Couple face Belarus prison and loss of surrogate child amid UK visa delays – The Guardian

Graeme Batsman says his Filipina wife’s passport has been caught up in an ‘admin issue’ in Britain
A British man and his Filipina wife say they are facing imprisonment in Belarus and will miss out on starting a family via surrogacy because of UK delays in visa processing.
Graeme Batsman, a data security expert from Harrow, north London, and his wife, Maura Mendez Arganda, travelled to Vitebsk oblast, Belarus, in February to arrange a surrogate birth that would cost them £25,000.
However, they face losing that arrangement and their liberty, in a plight that exposes the human cost of visa processing problems in the UK.
As their Belarus travel visa expires this week, they have been warned by local officials that if they do not leave the country by Friday they will be imprisoned and fined.
But they cannot leave because Arganda submitted her passport to the UK as part of a separate attempt to apply for a British visa that appears to be stuck in a mounting backlog of cases.
If the couple overstay their Belarus visa, they face a five-year travel ban to Belarus, so would miss out on a surrogacy arrangement that has already cost them $18,000 (£14,582) with a further $13,000 to pay when the baby is born.
Speaking by phone from Belarus, Batsman said: “I’ve told the Foreign Office that I’m going to be calling them from a jail soon and they haven’t done anything.”
He added: “If nothing is done, the UK government will be responsible for imprisoning us, a fine of perhaps €500 each, deportation and a travel ban. No one wants to stay in a jail and it will mean no baby for us.”
Their predicament emerged as evidence grew about the scale of problems caused by visa delays. More than 150 couples have complained to the BBC that they have also been hit by visa processing problems.
Many have been waiting more than double the expected time for processing visas, the BBC reported. “It’s an admin issue – but that admin issue has now just stopped life,” Deon Barnard said as he and his wife wait for a spousal visa.
Batsman said he had repeatedly called in vain for help from UK officials, ministers, and to a 69p-a-minute visa helpline. “I’ve emailed all sorts of ministers. Everyone has been a jobsworth and has just passed us on. I have said to many people by email, or phone call, you will be responsible for endangering a British citizen and his Filipina wife.”
Arganda first applied for a six-month visa to the UK in October last year. Despite 40 pages of supporting documents, supplied by Batsman, the application was refused on the basis that she had insufficient means.
The couple got married in Odesa in January on a trip to Ukraine, where before the war more than 2,000 babies a year were born through surrogacy. As Russian troops massed on the border, the newlyweds abandoned their search for a surrogate mother in the country. After a failed search for surrogacy in Armenia, they then applied in February for a Belarusian visa with the sponsorship of a surrogacy clinic.
Arganda applied for a UK visa again at the start of March, now as Batsman’s wife. The couple were told a decision was made on 7 April but they have received nothing since and her passport has not been returned.
The Home Office blamed visa delays on the situation in Ukraine, but after the Guardian raised Batsman and Arganda’s plight it said her case was being dealt with as a matter of urgency.
A spokesperson said: “We are prioritising Ukraine family 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.
“We are working at pace to ensure these are issued as quickly as possible. A visa has been issued to Arganda and we are working urgently to make arrangements to return her travel documents and visa.”


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