South Africans planning to travel to the United Kingdom have been subjected to a long and stressful waiting game.
South African passport-holders require visas to enter the United Kingdom for transit, short and long stays including working and studying there. The UK visa applications are tedious and expensive, causing much anxiety for most applicants.
Many South Africans head over to the UK to study, take up employment, or to live there permanently. Initially, under the lockdown, South African passport-holders were unable to travel to the UK whatsoever.
LOCKED IN SOUTH AFRICA
This led to affected parties forming online support groups where information could be shared. These groups lobbied the South African government to allow South Africans to leave the country, and for repatriation flights to be allowed for South Africans who needed to get back to employment in other countries, or to reunite with family members who live abroad.
At one point, legal counsel was sought, and the Democratic Alliance was called on for assistance. A small victory was received when South Africans were allowed to leave South Africa — provided they were leaving for study, employment, family reunion or business purposes.
Since June, more South Africans have been leaving because permission had been granted by the local authorities, and there has been an increase in the number of repatriation flights to and from South Africa. However, a number of South Africans needing to get to the UK are still stuck in South Africa.
UK VISA ACTIVATION SPECIFICATIONS
UK visas are issued, granting applicants a specific 30-day entry period for arrival in the UK. If applicants do not arrive in the UK within the stipulated 30 days, their visa becomes invalid. This results in a new visa having to be applied for, and paid for. Numerous members in the support group shared their frustrations over this requirement.
During lockdown levels 4 and 5, overseas travel was impossible and many applicants could not enter the UK within their stipulated 30 days. Moreover, international travel was disallowed, and there were no flights abroad.
THE CONSEQUENCES FOR THE STUCK SOUTH AFRICANS
Scores of individuals and families who were heading for the UK to study, take up employment, join families and or spouses remain locked in South Africa. There are several reasons.
The average cost of a flight with KLM, Air France, or Lufthansa ranges from R 21,000 to R 23,000 per person. Imagine having to buy tickets for a family of four. It would cost over R 80,000 for four one-way tickets, in economy class.
Secondly, a number of South Africans are still waiting for their UK visa activation dates to be renewed, before they can even think about flying to the UK. This requires resubmitting their passports at the visa application centres that handle UK visa applications. These visa centres have just recently reopened as they too were closed under national lockdown restrictions.
The British Embassy stated that expired visas would be revalidated free of charge, which is helpful. However, the turnaround time on renewing these visas is taking longer than expected.
One member in the group expressed major aggravation.
"When we dropped off our passports at TLS offices, there was talk of a 48-hour turnaround time."
Two weeks later, this family of four is still waiting.
"Well, it's been over two weeks and we still don't have any clear answers."
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE
Several South Africans in this situation continue to stay with family and friends or in guest houses. Having given up their employment, their homes and their lives, and being unable to move ahead, they feel that things are hanging in midair, while waiting for their UK visas to be reissued, and for more affordable flights to become available.
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