There is increasing evidence Africans are being unfairly denied UK visas

Who’s coming in?
Who’s coming in?
Image: Reuters/Toby Melville
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Among the many difficulties faced when traveling with an African passport, the most tasking is getting a visa.

With paperwork-intensive applications and unclear requirements during interviews as well as high rates of rejections, visa application processes often feel like playing the lottery for applicants from African countries. It’s a reality many face given only three African countries rank above average on the 2018 index of the world’s strongest passports.

A joint All-Party Parliamentary Group report from British lawmakers has offered more evidence applicants from African countries face far more visa challenges than applicants from other continents. African applicants are more than twice as likely to be refused a United Kingdom (UK) visa than applicants from any other part of the world, the report found.

In compiling the report, the parliamentary group drew evidence and testimonies from a public hearing held in January as well as from meetings with both public and private UK-based organizations which have invited Africans to visit the country for “bonafide activities and events.” The group also received testimonies from African government officials.

Ultimately, the findings appeared to confirm long-held suspicions by Africans as it showed applicants from the continent are denied visas for reasons ranging from discrimination on account of applicants’ income (even in cases where an inviting third party is paying the costs of the trip) to logistical barriers like having to visit another country before applying for a visa. As part of evidence for the report, Mauritania’s embassy noted that all UK visa applications from the country require visiting a visa application center in Morocco. That translates to 4,000-kilometer round trips and an added barrier of first obtaining a Moroccan visa before a Mauritania national can apply for a UK visa.

Visa applications were also found to have been rejected based on inconsistent decision making and “lack of procedural fairness” which often saw different decisions taken in “effectively identical” applications or identical re-applications. The effect, the report notes, is reduced trust in the process and increased frustration for applicants who cannot contest application decisions.

As part of a cache of solutions to prevent applications being “unjustifiably refused,” the report recommended offering clearer information to applicants on visa application processes and requirements as well siting more visa application centers in countries currently without one.

It’s unclear how much progress will be made on these fronts in the coming years as the United Kingdom moves towards a post-Brexit reality. By itself, the campaign to leave the European Union was hinged on strong anti-immigration rhetoric and sentiments with the implied message being that the country’s immigration laws will toughen in the aftermath of its European divorce. Before her tenure concluded however, former prime minister Theresa May presented a post-Brexit immigration regime focused on prioritizing skilled migrants.

The real-life implications of difficult visa processes for Africans range from being unable to visit family members abroad to scuttling higher education plans. But with increasing awareness of these difficulties and the limitations they represent, some organizations are finding workarounds: organizers of the International Conference on Learning Representations, a major  summit focused on artificial intelligence which was previously only hosted in Europe and North America has now been moved to Addis Ababa next year with organizers admitting it will prove too difficult for African researchers to obtain foreign visas to attend it elsewhere.

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