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Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Africans Twice As Likely To Be Refused UK Visa, Say MPs

Africans Twice As Likely To Be Refused UK Visa, Say MPs

*Chair of parliamentary group insists ‘broken’ application system is harming UK-Africa relations

African people are more than twice as likely to be refused UK visitor visas than applicants from any other part of the world, according to research that highlights potential discrimination in British government policy.

The study, published on Tuesday by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Africa, showed that 27 per cent of African visitor visa requests made in the two years to September 2018 were refused, compared with the overall refusal rate of 12 per cent. For both Middle Eastern and Asian applicants, the figure was 11 per cent, while for North Americans it was 4 per cent.

According to the report, this has resulted in many Africans “with entirely valid reasons for visiting the UK”, such as businesspeople, academics and performers, being unable or unwilling to travel due to the entry barriers.

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Commenting on the report, Chi Onwurah, a Labour MP and chair of the group, said that at a time when the UK needed to be open for business, “the broken visas system is doing severe damage to UK-Africa relations across a variety of sectors”.

“As well as our relations, it damages our economy and society. It is embarrassing, patronising and insulting to African applicants and leaves the slogan of ‘Global Britain’ empty and meaningless,” she said.

The report also raises concerns about the Home Office’s use of a risk-assessment algorithm, first revealed last month by the Financial Times, which grades applications as green, amber or red according to their level of risk. The chief inspector of borders told the APPG inquiry he was concerned that an overreliance on the algorithmic streaming tool “could mean that decisions were not being made on the merits of the individual case but on a set of generalised and detached indicators”.

While the Home Office has said it does not screen applications on racial grounds, human rights organisations such as Liberty have argued that indicators such as nationality are effectively proxies for race.

In an article published alongside the APPG report, Ms Onwurah expressed concern that the problems faced by African visitors were “compounded” by algorithmic decision-making, because “algorithms are not [neutral] . . . they are reflective of their design and the data they are trained on . . . by automating decision-making, algorithms industrialise bias”.

Iain Halliday, an immigration lawyer quoted in the research, said there appeared to be a presumption that African visitors “will abscond, and that proof of previous visits and return to the country of origin is often not given appropriate weight”.

“The impression gained by many African applicants from their own experience is that Home Office officials seem to assume that they will not leave the UK at the end of their visit and that therefore the decision-making scales are automatically weighted in favour of a visa refusal,” he was quoted as saying.

The report criticised border staff for what it called “questionable and sometimes offensive reasons” for refusals. In one instance, an internationally renowned choreographer and two dancers from the Democratic Republic of Congo were refused visas to perform in a dance festival reflecting on their personal experience of the civil war. UK entry clearance officers reportedly questioned why dancers from the UK could not fill these roles.

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Nanjala Nyabola, a Kenyan academic and author, told the FT that she regarded the visa system as “inhumane and degrading”.

Ms Nyabola, who studied in Britain at Birmingham and Oxford universities, said her family was unable to attend her graduation ceremonies because of the difficulty in obtaining a visa.

“When I graduated from Birmingham in 2008 I had three months to leave the country,” she said. “When I left in 2011 after graduating from Oxford I had one week to leave. The space is shrinking really dramatically,” she said. She has interpreted this as a sign that the Home Office wanted to be seen as tough on immigrants, particularly those of colour.

The idea of a visa, she said, had morphed from the notion of promoting exchange of people and ideas to one of “shutting people out”, and raising money for the Home Office through high fees, which are paid regardless of whether the visa is granted or not.

Ms Nyabola said it had become increasingly hard to hold academic conferences on Africa in the UK because of the difficulty of obtaining visas for delegates. She said she knew of cases where half the delegates had been refused entry.

Responding to the report, the Home Office said the UK “welcomes all genuine visitors from Africa and wants its visa system to support our important and increasing business and trade ties with the continent”.

“Visa applications from African nationals are at their highest level since 2013 and decision makers do not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, religion or race,” a spokesman said. “We remain committed to getting visa decisions right the first time, every time.”

The department also said that more than 47,000 more visas were issued to African nationals in 2018 than in 2016, an increase of 14 per cent.

Culled from Financial Times

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