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UKBA to be quizzed over visas

20 July 2012

Denied entry: the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock (above, left), is to meet immigration officials to find out why the Revd Absalom Vyankende (above, right) was denied a visa to visit Suffolk

Denied entry: the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock (above, left), is to meet immigration officials to find out why th...

A DELEGATION of senior church figures was due to meet representatives from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) yesterday, in a bid to discover why genuine Christian visitors are being refused entry visas.

Many visitors, mainly from Africa, have been told by UKBA officials that, although they had invitations, return tickets, and accommodation, they had failed to provide enough evidence - such as jobs, or assets, or family - that they would return home ( News, 6 July).

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock, who headed the delegation, said: "Perfectly respectable people with honest intentions are being judged on the wrong criteria.

"It's not so much the credibility of the visit that UKBA want to know about: it's the substance of the person making it. That's just not relevant in Africa. Parish priests are poorly paid, often in kind by their villagers. They can't produce regular pay slips, and they probably don't even have a bank account."

Last month, in the House of Lords, Bishop Stock raised the case of the Revd Absalom Vyankende, who was twice refused a visa to travel from Tanzania to East Anglia, despite a fully funded trip, and authorisation from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

At the time, Lord Henley, a Home Office Minister, said: "I cannot believe that someone who is being endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, or, for that matter, by any Right Reverend prelate, could be turned away. Certainly, we would not want that to be the case" ( News, 29 June).

Later, however, in a letter to Bishop Stock, the Minister said that it was "the applicant's intentions and their personal circumstances" that were "paramount".

"While the UKBA's visa sections are able to take into account the support for an applicant's case," he wrote, "they are unable to accept assurances or guarantees made by the sponsor on the applicant's behalf. This is because such assurances or guarantees are legally unenforceable."

The Bishop described that answer as "disappointing". Decisions had been "patchy", he said, and some people had received visas. "That is part of the difficulty: it's all arbitrary. We are not quite sure what helps secure someone's application. They seem to be moving the goalposts all the time. They don't seem to have a specific list of conditions that must be fulfilled."

He understood that the Salisbury diocese, which has strong links with Sudan, has suspended all visits.

He hoped that the meeting with the UKBA representatives would discover whether there was any room within the criteria, other than economic substance, for a successful application. "If that is not the case, then we know what we are ask- ing Government to change, and what other help we might be able to offer to make sure applications are made properly in the first place," he said.

"We want some kind of formula that people can reply to, before they get on a bus to travel 600 miles, through two countries, to make their application."

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