A PRIVATE company acting as a UK border guardian has been accused of running the system “like a tombola”.

The accusation comes after the story of a woman fighting to come to Scotland for the birth of her grandchild emerged.

The woman, who does not want to be named, is desperate to be with her daughter in Glasgow when the baby is born in November. But almost five months after she began trying for a visa application slot, she has been advised by the Home Office to leave her home country of Iran and apply from another nation because demand in Tehran is too high.

The suggestion was made by a UK immigration official who admitted there are “high levels of demand from UK visa applicants in Iran”, going on to “strongly recommend” that the grandmother-to-be should “reserve an appointment at a UK Visa Application Centre in Abu Dhabi or Dubai” instead.

The suggestion would mean travelling to the other side of the Persian Gulf, a journey taking around 24 hours by car.

The grandmother has been attempting to secure an appointment with officials in Iran since May. A limited number of slots are issued every Tuesday at 1pm and are issued on a first come, first served basis.

But despite calling for weeks on end, she has been unable to gain a place. Embassy staff in Tehran have advised that all spots are snapped up within five seconds.

Officials have the power to make special arrangements for individuals with “compelling” circumstances, such as to visit a dying relative. However, attending the birth of a grandchild is not considered reason enough to help.

In an email, one official from UK Visas and Immigration said: “Whilst I appreciate that the sponsor in the UK is waiting for her mother to be by her side at this important time in her life, this is not a compelling or compassionate enough reason to book her a special appointment in Tehran.”

With 50 governments on its books in 125 locations worldwide, Swiss-based VFS Global describes itself as “the world’s largest outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions”.

Operating from 2,251 application centres on five continents, the company – a subsidiary of the Kuoni travel group – has processed more than 125 million applications since its formation in 2001. It won a £321 million contract from the UK Government in 2013 in a five-year deal to manage visa applications.

At the time, the Home Office said the arrangement would help “offer customers a more consistent and transparent” service, also reducing costs and improving value for money.

Yesterday the company said all issues of demand, resource allocation and appointment slots are matters for the UK Government and said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on its performance and on any issues specific to this case or to Iran.

Meanwhile, the UK Home Office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The family at the heart of the story do not want to speak publicly about their experience for fear it will affect their case.

However, Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss, who represents the woman’s daughter and her husband, says the visa service is “being run like a tombola”.

She said: “The treatment my constituents have experienced at the hands of VFS and the UK Home Office is totally outrageous even by the UK Government’s sloppy standards.

“I know the decision to outsource visa processing services to private companies like VFS has been a real problem for numerous constituents.

“On one hand, VFS tell me that they only issue a certain number of appointments on a Tuesday at 1pm Tehran time, which allows people to apply for visas to visit the UK. Sometimes those slots are snapped up within a matter of seconds.

“On the other hand, the UK Home Office, in their usual obtuse nature, is seriously suggesting to me that my constituent’s family member travels from Iran to Dubai to try her luck in another country. That’s no way to run a sensible immigration system.”

She went on: “It increasingly looks like the system being used to issue UK visas for Iranians is essentially being run like a tombola. That’s simply not good enough and I am seeking a meeting with the Iranian Ambassador, the UK’s Immigration Minister and VFS Global to get this put right.

“It is incumbent upon VFS to accommodate my constituent’s family member and give them the appointment they tried to get five months ago.”