UAE Schengen visa delays: Tearful residents sell Taylor Swift concert tickets, cancel travel plans

While travellers often resort to agencies to ease the hassle of applications, experts warn them to also watch out for scammers promising 'positive results' for a fee


Ajanta Paul

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Published: Tue 11 Jun 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 12 Jun 2024, 2:03 PM

In the wee hours of May 5, Liz Gonzales was frantically refreshing the VFS Global visa website, her heart pounding with anticipation. This was her last attempt in a series of relentless bids to secure a coveted Schengen visa appointment slot for the chance to attend Taylor Swift's Eras Tour in The Netherlands on July 6. But luck was not on her side.

"I don't remember crying this much after my breakup," said the 34-year-old Dubai resident, who eventually made the tough decision to sell her concert ticket after failing to get an appointment slot. "It would have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch her perform. At least, my flight tickets were refundable," said the heartbroken fan.

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Liz is not the only UAE-based 'Swiftie' (a moniker for Taylor Swift fans) who failed to get a Schengen visa appointment. Abu Dhabi resident Jam Tutanes, an operations manager in a private firm, tried to book a slot for three months. The 30-year-old Filipina said, "I wanted to watch Taylor Swift in Europe, but since I couldn't get a VFS appointment, I sold my ticket and will now just see her in London in August."

Disheartened Pam Daquinan also sold her tickets after "trying endlessly" to book an appointment. "I'd bought the show ticket for the July 2024 show in July last year and had been trying to get an appointment for several months," said the 26-year-old Dubai resident.

Why does securing the coveted visa appointment seem so impossible?

"Due to the UAE's close proximity and with Europe being an aspirational destination for travellers worldwide, demand for visas to Schengen countries remains high," explained Monaz Billimoria, Regional Head, VFS Global. "After the pandemic, we have seen a surge in demand extending beyond the traditional summer months, putting pressure on available appointments."

Industry experts have spoken of how the high demand affects travellers. "Twenty per cent of the clients who contact us are unable to secure visa appointments," said Mona Tavakoli, CEO, Souq Al Safar Tourism. Harpreet Singh, Consultant and Partner at EzVisas, said, "We receive several inquiries from tourists daily, asking us to help them with visa appointments. The summer rush has always been a factor that affects UAE residents."

Lisa Foley, travel counsellor from @luxurytravelbylisa, said, "Lack of appointments can cause a lot of stress and frustration among clients, as they cannot travel to their preferred destination. If they don't get appointments, they either have to book a last-minute trip to a visa-free destination (at much higher costs) or forfeit holiday plans altogether."

Lisa Foley, travel counsellor from @luxurytravelbylisa
Lisa Foley, travel counsellor from @luxurytravelbylisa

According to VFS, the UAE saw a 25 per cent growth in visa demand in 2023 compared to 2022, and an 18 per cent rise over 2019, indicating continued demand for travel to Europe. "Along with the demand, changes in the application systems and general backlogs also make it difficult to get appointments," said Victoria Baajour, managing director of a lifestyle management firm called VP The Service.

Account for delays

Last month, South African expat Farron (who did not wish to share his full name) missed a work conference in the Netherlands due to visa processing delays. "When slots opened up on February 29, I booked an appointment for March 26 and applied for a visa from May 19-26. The permit was issued on May 22, and I received it on the afternoon of May 23, which made me miss the conference. The entire process took 18 working days, when it usually takes '5-15 days'.

"I was frustrated that my passport was not with me for a month. I had other travel plans, and there wasn’t an easy way to cancel the request or retrieve my passport when it became clear I wouldn't make it," said the Abu Dhabi resident.

"We continuously urge travellers to apply for their visas well in advance to avoid any delays. Schengen countries accept documents up to six months before the date of travel," said Monaz from VFS.

Monaz Billimoria, Regional Head, VFS Global
Monaz Billimoria, Regional Head, VFS Global

According to the company, the time taken to process applications can differ significantly from one country to another. Much hinges on factors such as the applicant's nationality, the visa category they are applying for, and the documents submitted.

Often, travellers resort to agencies to help ease the hassle of applications. When Dubai resident Zahrah Noor wanted to travel to Europe in March, she started searching for slots from October last year. "For various reasons, I was constantly unsuccessful in finding suitable dates until January."

Knowing she didn't have much time left, the 35-year-old digital content creator started searching for agencies in Dubai that could assist her. "Many were charging ridiculously high prices just to book an appointment." Zahrah finally approached EzVisas, who helped her get an appointment, make the necessary bookings, and organise all the documentation required.

Zahrah Noor
Zahrah Noor

No external alliances

Explaining how agencies manage to get visa slots, Harpreet said, "As agencies have more people resources, we are constantly checking the portals to see if slots open up so we can allocate them to clients. The only thing one can do to get an early slot is to keep checking the website."

Visitors should check government websites for the latest visa processing timelines and visit VFS Global's website for the document checklists to ensure they have all the necessary paperwork for a seamless visa application process.

"The process often requires in-person interviews and hard copies of documents; these need processing time and anything missing will result in rejection. It requires meticulous preparation," said Victoria.

Monaz, however, reiterated that all "visa appointments, processing timelines and decisions on applications are the sole prerogative" of the respective embassy or consulate. "Appointments are released and reflected in real time on the VFS Global website and are available free of charge."

Cautioning travellers against scammers, she added that the company "does not work in conjunction with any external parties" to provide these appointments at a fee. "We urge travellers to beware of fraudulent entities posing as VFS Global staff and promising assured appointments or positive visa decisions at a cost."

Harpreet Singh, Consultant and Partner from EzVisas
Harpreet Singh, Consultant and Partner from EzVisas

Changing travel plans

The scarcity of visa appointments can disrupt tourists' travel arrangements. For Zahrah and her family, they were compelled to alter their itinerary for precisely this reason. "We originally planned to enter through Switzerland and exit through the Netherlands, but ended up reversing our entry and exit points due to appointment unavailability," she said.

Explaining how this works, Harpreet from EzVisas said it depends on how flexible applicants are when it comes to their plans. "For example, if someone wants to travel to the Czech Republic but the appointment slot from Austria is available, we recommend they take that and visit Austria first, then the Czech Republic. Some applicants appreciate it as it helps them explore more on the same trip.

If the cooler climes of Europe are not an option due to visa issues, agents say there are alternative destinations that offer similar experiences. If travellers want to experience Europe weather, Mona Tavakoli says there are several options, including Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Cyprus, Bosnia, Serbia and Japan.

"For tropical weather lovers, I recommend Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia. Living in the UAE offers the convenience of direct flights from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to many countries, so UAE residents can enjoy their holidays even if they cannot travel to Schengen countries."

Mona Tavakoli, CEO, Souq Al Safar Tourism
Mona Tavakoli, CEO, Souq Al Safar Tourism

"We try our best to get clients appointment slots and visas. However, if we are unable to accommodate their Europe trip, most clients now prefer to travel to one of the Central Asian countries, which offer UAE residents visa-free travel privileges," said Harpreet.

Victoria added, "Southeast Asia and Africa are hugely popular now with our clients, with many willing to try up-and-coming destinations like Madagascar and Mozambique."


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