Westminster Hall debate: UK Visas for visiting Malawians

9 Jun 2016
Visa Debate pic - David Patrick and James.jpg

The Scotland Malawi Partnership was delighted to attend the Westminster Hall debate yesterday, 8th June, on UK visas for those invited from sub-Saharan Africa.

CLICK HERE to read the debate in full

CLICK HERE to watch the debate on Parliament TV (from 16.00)

Patrick Grady, MP for Glasgow North, called the debate and spoke passionately about the considerable frustrations members of the SMP have had when it comes to securing UK visas for our Malawian partners invited to the UK for short-term visits.  Patrick is a longstanding friend of the SMP: he has himself lived in the north of Malawi (where he still has many Malawian friends) and has experienced first-hand the challenge of getting UK visas from his past role with SCIAF (SMP members).

Prior to the debate, David Hope-Jones and Patrick Grady MP met with Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, Minister of State for Immigration to discuss the issues faced by members of the SMP seeking UK visas for their Malawian partners.  The SMP presented Mr Brokenshire with a briefing collating the issues experienced by our members in recent months and years.

We encourage members to read or watch the debate as Patrick Grady’s speech captured beautifully why we feel reciprocal visits are so important for the people-to-people links between our two nations, and why it has become so hard to secure a UK visa of late.

We thank Patrick Grady for his tireless work to represent our members’ frustrations in this area and we commend James Brokenshire for taking the time on a busy day to meet with the Scotland Malawi Partnership to discuss these issues.  Both the meeting and the debate were thoughtful and constructive, with Mr Brokenshire keen to listen to the concerns of our members.

During the debate, Patrick Grady MP said:

“Visa barriers or refusals do not just damage the particular relationship between the individual visitor and the sponsoring organisation.  They send a signal about the kind of welcome this country and Government want to offer.”

He went on to quote Tiwonge Gondwe, a woman’s rights campaigner from Rhumpi district in Malawi, who was denied a visa not once but twice when invited to the UK.  She said: “Women in Malawi face violence every day.  I experienced violence but now I work as a volunteer to campaign for women and to help realise my children’s rights.  I wanted to come to the UK to build international support for women’s rights, but because I’m a volunteer I was told I did not earn enough money.  That does not make sense.

Margaret Ferrier MP joined the debate to highlight the issues around having a cashless system in a country like Malawi.  Jeremy Lefroy MP spoke about his failed attempts to secure visas for those he has invited from Tanzania.  Helen Grant MP spoke about how useful it has been for the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee to have international visitors feed into their inquiries in person in the UK, for which an effective visa system is required.

Representing the UK Government, James Brokenshire MP said he was happy to receive further information and case studies about issues experienced by members of the Scotland Malawi Partnership.  We will continue to collate members’ experience in the coming months for this purpose.  Please email david(at)scotland-malawipartnership.org as early as possible if you have Malawian visitors coming to the UK in the coming months.

During the debate Patrick Grady MP mentioned Malawi Gin which is now available in the UK, recommending the Minister mull over the debate with an MGT.  By way of a thank you, we have a bottle of Malawi Gin in the post for both the Minister and Patrick!

We commend the UK Government and Parliament for being alert and responsive to the frustrations of members of the Scotland Malawi Partnership, and we thank both Patrick Grady MP and James Brokenshire MP for their kind support.