May 24: Sunita Agarwal was unpacking in her VIP Road home a week ago thinking about what she and her family would have been doing otherwise: starting a 13-day trip to London, Paris and parts of Italy and Switzerland.
The holiday, scheduled to start on May 18, had to be cancelled because the Agarwals still do not know the status of the UK visa applications they had filed on April 24.
Sunita and her family are not the only ones who have had their travel plans jeopardised. This has been the trend post-Brexit, the delay often stretching beyond scheduled trip dates. With the India-Pakistan Champions Trophy cricket match in England less than two weeks away, the anxiety has increased for many in the queue.
“We were to travel with another family. The children are extremely disappointed because the holiday had to be cancelled at the last minute. Since our passports are not with us, we could not even apply for a Schengen visa either,” Sunita said.
A resident of Alipore recounted an even worse experience. “We were scheduled to travel on May 13 to Europe and onwards to London. I had applied for visa for both my sons on April 18. I received the passport of one son on May 4 and we presumed the other one would come soon. My husband, who had some work there, left with one child while I stayed back with our second son.”
The woman waited for a week but received no news from the visa processing agency. “All they kept saying was that it was under process. My son’s passport arrived on May 19, a week after our holiday was to start! The visa stamp was dated May 5,” she said.
Officials of VFS Global, which processes UK visas along with those of several other countries, were unavailable for comment.
According to travel agents, a person whose documentation is in order used to get a UK visa within 10 to 15 days of applying for it. In the past two months, the processing time has increased to almost four weeks in most cases and sometimes longer. Even those choosing priority processing against a higher fee are getting back their passports not earlier than 10 to 12 days instead of the specified three to four working days, they said.
The unofficial word from the travel sector is that a new scanning system has triggered the delay. “There is the usual confusion about a new system. Also, the peak tourist season has increased the pressure and we hope this would be over soon,” said Anil Punjabi, chairman (east) of the Travel Agents’ Federation of India.
Businessman Anthony Pradhan, who took a flight to London today, had applied for his visa on April 27 and got it on May 22, just two days before his scheduled trip. Chartered accountant Vineet Jalan had applied for a priority UK visa for himself, his wife and two sons on May 1. On May 5, three stamped passports arrived but not eight-year-old Ritvik’s. After two mails, the passport arrived with a visa stamp on May 17.