Government agrees that UK visas system needs reform

04 December 2020

The UKVI and Kevin Foster MP, the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration have responded to our co-authored 2019 report, Visa Problems for African Visitors to the UK.

For more than a decade the SMP has been active lobbying the UK Government to improve the way people from Malawi are treated when they apply for a UK visa. We have had numerous debates in both the Commons and the Lords but, this week, we are delighted to announce our biggest breakthrough to date.

As the Secretariat for the Malawi All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), and partnered with the Africa and Migration APPGs, we co-authored a major parliamentary report last year highlighting the serious concerns our members have about the visa issuing process. This was in partnership with the Royal Africa Society and the Africa Foundation for Development.

The parliamentary inquiry took public evidence, brought all political parties together, and twice met with the then Immigration Minister. The report was launched in July 2019 and we have been waiting since for the formal UK Government response.

At its core the report outlined that:

  • The UK visit visa system is not fit for purpose

  • It is inaccessible to many Africans

  • It contains an array of practical and logistical barriers

  • It is threaded with biased decision-making processes

We have now, after 16 months, received our first formal responses from the UKVI and Kevin Foster MP, the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration.

The UKVI and the Minister outline commitments, changes and details in response to the original report and its prompts.

The UKVI outlines two core areas in its response.

  1. To improve the application process:

  • Introduce an expedited application process for those applicants who currently have to travel to a neighbouring country to apply and/or be interviewed for a visa.

  • Provide clearer and more detailed information to applicants on visa application processes and requirements.

  • Where decision-making is fully digitized, ensure documents are scanned in the country of application, allowing applicants to keep their documents if they wish.

  • Increase the number of countries with VACs (Visa Application Centres), or else look to use local FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) facilities, or establish partnership arrangements with other countries to share facilities.

  1. To improve decision-making:

  • Strengthen quality control systems for rejection letters before they issue.

  • Where there is clear and compelling evidence that a visit is fully-funded by a credible UK-based sponsor, either remove the requirement for the applicant to submit bank statements and prove affluence, or else publish the evidence-base establishing the causal link between poverty and visa overstays.

  • Support greater input from High Commissions and Embassies into the decision making processes as a matter of course.

  • Reinforce the role of the Inspectorate and monitor the implementation of the Inspector’s recommendations, together with a more systematic relationship between the Chief Inspector and the relevant Parliamentary Select Committee.

Further to this, the Minister sets out a number or re-assurances and commitments in his response including;

Sharing a commitment to continued ‘constructive engagement’ with the APPGs and an invitation to submit further comments on the response.

  • Outlining that the UKVI have already responded positively to some of the report’s recommendations, for example by amending guidance to visa officers to give greater weight to the fact that some visitors are sponsored by reputable British organisations inviting them to the UK for specific, sometimes high profile, events.

  • A firm commitment that quotas will not be applied to visas from any country or region.

  • Outlining that the cost of contacting VAC’s has already been reduced by 50%.

We are delighted to receive this formal reply from the UK Government to the co-authored cross party report and we warmly welcome the Home Office’s commitments to deliver many of our recommendations. For too long, Malawians, and others across Africa, have been treated with contempt as they navigate a visa system which is ever more unreasonable, illogical and flawed.

By working in partnership with the Royal African Society and AFFORD, and through three separate All-Party Parliamentary Groups, we have given voice to those who have been so badly mistreated by the visa and immigration system when invited to the UK. We have heard moving accounts of injustice and indifference from the departments of state which are there to serve and facilitate.
It is genuinely inspiring to see Parliamentary systems working so well: holding government to account by giving voice to those affected. While much delayed, we commend the UK Government for its thorough and well thought-through response to the points that we made.
There is further analysis and discussion required, and we will work hard to hold the UK Government to account on the delivery of what has been agreed. But we welcome today’s news and we applaud the UK Government for their strong commitments and willingness to look seriously at what can be improved. This is a major success for all who have worked so hard, for so long, to see improvements in this area.
In keeping with our Black Lives Matters work, we are committed to representing our friends in Malawi when they are treated so poorly by our own machinery of state. We look forward to working closely with partners and with the Home Office to realise and consolidate this success.