UAE residents applying for travel visas for the United States face waiting months to get an appointment in Dubai and Abu Dhabi due to a backlog.
Regular visa services will not be available until November at the US embassy and consulate in the Emirates due to the coronavirus outbreak.
But officials said they would fast-track student visas to ensure applicants could start at American universities after the summer.
“Due to the ongoing pandemic, routine visa processing is reduced around the world,” a US embassy representative said.
“The US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the US Consulate General in Dubai continue to operate at reduced capacity at this time, focusing on only the most urgent cases and critical.
“We are hopeful that in the coming weeks we will have more visa appointments available, with a focus on student visas to enable travel to the United States before the start of the academic year,” the representative said.
Applicants who tried to renew their visas or secure new ones told The National their appointments had been put on hold until further notice. One said the earliest available appointment he could get was late November in Abu Dhabi and December 20 in Dubai.
Mohammad Oudeh, a financial analyst from Jordan, has been trying to renew his US visa since January.
He was given an interview appointment in March but this was cancelled by the embassy when coronavirus cases in the UAE began to increase.
“They said I can use the fee I paid for the interview to reschedule within one year,” said Mr Oudeh, 35.
He was initially told he would receive a new appointment within one or two weeks, but consular services were closed to prevent the spread of the virus.
“But now it has taken months, and they have not emailed me a notice until now," said Mr Oudeh, who got married in December.
“This has changed a lot of things in my life. I am newly wed to my wife, who is American and lives and works in the US. Our initial plan was that she stays there and I stay here and we visit each other frequently.
“But with all the travel restrictions we couldn’t do that any more, so we decided that she would end all her affairs in the US and move to live with me in Abu Dhabi.
“She will be arriving after tomorrow.”
Imad Kandeel, an athlete from Jordan, tried to apply for a US visa two months ago.
“I got terminated from my job recently, so I thought of opening my own gym,” he said.
“In the US they usually hold bazaars to sell gym equipment and I could get good deals.”
Mr Kandeel, 41, also wanted to attend the Cross Fit Open in the US last month.
“After the championship, they usually sell the tools that were used in an auction so I thought I’ll attend as a spectator to enjoy the show and then make bids in the auction.
“Who knows what will happen? The championship ended up being held virtually and the next one is scheduled in December – for now.”
Students have had better luck booking earlier appointments in September, and some even during the first week of August.
Ananya Singhal, a first-year undergraduate from India, who attends the University of Pennsylvania, said she made an appointment on September 14.
“I requested an earlier interview but they said 'we are still closed and we’ll get back to you',” she said.
“I have a friend in Dubai who got an interview during the first week of August.”
Miss Singhal, 17, who studies computer science, will attend the autumn semester virtually and hopes to travel back to the US in spring.
“They are doing a hybrid format, so most classes especially large classes are taken online, but they are allowing students to go on campus for classes of less than 25.”
“Since April I have connected with a lot of people, and all the sophomores I spoke to who did spring [semester] online said the academic life was not much different.”
She described the Covid-19 situation in the US - with more than 4 million cases and 150,000 deaths - as "very scary".
"But because I love the University of Pennsylvania so much I am willing to go there just for that," he said.