By Digital Producer Narbeh Minassian
Eduardo’s dad is dying alone in Nigeria, but if he leaves the UK to care for him he may not be allowed back to see his children.
Turning 80 this year, his dad has glaucoma and suffers from several disorders that need immediate medical attention he cannot arrange without his son.
While his dad suffers by himself, Eduardo, a documented immigrant whose real name we are withholding, has been waiting nearly a year to find out if he can continue living in Britain and cannot leave until then.
And with the Home Office admitting the average waiting time for people like Eduardo is currently a staggering 11 months, he could be just one of tens of thousands whose lives are essentially on hold.
“If I go I can’t come back,” he told ITV News. “It is very hard to speak to him. When I call him I keep telling him I am going to come back but he gets fed up of me always saying that.
“I need this to happen immediately, I am the only person who can take care of him... his condition is terrible.”
Eduardo, 47, was first approved for a visa in 2016 on the basis of his UK-born children with his wife, who had come to the UK fleeing danger in Nigeria.
Like hundreds of thousands of others, he has to apply to extend his visa every 30 months in a process that should take no more than eight weeks and costs around £2,500 each time.
It’s a complicated application at the best of times, with just one mistake potentially enough for a rejection and no refunds, but as Eduardo prepared his paperwork tragedy struck.
His six-year-old daughter died last summer from complications related to her disability, for which she needed her dad’s round-the-clock support.
Despite his tragic circumstances, he managed to submit an application before his visa expired and just days after his child's death.
Almost one year later, however, Eduardo is still waiting for a decision from the Home Office – a delay that has left him unable to work, he says, and fearing his application will be rejected.
If he were to leave the country, his application would be considered as withdrawn and he would lose all of his rights and entitlements in the UK.
“It causes me a lot of stress, because my blood pressure is high,” he said. "I have fear I could be deported.
“And because of that, when I eat I have diarrhoea because my system is not in balance. I have constant headache all the time.
"There is swelling in my stomach and tongue. It has affecting me mentally very seriously.”
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Eduardo is one of potentially thousands of immigrants waiting up to or more than a year to find out their status under what are called leave to remain visas, despite having already been approved for at least one visa previously.
Home Office statistics show 40,990 applications for visas through marriage were categorised as ‘non-straightforward’ from April to December in 2020, meaning the waiting time for those applicants already in the UK would be longer than the standard eight weeks.
This is significantly higher than the figure for the same period in 2019, when little more than 6,000 applications received were considered ‘non-straightforward.’
In an email sent to applicants on May 11, seen by ITV News, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) admits routes "will experience some delays" as applications from war-torn Ukraine are prioritised.
The department has therefore temporarily amended its waiting time for marriage and family visa applications made outside of the UK to six months, rather than three.
A spokesperson confirmed applications for study, work and family visas "have taken longer to process" but that UKVI is "working to reduce the current processing times as quickly as possible.”
Meanwhile applying for a family visa from within the UK will take even longer, with the Home Office now warning there is no standard processing time for applications and that the average wait for a decision is currently 11 months.
Number of 'non-straightforward' applications - those that will have a longer waiting time - received since 2019
Anyone who submits their application before their current visa expires retains the right to work under Section 3C Leave, meaning such long delays shouldn't impact their employment.
This should apply to Eduardo, but he says employers are not willing to carry out the checks needed to confirm he has the legal right to work, which is said by some lawyers to be a wider issue.
To make matters worse, he hasn’t even been given his biometric residence permit (BRP), a card that should be issued to documented migrants as proof of their status. Just this month a cleaning agency told him he can’t even apply without it.
In the meantime, he cares full-time for his five-year-old son, who has the same condition his sister had, and relies on what little money he can scrape together to provide for him and his eldest son, who has been diagnosed with developmental delays and autism.
“I am thousands of pounds in debt because I can’t work, when I go to see my bank balance every day I see minus, minus, minus,” he said.
“At times when you go for a job, some don’t have the time to check your permit and check you can work.
"They don’t have time to check if you are eligible. That’s a big problem. I am not a professional, I go for cleaner, kitchen porter jobs. I didn’t go to school, so I go for minimum wage jobs.”
Eduardo, who has been approved for his visa twice before, appears to have been caught in a Covid backlog.
“Stop delaying people who have the right to be in the country, many people are passing through anxiety, so many people are sick, so many like me have problems,” he said.
“This must be faster, Covid is not my fault, I can’t bear the cost of that. So why should they be delaying me?”
The Home Office does not publish the total number of outstanding leave to remain applications, so the scale of the Covid backlog is unknown, but data from across the system suggests delays are a widespread issue.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show 12,409 applications under the EU Settlement Scheme were yet to be decided more than a year after they were submitted as of the end of 2021.
These should be processed in no more than eight weeks.
Meanwhile, 104,924 applications for asylum were pending a decision as of December 31 last year.
