In a report, the cross-party group of MPs has severely criticised the Home Office’s treatment of visa applicants from Africa for making an illogical assumption that those who are not well off are not genuine visitors, noting that “it is deeply problematic to conflate poverty with presumed criminality without a clear evidence base”.
The MPs also cited lack of adequate infrastructure to serve Africans pointing out that at the moment they are just 32 Visa Application Centres (VACs), serving a continent of 1.3 billion people across 57 countries. This the UK MPs say has reduced what should otherwise be a straightforward process to become “arduous, time-consuming and expensive” for no reason putting off many Africans who have legitimate and beneficial reasons for visiting the UK.
The scanting report says that submitting an application from Africa often means travelling hundreds of miles and sometimes even having to travel to another country to make an application.
The report, which forms part of an ongoing inquiry into the high level of visa refusals for Africans seeking to visit the UK for professional or business reasons, says there is currently a lack of trust in the UK visa process as well as a lack of clear guidelines on what is required for a successful application.
The MPs report highlights the inconsistent, and often irrational, application of the “genuine visitor” test and points to examples of divergent decisions being taken in effectively identical cases as well as different decisions being taken when an identical re-application was made.
The issue of delays obtaining visa appointments is also criticised in the report, along with the UK Home Office’s unwillingness to provide updates on pending applications.
British Immigration Rules require applicants to have sufficient funds to cover all reasonable costs during their visit but many applications are rejected because the applicant does not have enough money, even when all costs have been guaranteed by a sponsor.
This grey area the report says has, on many occasions, prevented churches, NGOs, charities, development agencies and academic institutions from bringing people to the UK to take part in specific events and is in effect discrimination on grounds of income.
Britain’s visa guidance permits UK decision-makers to take into account both the political, economic and security situation of the applicant’s country of nationality, and statistical information on immigration non-compliance from those in the same geographical region, when deciding whether an application is “genuine”.
This, the report points out, means a visa could be refused simply on account of nationality.