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The UK visa and immigration system is one of suspicion, frustration, and all too frequently rejection

3 min read

SNP MP Patrick Grady writes ahead of his House of Commons Adjournment debate on UK entry visas.

Universities, music festivals, churches, businesses, campaign groups and more are all reporting increasing frustration at delays and denials of visas for visitors from overseas. The UK Government needs to consider how policy and practice can be improved so that we don’t lose out on the expertise that short-term visitors can bring to our economy and society.

Throughout the summer of 2018, the media was full of reports of festivals disrupted by the denial of visas to artists from different parts of the world.  The Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival described the problems faced by over a dozen authors as “humiliating”.

Peter Gabriel, the founder of WOMAD, expressed alarm after at least three acts were unable to perform, saying “our UK festival would now have real problems bringing artists into this country, many of whom no longer want to come to the UK because of the difficulty, cost and delays with visas, along with the new fear that they will not be welcomed”.

Examples emerge from all round the world on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. No fewer than 17 researchers were reported as being unable to attend the Women Leaders in Global Health conference hosted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine last week, which the organisers said was tantamount to discrimination, was bad for science research in the UK, and means that they would have to consider hosting events overseas in the future.  

These are not examples of a UK that is open for business. These are not examples of a Global Britain. These are not examples of a Home Office that has abandoned the hostile environment. These are examples of failure across the board, failure of policy and failure of practice.   

Does the Government really believe that everything on these islands is so wonderful that it must presume everyone who applies for a visa secretly wants to abscond? That musicians, authors, academics, scientists, business owners, senior civil servants, will take one look at the streets paved with gold and abandon their families and careers for a job in Britain’s gig economy? Because laughable though that idea is, that is the impression that’s being given.

So the policy has to change. And that means the practice should also change.

The Government should do more to respect the bona fides of sponsoring organisations. It is not in the interests of festival organisers, or universities, or churches, or – for example – the City of London Corporation – for their guests to abscond. So the Government should be prepared either as a matter of policy or through some kind of formal accreditation to start from a principle that guests invited by such organisations are coming for good reasons and can be expected to abide by their visa conditions and return in due course.

The reality is that the whole immigration system needs root and branch reform, and that includes visitor entry visas. And if the UK Government doesn’t want to change, the Scottish Government and Parliament would be more than happy to take responsibility and build a system that works for Scotland’s economy and society.

Many of us see Brexit as a small, isolationist retreat from the world stage. The reality experienced by those going through the visa and immigration system is one of suspicion, frustration, and all too frequently rejection. It is not conducive to growing the economy or building a more tolerant society, and it will not be without fundamental change.

Patrick Grady is the SNP MP for Glasgow North

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