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Baldry promises help, after African clergy are refused visas

13 June 2014

SHUTTERSTOCK

NEW guidance will be drawn up to assist dioceses that wish to bring foreign visitors to the UK, after a number of clergy who had been planning visits were refused visas.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry MP, said last week that he would work with Home Office officials to prepare advice for dioceses trying to navigate a proposed guest through the visa requirements.

The Revd Timothy Krindi, a priest from the Episcopal Church of Sudan and South Sudan, was refused a visa in April, despite a request from the diocese of Salisbury (which has a long-standing link to Sudan) to come to Britain to raise awareness of the conflict in his country (News, 4 April).

After investigating the case, Sir Tony said that he now believed that the UK officials who had been processing visa applications were pursuing a "tick-box exercise", and refused Mr Krindi's application because he had failed to provide the correct paperwork.

In a letter to Sir Tony, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, a Home Office minister, said that Mr Krindi had not submitted any evidence of his claimed income or financial circumstances; but, Lord Taylor said, Mr Krindi was free to apply again with the necessary documents.

Canon Ian Woodward, vice-chairman of Salisbury-Sudan Link, said, however, that the system was not flexible enough to work in poor communities. "The visa authorities require evidence of income and bank statements, while many Sudanese and South Sudanese people do not have bank accounts, and therefore are not able to produce financial statements. . .

"We are keen with to work with [Sir Tony] and the visa authorities to ensure that the entry clearance system is made better able to deal with the realities in other parts of the world."

Last month, at least eight Kenyan ordinands and clerics were refused visas after being invited to join the diocese of Chelmsford's centenary celebrations and mission (News, 23 May). Sir Tony said that, in a similar way to Mr Krindi's case, the applicants appeared to have not provided all the required paperwork.

"This is more cock-up than conspiracy," Sir Tony said. "As I have worked through each individual case, what has been clear to me is that, in many instances, the people in Kenya genuinely believed that simply because they had a letter of invitation from the diocese of Chelmsford, that would be sufficient to get them a visa."

He said that unless the applicants had the precise documents proving their financial circumstances, their applications would fail. He was "cautiously optimistic" that those Kenyans who had now re-applied with the correct paperwork would succeed in getting visas.

A spokesman from the diocese of Chelmsford said on Tuesday of last week: "This is a situation that has caused considerable distress. We appreciate Sir Tony's efforts to obtain visas for our colleagues from Kenya, and we very much hope that the number of people who are granted visas will increase."

The issue had been exacerbated in recent years by a centralisation of the visa applications, Sir Tony said. "Visas are now processed remotely, and are more process-driven rather than value-judgement-driven."

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, said when the Kenyans' visas were refused that the decision to refuse them made him "ashamed". He accused the UK Border Agency of unfairly discriminating against poorer applicants. These sentiments mirror those of Christopher Fielden, who was organising the proposed trip by Mr Krindi from Sudan.

Sir Tony said, however, that it was his view that the immigration rules did not discriminate against the poor, but were simply being applied more rigidly against those who had not provided the correct paperwork. He did acknowledge that this was becoming a problem for dioceses, nonetheless.

"I will try and sit down with immigration ministers to see if it is possible for the Home Office and myself to draft some advice to dioceses on making visa applications for visiting clergy."

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