On Tuesday evening the Africa All Party Parliamentary Group (AAPPG) held a meeting to discuss UK visas for African citizens with contributions from a number of British politicians who have links to Kenya.
The APPG for Africa together with AFFORD and the APPG for Malawi began gathering evidence and information last month on following questions:
- What is your experience of supporting African nationals in applying for visas to attend conferences / events / training sessions in the UK?
- How many times have you supported African nationals to apply for a UK visa, of whatever type?
- How many were rejected or approved? What were the most common grounds for refusal given? How many were granted, but too late to allow the participant to attend?
- For those that reapplied, how many were subsequently granted visas? What circumstances changed in their application? Did they resubmit with additional information? And did the visa arrive in time for them to attend the event?
- Have you seen any evidence of inconsistency in decision-making regarding visa applications?
- What do you understand to be the main barriers to submitting successful visa applications for African nationals? And can you estimate how many might have decided not to visit the UK because of the difficulty of obtaining a visa?
The meeting had been preceded by a debate in the House of Commons where Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwirah raised the issue of visa refusals with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Secretary of State.
At the meeting to discuss the issue, Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy, who worked in the coffee industry in Tanzania and founded Equity for Africa, stated that the UK Visas and Immigration government agency needs to allow a model whereby organisations and sponsors can act as guarantee for visa applications.
Lord Steel who was raised partly in Kenya said that “the legal obligation needs to be changed to that of the sponsor/invitation sender- financially and legally.”
“The system has no personal element to it anymore,” he added.
Heywood and Middleton MP Liz McInnes questioned whether delays to via applications were a deliberate policy or was the department just overwhelmed.
The LIFT Festival, who believe there is a bias against the creative industry, cited an example where two identical applications were submitted with one allowed and the other refused. They said they suspect quotas and the private agency not being able to carry out the job being responsible.
A representative from the Ugandan High Commission was frustrated with a situation where government officials and university vice chancellors were being denied entry into the country with no refunds being given when the visas were refused.
Birmingham University’s Insa Nolte said some of the reasons given for refusal could be construed or interpreted as prejudice. According to ActionAid, the high cost of using visa helplines was a huge barrier while solicitor Iain Halliday called for the right of appeal to be reinstated to improve accountability.
The Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD) argued that the issues they had with the process were the intrusive information required, economic barriers and there being no right of appeal. They also highlighted a case where bishops refused entry into the UK were granted a US visa in a single day.
This argument was taken up by the African Studies Association who said that women were asked for more intrusive evidence than men such as proof of marriage and land ownership.
A former MP candidate for Green Party said that the targets in immigration are creating are culture of refusal bias and prejudice.
Matt West from De La Rue, who operate in Kenya, advised that when writing sponsorship letters they need to be clearly worded to expressly say that the applicant will return.
Albert Tucker expressed concern that the UK was missing out on partnerships in business, explaining that 7per cent of the African population is under 35 and that many young African entrepreneurs travel to China to source products to import and sell at home.
He added that there needs to be a change in culture as reputation and money was being lost it was not in the UKs interest to allow this to continue.
Following the meeting, the Foreign Office Secretary of State promised to take up the issue of African visitors having their visa applications refused twice as often as the average.
UK Visas and Immigration is a division of the Home Office responsible for the United Kingdom’s visa system. It was formed in 2013 from the section of the UK Border Agency that had previously administered the visa system.