While over the past month, the UK Home Office has received criticism over its fairness in issuing visitor visa to Africans travelling to the country; a report by a coalition of MPs say, this could affect the UK’s business, trade or investments, government relations, academic and cultural exchanges.

The coalition of three All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) say the visa system is harming the private sector’s immediate efforts to do business. Much so, for small businesses who may not have direct contacts to influence the application process, so their African partners would have a smooth visa process. The report holds this as discrimination against small and medium-sized businesses, trying to expand their business in Africa.

“The inability to trace the stage which an application had reached caused uncertainty and costly delays to businesses. We did hear of major companies doing multi-million pound contracts with African governments who were able through their direct intervention with government departments to ensure that all African partners they were inviting to the UK received the desired visas promptly,” the report said.

In what the report calls evidence, it gives case studies, to support its preposition. It said for instance, De La Rue, a British Company that manufactures paper and security printed products including banknotes, passports and tax stamps, reported that they lost a business opportunity because of visa refusal. The company said a whole delegation they invited from Somalia, had their visa applications rejected on the grounds that, they submitted inadequate information and the assessor did not believe the credentials. It adds that, the assessor phoned the decision making centers in South Africa to ask if the application was legitimate and asked that the letter be re-worded, to say the company would ensure, the delegation returned at the end of their visit.

Another case study is with the Public Administration International (PAI), a London based company that provides short courses in public administration. The company reported it lost about half of its estimated revenue between 2018 and March 2019, because majority of its clients, who are Africans, say they prefer taking courses in the US or Italy, because of the difficulty in obtaining a visit visa for the UK.

According to the Guardian, the UNESCO chair on refugee integration, Alison Phipps, just last month, said, she will no longer host any international conference in the UK, because of the Home Office’s “inept” and “discriminatory” visitor visa system. Apparently, visiting visas were refused academics from African and Middle East countries, who were to take part in a global conference.

In the same vein, Reuters reported in November 2018 that, scientists were angry that UK visas were denied about 17 African and Asian researchers, wanting to attend a health conference in London. Among those who were unhappy at the situation, was Peter Piot, a Belgian-born microbiologist who was part of a team, that discovered the Ebola virus in the 1970s and is now Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. According to him, the restrictions “represent a significant threat” to the United Kingdom in establishing itself as a global health and science hub, when it should be showing it is “open for business.”

In addition, the report says, the UK’s refusal to give visiting visas to African artists, like in the case of the Edinburgh Festival, damages the UK’s reputation as a world leading centre for culture and arts. It adds that, individual festivals could lose thousands of pounds when this happens.

Whereas it is difficult for Africans to get visiting visas to the UK, British citizens requiring visas to African countries have the opposite experience. An article by Bathsheba Okwenje, a researcher-artist, published on a blog run by the London School of Economics and Political Science, showed that a Ugandan national had to provide a long list of requirements; some of which you might want to call ridiculous even. These included personal bank statements showing sufficient money to cover the visit to the UK, confirmation of employment, marriage certificate, child’s birth certificate, spouse’s employment contract, as well as paying $414 to expedite the visa process. On the other hand, the Ugandan Embassy visa requirements for UK nationals only involved a passport valid for at least six months and $50 paid at the port of entry.

Meanwhile, African countries are considered an important partner to the UK. Not just on Commonwealth lines, but with uncertainties on Brexit, and according to the UK-Africa TI, an African Continental Free Trade Area, provides British companies with the opportunity, to expand their business on the continent, while working closely with African businesses.

By Gifty Danso

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