01 February 2010

Church progress on visas for overseas visitors

Church representatives have met immigration minister Phil Woolas MP to seek to resolve visa problems for overseas visitors to the Methodist Church in Britain.

Mr Woolas met Revd Ken Howcroft, Assistant Secretary to the Methodist Conference, Christine Elliott, Methodist Secretary for External Relationships, Stan Platt, the Church's Adviser on Asylum and Immigration, and Meg Munn, MP for Sheffield Heeley and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Methodist Group.

The UK Border Agency's (UKBA) visa regulations are designed to establish closer border controls and monitoring, but have also caused difficulties for some visitors in entering the UK. In July 2009 the British Church expressed its dismay that the President of the Methodist Church in Benin, the Revd Simon Kossi Dossou, was unable to attend its annual conference due to visa refusal. There have been a number of other instances where there has been difficulty in obtaining visas for visitors on Methodist Church business.

Ms Munn said, "I was delighted that Phil Woolas showed such an interest in assisting the Methodist Church in resolving visa issues. He was keen to get to the bottom of the problems that Methodist visitors from overseas have experienced, and to ensure that the new visa system is effective for genuine visitors to the UK."

To ensure that visitors apply for appropriate visas, and with the help of UKBA staff, the Church will now develop guidance notes to assist all those who are inviting overseas visitors.

The UKBA will also provide the Church with an example of a letter of support to ensure that there is clarity about who will bear the financial costs during such visits. The issue of timescales will also be considered to give appropriate guidance on how long before a visit a visa application should be submitted.

"We are grateful to Mr Woolas for such a constructive meeting," said Ms Elliott. "We can now move towards clearer working practices and a greater understanding of these processes." said Ms Elliott.

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