Scottish MPs call for improvements to UK visa system

20 Nov 2018
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Scottish MPs, led by Patrick Grady MP, have highlighted serious and systemic problems in the way those invited to the UK are treated when applying from countries such as Malawi.

Patrick Grady, MP for Glasgow North, called an Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons on Monday 19th November to represent the concerns of the Scotland Malawi Partnership (SMP) and others in this serious area. His concerns were echoed by Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire), Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West), Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith), Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) and Jim Shannon (Strangford). 

These are concerns which have consistently been highlighted by the SMP and others, and which have received cross party support from all Scottish parties in Westminster. This has been repeatedly highlighted on an all-party basis in debates supported by the SMP in the House of Lords in 2014, the House of Commons in 2014 and 2015, in Prime Minister Questions in 2018, and in Westminster Hall in 2016 and 2017.

The SMP recognises that individual officials in Lilongwe and Pretoria are often now alert and responsive to concerns raised by the SMP and individual cases brought to their attention by the SMP are now routinely well-handled.

The SMP can offer direct support ensuring members’ UK visa applications are approved. Members should contact the SMP as they start their application to avoid disappointment. 

While we have seen increased support for specific SMP member applications we identify on an individual basis, the SMP continues to have serious concerns at the overall systems, the tone and the approach of the UK visa-issuing system. This is informed by ten years of member feedback across Scottish civic society, and it is clear these concerns are shared by counterparts in Wales, England and Northern Ireland.

This 'UK visas for visitng Malawians' SMP paper outlines our members’ specific concerns.

The SMP wholly supports the fundamental and systemic issues repeatedly highlighted by Scottish MPs and Peers on a cross party basis. This remains a strong priority for the Malawi All-Party Parliamentary Group. We thank Scottish Parliamentarians for continuing to represent these concerns.

The SMP will write to the Immigration Minister following this latest debate and we understand that a joint meeting of the Malawi and Africa APPG will meet the Minister to discuss these concerns in February.

Speaking in the debate, Patrick Grady MP said:

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“What all the stakeholders have told these groups and what all the evidence shows is that the visa processing system also needs to be fit for purpose. The level of detail being requested, sometimes from very senior or very high-profile individuals, as we have heard, has been described as humiliating. In the case of applicants from developing countries, sometimes the information requested is simply impossible to provide. Priests and pupils in remote villages in northern Malawi or elsewhere in Africa may not have bank accounts or birth certificates and almost certainly do not have credit cards or online access to pay the visa processing fees, and neither would they have the means or resources to travel hundreds of miles to a processing centre, sometimes in another country and often on multiple occasions.

“…I will send the Minister some of the documents and evidence that have been produced by the Scotland Malawi partnership, not least the denial form which contains the words “Reason for denial—insert reason here”. Even when reasons are approved, that often happens very late in the application process, sometimes after the flights on which people have been booked have departed.”

Responding for the UK Government, Caroline Nokes MP, Minister for Immigration, said:

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“We all know that the United Kingdom is an attractive destination for legitimate travel, and the Government are determined that it stay that way.

“ … That said, we recognise the need for an adaptive immigration system to meet the UK’s needs as we leave the EU. As such, we are designing a future borders and immigration system that will incorporate recommendations made by the Migration Advisory Committee, and we plan to publish further details in the autumn.

“…I am committed to ensuring that the UK visa service is high performing, customer focused and continually improving, in terms of both products available and the route for application, and there is always room to improve as we respond to evolving demands and requirements, harness new technology and reflect customer experiences and needs.

“…The hon. Gentleman mentioned his chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group on Malawi, and his work with that country. I recently accepted an invitation from the Africa all-party parliamentary group to attend a meeting that it is hosting, I think, next month.

“I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the visa application centre in Lilongwe is open five days a week. We offer a priority visa service, with a five to seven-day turnaround time for applications. We also offer an on-demand mobile service. Visa application centre staff travel to the customer’s chosen location to accept applications and assist with the process. In the year ending in June 2018, there were 2,515 decisions on applications from Malawian nationals, and 78%, or 1,963, were accepted. Most of the visas granted were for visitors or students, but our latest online performance statistics show that 98% of visitor and student visas are issued within 15 days.

“…In conclusion, let me reassure hon. Members that the Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that we have a visa system that balances protecting our borders and national security with ensuring that people are welcome and are able to visit, to study and to work in areas where we need their skills. As we leave the EU, we will remain an open and tolerant country that recognises the valuable contribution migrants make to our society and that welcomes those with the skills and expertise to make our nation better still. We will control immigration so that we continue to attract the most talented to work or study in Britain while managing the process properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest. We are carefully considering a range of options for the future immigration system and will set out proposals very shortly. We will want to ensure that any decisions on our long-term arrangements are based on evidence and on engagement.”