Home Secretary to examine visa refusal case

Pakistan Christians
Representatives from Glasgow Presbytery received a warm welcome when they visited a twinned congregation in Hyderabad. Pictured at front with hosts from Hyderabad are (from left): Rev Fiona Gardner, minister at Temple Anniesland Church; Very Rev Bill Hewitt, Presbytery clerk; Rev Tom Pollock, Presbytery moderator 2015-16; Bill Gray, Presbytery world mission convener.

A controversial decision to refuse visas to two Pakistani Christians who want to visit Glasgow is to be examined by the Home Office.

Prime Minister Theresa May said Home Secretary Amber Rudd would be willing to investigate the case.

The Conservative Party leader made the pledge yesterday after Kirsten Oswald, MP for East Renfrewshire, raised the issue in the House of Commons.

The Presbytery of Glasgow, which will fully fund the visit, said the two Pakistan Christians had been left “personally depressed and shocked” by the situation which “frustrates our efforts to build a partnership” with people of faith in the country.

The decision has disrupted the Church of Scotland’s plans to build a partnership with the Diocese of Hyderabad in Pakistan.

Encouraging

Church leaders in the city, who visited Pakistan last year and wanted to organise a visit to Scotland in return,have been encouraging people to write to their MPs about the case.

Joint clerk of the Presbytery of Glasgow Rev Dr Graham Blountsaid: “We are encouraged that Kirsten Oswald has responded to constituents who wrote to her to ask her to raise the issue in the House of Commons.

“The Prime Minister’s response that the Home Secretary will take a fresh look at the case is welcome.

“We are hopeful that the Home Office will positively respond to our request for a meeting to discuss the wider issues involved.”

The visa applications have been made through the Faithshare Visitor Programme run by the Church of Scotland’s World Mission Council which is vastly experienced in this area.

Despite reassurances being provided, immigration officials refused the applicants visas on the basis they could not prove they were wealthy enough to be allowed into the UK.

Glasgow Presbytery is worried that attempts to attract international gatherings such as the World Council of Churches General Assembly to the city will be severely limited by the likelihood that people from poorer countries could be refused visas.

Message to faith communities

Speaking in the House of Commons, Ms Oswald said: “Guests from the Hyderabad diocese have twice been refused visas to visit the Church of Scotland Presbytery of Glasgow as part of a twinning initiative, the suggestion being that the visit was not genuine, despite the paperwork being correct and the Church bearing the costs.

“When I raised this with the leader of the House, he spoke of the need for people to return home‚Äčafter visits, and then the Immigration Minister told me in a patronising letter how to apply for a visa.

“Will the Prime Minister tell the Church why its visitors are not welcome and what messages she thinks it sends to our faith communities?”

Mrs May replied:“We have a very clear visasystem, and decisions are taken according to its rules, but as the hon. Lady will have seen, the Home Secretary has heard her comments.

“I suggest that if she sends her the details, she will look at the case.”