, which is expected to be launched online soon, will require passengers to fill out an online application and it can be done anytime up to a few days before departure to the country.
Numbers through the years
According to official data, the UK granted more than 1.6 million visas and permits in the year ending March 2022. While this is only around half when compared to 2019 figures, this was still 145 per cent higher than 2020 levels.
Of the visas granted in the 12 months to March, 38 per cent were to visit, 29 per cent were to study, 17 per cent were to work, 3 per cent were for family reasons, and 13 per cent for other reasons.
There were an estimated 42.9 million passenger arrivals in the year ending March 2022, more than twice as many as in the year earlier.