Source: The Guardian
Article by Amelia Hill
Home Office accused of regularly refusing visitor visas for trivial reasons, and deploying scare tactics when complaints are raised
The Home Office has been accused of regularly refusing visitor visas to those wishing to come to the UK for a short period for trivial and inaccurate reasons, with one leading immigration lawyer claiming the policy stemmed from “deep underlying racism”.
The Home Office has denied the claims, calling them “incorrect and misleading” but another specialist lawyer said it “regularly deploys scare tactics” when applicants complained about the refusal and tried to persuade them to drop their case.
The Guardian has learnt of at least a dozen recent cases where applicants from African countries, the Indian sub-continent, Cuba, Vietnam, Fiji and Thailand have been refused visitor visas for apparently frivolous or inaccurate reasons.
A third lawyer and barrister, Adrian Berry, chair of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, said that the Home Office could be forced to pay substantial damages if it could be proven to be acting unlawfully.
With the renewed attention on Theresa May’s “hostile environment” policies in the wake of the Windrush scandal, immigration lawyers, campaigners and MPs have raised concerns about the treatment of those applying for short-term visas.
In one recent case, a Bangladeshi father seeking to travel to the UK to take part in care proceedings involving his British children had his visitor visa refused over what his lawyer said was a minor issue. He reapplied but, by the time he arrived in the UK, the final hearing – which is currently ongoing – had already started.
In all these cases, applicants met immigration rules and the reasons given by the Home Office for its refusals were unfounded, according to their lawyers, such as stating the applicant did not have the funds to pay for their visit when they had submitted evidence from sponsors committed to meeting all their costs.
The Home Office also refused visas by saying it was not confident the applicant would leave the country at the end of their visit despite applicants clearly visiting for a specific purpose, such as a wedding; submitting evidence that they had booked and already paid for hotel accommodation ending on a certain date; presenting letters from employers, that stated they had been granted a specific period off work for the holiday; or running their own, successful business back home.
“The refusal reasons in the most recent case I am dealing with are unlawful, spurious and plainly wrong,” said Jan Doerfel, a barrister who runs his own specialist immigration chambers He said he believed there was a “general refusal culture, both within the Home Office and UK Visas and Immigration at entry clearance posts [and] there appears to be a deep underlying racism (whether direct or indirect) in the way many applicants are treated – meaning they may actually meet all the immigration rules, such as maintenance and accommodation, but unlawful reasons are found to refuse them that they will never be able to supercede and that are purely motivated by racism, coupled with a desire to keep numbers low.
“This means that – even when the immigration rules have been met and an applicant has applied to come for one specific purpose - the underlying view by the decision-makers are: ‘you are poor, you don’t earn much compared to us, so all you would want to do is get into the UK illegally’.
“It effectively devalues and denigrates not only applicants as individuals but also denigrates their heritage and culture as somewhat being worthless and not worth returning to.”
Syed Naqvi, the head of the immigration department at ITN solicitors, said: “The Home Office’s decision-making in visitor visa applications from African and the Indian sub-continent leaves a lot to be desired. It has become progressively worse since appeal rights were withdrawn in visitor visa cases a few years ago.
“I have also come across numerous cases where visitors – predominately from African and Indian sub-continent countries – have returned to their countries before the expiry of their visitor visa due to some compelling factors. Further visit visa applications from such clients are regularly refused simply on the basis that they did not adhere to their original travel itinerary.”
Home Office data shows that the average rate of refusal for visitor visas was 13% in the first quarter of 2017, the latest date for which figures are available, while applicants from north Africa had a 28% chance of being refused.
Before May announced her “hostile environment” stance on immigration, the figures were far closer: in 2010, the average refusal rate for visitor visas was 16%, with applicants from north Africa having a 14% of refusal.
After May’s announcement, however, the figures quickly began to diverge: by the end of 2011, they were 14% and 18% respectively. By the end of 2012, it was 16% and 21%. At the end of 2016, it was 16% and 29%.
Applicants refused a visitor visa have no right to an appeal or even to an administrative review of the decision, where the Home Office conducts a basic check of the way they considered the application.
Instead, applicants who want to challenge the decision must initiate a judicial review, which can cost more than £30,000 and take more than 10 months.
Scottish National party MP Alison Thewliss said: “It’s clear to me that the government’s hostile environment policy is being applied across all areas of immigration and I am entirely unsurprised to see people being refused visitor visas for highly dubious reasons.
“Indeed, I have met a number of my own constituents who have had problems applying for these types of short-term visas. The vast majority have abided by the rules and have made available the necessary information to demonstrate the purpose and duration of any visit, yet they have still been refused.