A UK parliamentary report has severely criticised the way the British government treats visa applicants from Africa.
The cross-party group of MPs highly critical report on the Home Office’s treatment of visa applicants from Africa says that there are just 32 Visa Application Centres, or VACs, serving a continent of 1.3 billion people across 57 countries.
It says that submitting an application often means travelling hundreds of miles and sometimes even having to travel to another country to make an application.
The issue of delays obtaining visa appointments is also criticised in the report, along with the UK Home Office’s unwillingness to provide updates on pending applications.
The process of applying for a visa if applicants live in Africa is described as “arduous, time-consuming and expensive” and liable to put off many who have legitimate and beneficial reasons for visiting the UK.
The report forms part of an ongoing inquiry into the high level of visa refusals for Africans seeking to visit the UK for professional or business reasons.
The MPs report highlights the inconsistent, and often irrational, application of the “genuine visitor” test and points to examples of divergent decisions being taken in effectively identical cases as well as different decisions being taken when an identical re-application was made.
The UK MPs say there is now a lack of trust in the visa process as well as a lack of clear guidelines on what is required for a successful application.
British Immigration Rules require applicants to have sufficient funds to cover all reasonable costs during their visit but many applications are rejected because the applicant does not have enough money, even when all costs have been guaranteed by a sponsor.
The report highlights that this has, on many occasions, prevented churches, NGOs, charities, development agencies and academic institutions from bringing people to the UK to take part in specific events and is in effect discrimination on grounds of income.
The report criticises the assumption those who are not well off are not genuine visitors, noting that “it is deeply problematic to conflate poverty with presumed criminality without a clear evidence base”.
Britain’s visa guidance permits UK decision-makers to take into account both the political, economic and security situation of the applicant’s country of nationality, and statistical information on immigration non-compliance from those in the same geographical region, when deciding whether an application is “genuine”.
This, the report points out, means a visa could be refused simply on account of nationality.