Robtel Neajai Pailey speaks at UK parliament on visa problems for African visitors

22 July, 2019

Leverhulme Early Career Fellow Robtel Neajai Pailey spoke at the launch of a report into the difficulties encountered by Africans seeking to visit the UK at the Houses of Parliament last week.

The report, ‘Visa Problems for African Visitors to the UK’ was produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Africa, the APPG for Diaspora, Development & Migration and the APPG for Malawi.

Dr Pailey provided evidence for the report and spoke at the launch event, drawing on her own personal experiences of applying for UK visas as well as her policy expertise in migration.

The launch panel, which took place on 16 July, comprised Minister for Immigration Caroline Nokes; MP Chi Onwurah, Chair of the APPG for Africa; John Vine, former Independent Chief Inspector for Borders & Immigration; and MP Patrick Grady, Chair of the Malawi APPG, alongside Dr Pailey.

The report found that African applicants are twice as likely to be refused non-immigrant visas as those from other continents.

It identified a number of challenges faced by Africans applying for visas:

  • Practical and logistical barriers: few decisions are 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.
  • Inconsistent and/or careless decision-making: for example, divergent decisions taken in effectively identical cases, reducing trust in the process
  • Perceived lack of procedural fairness: for example, additional documentation and evidence being requested over and above that specified in the guidelines.
  • Financial discrimination in decision-making: many applications are rejected because the applicant has little money, even though all costs have been guaranteed by a sponsoring third party.
  • Perceived gender or racial bias: the reasons given for rejection sometimes appeared to reflect a different standard applied to women applicants; other applicants also perceived racial discrimination in some of the assumptions underlying reasons for rejection.
  • Lack of accountability or a right of appeal.

Dr Pailey outlined her differing experience of applying for UK visas, from the US as a US permanent resident and from Ghana as a Liberian national, in a case study featured in the report.

During the panel event, Dr Pailey highlighted that the UK charges Africans for visa fees without actually granting visas, which she described as ‘akin to extortion’.

She asked the report secretariat to consider writing a report 2.0 with additional policy recommendations, such as that the UK should charge visa processing fees upfront and only require payment for a visa if it is actually granted.

She also wondered how much revenue the UK generates every year from African visa applications, and how much it stands to lose if Africans pursue a systematic boycott of the UK visa application process.

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