African people twice as likely to be refused UK visas than applicants from elsewhere, finds report

Many people with entirely valid reasons for visiting Britain, such as to do business or take part in cultural and academic exchanges, prevented or discouraged from doing so, MPs warn

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 17 July 2019 13:00 BST
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A joint investigation by The Independent and Finance Uncovered revealed on Sunday that the UK government made £1.6bn from visa applicants in the five years since it outsourced the bulk of its overseas visa services to Dubai-based firm VFS
A joint investigation by The Independent and Finance Uncovered revealed on Sunday that the UK government made £1.6bn from visa applicants in the five years since it outsourced the bulk of its overseas visa services to Dubai-based firm VFS (Alamy)

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African people are more than twice as likely to be refused a UK visa as applicants from other parts of the world, according to new research which raises concerns about discrimination in the system.

The all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for Africa found that 27 per cent of African visa requests made in the two years to September 2018 were refused, compared to the overall refusal rate of 12 per cent. For Middle Eastern and Asian applicants the figure was 11 per cent, while those from North America stood at 4 per cent.

This has resulted in many Africans with entirely valid reasons for visiting the Britain, such as to do business or take part in cultural and academic exchanges, being prevented or discouraged from doing so, according to the report.

The research found that “weak quality control and lack of oversight” was leading to “erroneous, careless and sometimes offensive” decisions, while the absence of any right of appeal meant wrongly refused applicants faced expensive re-application costs.

Some people also perceived racial discrimination in some of the assumptions underlying reasons for rejection, with the report saying this gave an impression that the UK’s hostile environment was being extended into Africa.

Chi Onwurah MP, chair of APPG, said the “broken” visa system was doing “severe damage” to UK-Africa relations across a variety of sectors at a time when the UK needed to be “open for business”.

“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 added.

The report also pointed out that the “rationalisation” of UK visa services has meant few decisions were now made in the country of application, and for several African countries visa applications as well as interviews can only be done in a neighbouring country, imposing significant costs and inconvenience to applicants.

When questioned about the figures in the Commons on Wednesday, the prime minister said entry clearance officers considered applications for visitors visas with the "utmost rigour".

She cited figures showing that the percentage of Africans who saw their visas granted was up by 4 per cent on 10 years ago and only slightly below the average rate of the last 10 years.

Why is the Home Office getting so many immigration decisions wrong?

A Home Office spokesperson 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.

“We remain committed to getting visa decisions right the first time, every time.”

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