NEW guidelines on what information is required to support visa
applications by church workers from developing countries are
expected to be in place by the end of this year (News, 20 July).
There is concern among church groups that genuine overseas
visitors are being refused entry to the UK on economic grounds that
pay little or no regard to the prevailing conditions in the
visitors' home countries. They include two newly appointed bishops,
who, earlier this year, were refused permission to travel from Sri
Lanka and Sierra Leone to attend courses on their duties at
In a House of Lords debate on the UK Border Agency (UKBA) last
week, the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Martin Wharton,
described the application process as "a system which is at best
muddled and confused, and at worst misleading.
"Either it is the case that the UKBA is not applying the rules
sensibly, or that the rules themselves are unable to cope with the
actual situations of a number of those applying for short-term
entry into the UK for valid reasons, such as to further mutually
enriching relationships between dioceses here and overseas."
On the day of the debate, a church delegation, led by the Bishop
of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock, met UKBA
officials to discuss the problem.
He said that the UKBA had agreed to work with them to fashion
guidance to dioceses "to enable people applying for visas to know
how to supply the sort of evidence that would give them a better
chance of getting a visa. We have got to get together to thrash out
the details, but I would hope the guidelines will be in place later
He said that the UKBA was prepared to offer advice in advance to
church organisations that were inviting people from overseas to UK
events. It also suggested that dioceses register themselves with
the Home Office as sponsors for government-authorised exchange
programmes, known as Tier 5.
"In the mean time," Bishop Stock said, "people need to supply as
much documentary evidence as possible that they have a firm reason
to return to their country of origin. Any evidence that shows that
that is the case will help their application: children, family,
fixed work. If you have a low salary, provide a letter explaining
why it is low.
"It is quite a mountain for a person to climb, and there is very
little guidance at the point of application, which can be a High
Commission hundreds of miles away from your home. They didn't have
any answer as to how people get good advice at the initial point of
"I came away from the meeting hopeful that we can help people
make good cases for [getting] a visa, but still daunted at the
thought of how much they have to do to prove that they are people
of good standing."
The two prelates who were refused visas were Bishop Emmanuel
Tucker, of Bo, in Sierra Leone, and Bishop Greg Shantha, of
Kurunegala, in Sri Lanka. "It is deeply embarrassing for our
country," the Director of Education at Canterbury Cathedral, Canon
Edward Condry, said. "These people regard the Anglican Communion
with such importance that they want to come here to affirm their
identity as Anglicans, and then the embassy says 'No, you can't'.
It is deeply embarrassing that we as a nation are doing this to
people. They are important local leaders.
"The bishops were hugely disappointed, distressed, and
The UKBA was criticised this week in a report by the Commons
Home Affairs Committee, which found that it has a backlog of more
than 275,000 cases of missing foreign criminals, failed
asylum-seekers, illegal immigrants, and others refusing to leave
the country. The number is equivalent to the population of
Newcastle upon Tyne.
Describing the figures as "unacceptable", the committee's
chairman, Keith Vaz, said that the UKBA seemed to have "acquired
its own Bermuda Triangle. It's easy to get in, but near impossible
to keep track of anyone, let alone get them out".