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
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
"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
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."