School visit rescued after last-minute visa issue

16 Feb 2018

A long-planned UK visit of pupils and teachers from St Patrick’s Minor Seminary in Rumphi, as part of their partnership with St Benedict’s High School, was rescued from near-cancellation after a heroic effort by both schools, the UK Government, the Scotland Malawi Partnership and our sister network the Malawi Scotland (MaSP).

On Thursday 8th February, three working days before travel, the school in Rumphi was informed by letter that the UK visas had been rejected.  Within just a few hours the SMP had been informed and two Scottish MPs, Patrick Grady MP and Gavin Newlands MP, raised the matter in the main chamber of the House of Commons.  The SMP wrote to the UK Government within minutes of being informed of the decision and, all credit to UKVI, the decision was reversed within an hour of receipt of the letter.

However, this still left the serious practical problem of getting the group’s passports from Rumphi to Pretoria – as UK visas cannot be stamped anywhere in Malawi, not even by the British High Commissioner.  The Rector of the St Patrick’s Minor Seminary drove the passports later on Thursday the six hours down to Pretoria where they were couriered to Pretoria on Friday.

There was insufficient time to have the passports couriered back from Pretoria, without risking the school group missing their flight.  So a committed Entry Clearance Officer at Pretoria personally flew with the passports to Lilongwe to deliver them in person.

MaSP were able to collect the passports and facilitate a meeting between the Entry Clearance Officer and the school group in Lilongwe, pictured, to tell the official more about their forthcoming visit and pass on their thanks.

The group of school children and teachers will travel out later on the 13th February and enjoy a two-week visit to Scotland as part of their school partnership with St Benedict’s High School.

Members are reminded that the SMP can assist with their UK visa applications, as we have strong channels to offer direct support, but we need to be contacted before the applications are complete.  Please contact David(at) as early as possible in the process.

While this is an extremely positive outcome, and the Scotland Malawi Partnership is keen to offer our sincere thanks for the heroic personal commitment of the visa staff in Pretoria for ensuring this visit could go ahead, we do continue to have serious systemic concerns about how visas from Malawi are handled in the current ‘hub and spoke’ model, which sees Malawian’s invited to the UK having to send their passports, birth certificates, bank statements and other personal effects 2,000km away to South Africa.

In October 2017 the SMP again wrote to Brandon Lewis MP, then UK Immigration Minister, outlining the top ten frustrations our members have with the current UK visa handling system.  We received a reply at the end of January 2018 by Caroline Nokes MP, Mr Lewis’ successor in this role, in which the Minister  refused to meet with the SMP to hear the concerns of our members.

We will continue to represent members’ concerns and are delighted that the UK Parliament’s Malawi All-Party Parliamentary Group on Malawi has offered to seek further clarity from the UK Government against these concerns.

While representing these wider policy concerns we applaud the humanity and personal commitment shown by officials in this instance, which allowed this visit to go ahead.  We are indebted to the team.