According to quarterly statistics published by the Home Office, the majority of applications to extend stays have been processed within the target timeframe, usually eight weeks.
From July to September in 2021, 95.5% of spouse visa applications received were completed inside eight weeks. At the height of the pandemic, however, just 58.2% were completed in time over the same period in 2020.
The number of applicants left waiting more than a year is likely to be proportionally small, but the impact can be immense.
These delays sill affect “a lot of people” who “just can’t get on with their lives through no fault of their own”, Zoe Gardner, policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, told ITV News.
Ms Gardner said the delays and their implications are tied to the government’s so-called hostile environment policies once championed by former Home Secretary Theresa May.
“This shows how this immigration system is designed to be hostile and not to help people who meet criteria,” Ms Gardner said.
“When the government is asked about this it uses the pandemic to deflect, but this clearly goes to a lack of investment over a long time.
“We’ve seen increases in investment in hostile policies, in inadequate asylum housing, and the Rwanda policy [deporting illegal migrants to the African country] to the point where it’s grinding to a halt for everyone else.”
Almost exactly ten years ago, on May 25, 2012, Mrs May said for the first time “the aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration” to the Telegraph newspaper.
That campaign ran on advertising warning anyone staying in the UK illegally - the most conspicuous of which were “go home vans”, or mobile billboards, with the message “go home or face arrest.”
The result is increased discrimination and increased poverty at a time when the entire country is gripped by a cost-of-living crisis, Ms Gardner added.
“Imagine that because of plain bureaucracy you can’t get a job to raise money for your family and then reading it’s people like you [foreigners] causing poverty,” she said.
The Home Office lacks the “acknowledgment of human experience” when dealing with applications, she said, pointing to a report outlining learnings from the Windrush scandal that urged caseworkers to “put a face to the case.”
Instead, she said, the government relies on a system that demands immigrants “jump through hoops” to complete complicated forms every two and a half years, paying “extortionate” fees each time.
'Everyone making decisions must see a face behind the case': In July 2020, Home Secretary Priti Patel said 'putting people first will be built into the reforms that we make' as part of Windrush scandal learnings
And the consequences of submitting a leave to remain application late – after the current visa has expired – can be dire.
Applicants who miss their deadline are considered ‘overstayers’ with no timescale given for a response and no right to work legally or rent in the meantime.
But keeping up with renewals is more than a matter of self-organisation – any personal crisis can throw an applicant off, as happened with Robert, who has been suffering with serious health issues since 2017 and whose real name we are withholding.
He had to undergo a kidney transplant in July 2019, just when his marriage visa was set to expire, and physically couldn’t arrange his papers.
In July 2020, he had finally recovered enough to apply but was rejected for submitting an incorrect application and told he must submit another or face removal.
He has since become homeless and destitute, totally reliant on his local council for housing and unable to work or earn money to support his son, who has down syndrome.
“I can drop dead any day, and I don’t think anyone sees the seriousness of my wellbeing or shows and interest,” he told ITV News.
“My blood pressure is going up every day wickedly. The immigration system here is hard, judgemental and confusing.
“How can you have someone like me willing to work and they’re ready to deport me?”
His marriage has broken down and his health has suffered as a result of the stress caused by the uncertainty.
While recounting his ordeal to ITV News, he needed to take a break as he felt his blood pressure rise and needed to take medication.
He says he is “computer-literate”, previously worked in law where he grew up and “never lived off anyone”, but must now rely on occasional support from a couple of friends to get by.
“I have tried to contact them [the Home Office] but there is nobody to talk to, to email, there is nobody,” he said.
“All they have told me is I have done the wrong application and I have to seek legal advice or I will be detained or removed. So that means I’m now suffering and nobody there understands.”
Immigration lawyer Ana Gonzales said the consequences of submitting a late application are severe and that it isn’t “super rare” for the delay to last longer than a year.
While only one of her current clients has been waiting longer than a year, she said the vast majority do not get a response within eight weeks.
“Nobody gets a decision within eight weeks now, the Home Office has been imploding for the past four or five years. This eight-week service is a random time that is put online,” she told ITV News.
“The only overstayer I have now has been waiting for one year. He will get it, but we don’t know when and in my experience that’s not uncommon.
“None of my clients get it within eight weeks, that’s nobody’s experience. We have lots of applications and they’ve been waiting for three or four months. The Home Office is super random.”
The Home Office told ITV News all applications for leave to remain are "considered on their own merits" and that the department "aims to consider them within published service standards where possible.”
In the meantime, Eduardo's dad is sometimes too ill to even answer his phone calls, leaving them both fearing they will never see each other again.
"I need this to happen now," he said. "He is nearly 80, I don't know how long he has left."
If you have been affected by visa delays, whether that's for leave to remain, asylum applications or other, email firstname.lastname@example.org
For help on immigration matters, you can contact: