Visa refusal decision to be reviewed

Bill Hewitt
Very Rev Bill Hewitt (left) in Pakistan

The Home Office is to review a controversial decision to refuse visas to two Pakistani Christians who want to visit Glasgow.

Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill confirmed the case would be examined by officials after Glasgow Presbytery raised concerns that bureaucracy was “frustrating our efforts to build a partnership” with people of faith in the country.

The pledge was set out in a letter to Kirsten Oswald, MP for East Renfrewshire who raised the case with Prime Minister Theresa May in the House of Commons last week.

Ms Oswald welcomed the news and said she hoped the review would be “successful”.

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.

Welcome development

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.

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.

Reacting to Mr Goodwill's promise of a review, Joint clerk Very Rev Bill Hewitt, a former Moderator of the General Assembly, said: “This a welcome development and we would be delighted if our friends from Pakistan were able to come to Glasgow.

“They were very welcoming when a delegation from Glasgow visited the Diocese of Hyderabad last year and we very much want them to come here so they can share in the life of the Presbytery and give the twinning partnership real meaning.”

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.

Ms Oswald said: “This has been an extremely frustrating process for both the Church of Scotland and the Diocese of Hyderabad, and upsetting to those involved.

"The UK Government’s refusal of the visas was obtuse and took no account of the actual facts of the situation.

“I am approached by constituents on a weekly basis whose lives are being blighted by visa rules which are not fit for purpose.

“I am pleased that the UK Government is now giving this issue the attention it deserves, and that the granting of the visas is now under review.

"I hope the UK Government now listen, see sense on this issue, and allow the twinning project to proceed”.

In his letter to the SNP MP, Mr Goodwill said people seeking entry to the UK as a visitor must meet all the requirements of the immigration rules.

“It is fair and right that the immigration rules are applied in all cases," he said.

“However, further to your concerns, I have asked for both decisions to be reviewed.”

Meanwhile,Glasgow Presbytery has been recognised in the House of Commons for its efforts to work with churches in Pakistan.

Ms Oswald lodged a motion noting church leader's efforts to develop international and interfaith dialogue.

It has been signed by 14 members of the House so far.

The motion reads -

That this House applauds the efforts of the Church of Scotland Glasgow Presbytery to engage in international twinning arrangements with groups including the Diocese of Hyderabad to promote and develop international and interfaith dialogue, constructive communications and mutual understanding; agrees that this kind of engagement benefits faith communities, and also society more widely; expresses disappointment that visa applications for the return twinning visit of the Hyderabad diocese to the Church of Scotland have twice been refused; urges the Government to reverse this decision; suggests that the current system is simply not fit for purpose; and aspires to interfaith and international dialogue being recognised as a vital strand in forming positive, outward-looking global relationships.