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Coalition of All-Party Parliamentary Groups publishes report on the difficulties and discrimination faced by African visa applicants


Report examines reasons why Africans applying for a UK visa face a 27% refusal rate

Date of Publication:
17 July 2019

Coalition of All-Party Parliamentary Groups publishes report on the difficulties and discrimination faced by African visa applicants

17 July 2019

A coalition of three All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) yesterday published a report examining the problems and discrimination faced by African nationals when applying for visas to the UK.

You can download the 48-page report here from the website of the Royal African Society. The report was authored by the APPG for Africa, the APPG for Malawi and the APPG for Diaspora, Development & Migration.

According to the Home Office's quarterly statistics for September 2018, while the overall visa refusal rate was 12%, African applicants had a refusal rate of 27%. In comparison, applicants from both the Middle East and Asia had a refusal rate of 11%, and for North Americans it was 4%.

The APPGs explained in their report: "Our coalition of APPGs has been concerned for some time with the question of the high level of visa refusals for African nationals seeking to visit the UK, for professional or business reasons. Home Office data on visa refusals shows that African applicants are over twice as likely to be refused a UK visa than applicants from any other part of the world. The UK has good relations with most African countries, but it needs to be recognised that no single issue does more potential damage to the image or influence of the UK in Africa than this visa question. The fact that refusals for applicants from Africa in 2018 were running at more than double the global average suggests that something is amiss."

The report identifies a number of specific challenges faced by Africans when applying for visas to the UK.

First, it finds Africans face particular practical, logistical and financial barriers. The report notes: "As of 2019, there are just two Decision Making Centres (DMCs) and 32 Visa Application Centres (VACs) serving a continent of 1.3 billion people across 57 countries covering a land mass of 11.5 million square miles. Therefore, it is no surprise that an African national seeking to apply for a UK Visit Visa faces significant practical and logistical barriers."

African applicants are said to face financial discrimination and many are rejected because the applicant has little money, even though all costs have been guaranteed by a sponsoring third party.

Inconsistent or unfair decision making by the Home Office is also identified by the APPGs as a key problem.

"Evidence submitted to the APPG inquiry showed frequent errors in the handling of applications and inconsistent decision making, depending on the individual decision maker. While a margin of human error is accepted in most contexts, the rate of mistakes and inconsistency suggests a systemic failure whereby clearly inaccurate decisions can be made with no quality assurance or fact-checking. The last global review of entry clearance decision making was in 2011 and found poor quality decision making in 35% of cases", the report said.

It adds: "The grounds on which an application can be rejected are often not clear and can vary enormously, even for a single applicant. This elasticity gives rise to inconsistency, and to decisions that can be considered discriminatory or prejudiced."

A Liberian academic based at the University of Oxford, who has experience of applying for UK visas from the US and from Liberia, told the APPGs that she believes UK immigration processes for African nationals are "dehumanising, xenophobic and racist" and are deliberately structured to deter and discourage African nationals from applying for and securing visas.

The report also expresses serious concerns over the lack of appeal rights and weak quality control.

The APPGs say in the report: "Despite many years of independent evidence showing alarmingly high levels of errors and inconsistency in decision making, there is no right of appeal or redress for applicants. Many who gave evidence felt the seemingly irrational decisions they experienced were largely due to an absence of sufficient oversight and scrutiny, which has allowed poor quality decision-making to become institutionally acceptable. In practice there appears to be no sanction on an individual, or the system, for inaccurate or inconsistent decisions.

"Such is the seeming randomness of decision-making that many organisations that sponsor or support large numbers of applications have learnt through experience that it is often more fruitful to simply apply again, paying the fees for a second time, than to try and challenge a decision."

Overall, the APPGs conclude: "The inquiry finds that the logistical burdens and inconvenience imposed on visa applicants, together with the erratic nature of decision making and the reasons given for rejection of visa applications, does significant damage to the UK's own interests. It hinders business partnerships, cultural and personal exchanges, damages intergovernmental relations and even undermines efforts to showcase the impact of UK Aid and of international peacebuilding work funded by the UK. It is undermining the work of the Department for International Trade, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, as well as what thousands of UK civic groups are doing."

Chi Onwurah MP, the Chair of the APPG for Africa, said the "broken" visa system damages the UK economy and society, and is "embarrassing, patronising and insulting" to African applicants.

The report makes a number of recommendations to address the issues identified, including:

• Expedited application processes for those applicants who currently have to travel to a neighbouring country to apply and/or be interviewed for a visa.

• Clearer information to visa applicants on visa application processes and requirements, especially in terms of supporting documents that must be submitted by the applicant.

• Where decision-making is fully digitized, ensure documents are scanned in the country of application.

• Opening more Visa Application Centres (VACs) in countries where they are not currently sited.

In response to the report, a Home Office spokesperson told the Financial Times that 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."