Government agrees changes to improve UK visa system for African visitors in response to APPG report on problems
Posted on 3rd December, 2020 in APPG Update
Kevin Foster MP, the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration has responded to a 2019 report claiming that the UK visit visa system is not fit for purpose, being inaccessible to many Africans, under resourced, unaccountable and widely perceived as biased or even discriminating against Africans.
The report, Visa Problems for African Visitors to the UK was the result of a 6 month inquiry led by Chi Onwurah MP and Patrick Grady MP with the All Party Parliamentary Groups for Africa, Malawi and Diaspora supported by the Royal African Society with AFFORD, The Scotland Malawi Partnership and the African Studies Association UK. It catalogued the regular challenges that African visitors face in obtaining visas to come to the UK, including vast practical and logistical barriers and inconsistent and biased decision making in UKVI. The report proposed a number of improvements that could easily be made to improve the situation.
> A commitment from the Minister to continued ‘constructive engagement’ with the APPGs and an invitation to submit further comments on the response, a helpful recognition that this issue cannot simply be parked.
> UK Visas and Immigration (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.
> The availability of digital applications has been expanded, including to Africa, to make it easier for those with the facilities to apply from home; and scanning facilities will be made available in all visa application centres (VACs).
> The cost of contacting VACs with queries or for information has been halved.
> UKVI are exploring ways of improving access to visas for those countries where there is currently no VAC, and are addressing the wider problem of delays in delivering visas in Africa.
> A firm commitment that quotas will not be applied to visas from any country or region.
> A commitment to making the visa application system ‘as simple and straightforward as possible.’
> A document checklist has been added to the UKVI website to help applicants ensure they have the right ones.
> UKVI is also seeking ways to ensure decision-making is more consistent, and ensuring that British High Commissions and Embassies are appropriately involved in the process.
Chi Onwurah MP, Chair of the APPG for Africa commented:
“After nearly 16 months of waiting for a Government response, we are pleased to now learn that some of the recommendations in our Visit Visa’s Report have been implemented by UKVI within that waiting period, however there is still vast room for improvement. The costs borne by applicants contacting Visa Application Centres about their application have been reduced but we would like to see these fees removed altogether.
We welcome the wider availability of digital applications along with the Government commitment to making scanning facilities for key documents available in all Visa Application Centres in Africa. If the Government commits to implementing this without the delay, this will save applicants from being separated from their passports for weeks on end whilst they wait for the return of their documents in the city of the Visa Application Centre at their own considerable expense. If this process can be ended, this would be a step in the right direction.
The APPGs will continue to monitor progress on the implementation of an improved service and on reducing waiting times and improving decision making quality and consistency.”
The reply also includes a comprehensive list of current locations for visa application centres in the annexes.
The APPGs will be examining the reply in detail and seeking a further meeting with the Minister responsible to explore further steps to improve the situation. It remains a focus for their attention.
This year, 2020, has obviously seen a drastic reduction in international travel of all kinds, and with it a fall in the demand for visas. But as travel resumes, it is to be hoped that these improvements will significantly benefit the experience of African visitors to the UK.
The UKVI response to recommendations, the Minister’s letter and annexes have been published here.
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