Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

New baby stranded by passport delay

Grace in the arms of her father Nigel Griffiths, who fears he may have to leave his daughter in Georgia because of problems obtaining a passport
Newborn baby Grace, as Nigel and Caroline Griffiths fear they may have to leave her in Georgia because of problems obtaining a passport

A couple fear they may have to leave their newborn baby in Georgia because of problems obtaining a passport.

Nigel and Caroline Griffiths' daughter Grace was born in the country's capital Tblisi on June 16 to a surrogate mother after they tried unsuccessfully to conceive for 10 years.

Mr Griffiths, 46, who is her biological father, said they followed the advice about obtaining a travel document for her "to the letter" and were given the impression they would be able to bring her home within three months at the longest.

After a backlog of applications left the Passport Office in chaos, they applied for an emergency travel document (ETD) for Grace but have now been told they face a wait of 16 weeks because extra checks are required as it is a surrogacy case.

Mr Griffiths, a chartered surveyor, has returned home to Bermondsey, south London, while his wife, 57, who runs a human resources consultancy, is still in Georgia with the baby.

If the situation drags on, they fear they may have to hire a nanny and leave Grace in Tblisi until the application is approved.

They are also facing a race against time to apply for an order in the UK that legally recognises them as her parents. Mr Griffiths described the prospect of missing that deadline as "unthinkable".

He said: "We just want to bring her home. I have done a DNA test which proves I am her father so surely I should just pass on my nationality? I don't understand why it takes 16 weeks.

"We are just full of worry. It's ridiculous, really. It's going to be at least a month (in Georgia) that we hadn't planned for."

They decided to pursue surrogacy after years of failed attempts using IVF treatment and chose to have the baby in Georgia because of complicated legal issues surrounding the process in the UK.

They paid several thousand pounds for the service and the baby was conceived using Mr Griffiths' sperm and a donor egg.

He said: "This was going to be our last chance - it was an amazing little miracle.

"It was amazing (when Grace was born). I was in tears."

Mr Griffiths said they had spoken to officials in the British Embassy in Tblisi several months before the birth and were led to believe the application for the baby's passport would take around six to eight weeks, or maybe 12 "at a push".

Measures to ease the backlog by allowing parents or guardians of children overseas to apply for an ETD instead of a new or renewed passport were introduced at around the same time that Grace was born.

Mr Griffiths said they went to apply for the ETD at the embassy on Friday but were advised that authorities in the UK had warned it would take 16 weeks to process.

He said he had faced problems checking on the progress of the application since returning to Britain.

"I rang the passport office on Monday and someone rang me back yesterday saying we haven't got any application from you. We don't even know if the process has been started. No one tells you anything."

The couple have written to their local MP Simon Hughes to plead for help bringing Grace home.

Their letter said: " The mistakes made are causing needless distress and worry to us both, at a time when we thought we would be experiencing the happiness of family life.

"No one would wish for there to be a negative impact on Grace because of delays caused by inaccurate advice."

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