Church progress on visas for overseas visitors

Church representatives have met immigration minister Phil WoolasMP to seek to resolve visa problems for overseas visitors to theMethodist Church in Britain.

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

The UK Border Agency's (UKBA) visa regulations are designed toestablish closer border controls and monitoring, but have alsocaused difficulties for some visitors in entering the UK. In July2009 the British Church expressed its dismay that the President ofthe Methodist Church in Benin, the Revd Simon Kossi Dossou, wasunable to attend its annual conference due to visa refusal. Therehave been a number of other instances where there has beendifficulty in obtaining visas for visitors on Methodist Churchbusiness.

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

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

The UKBA will also provide the Church with an example of a letterof support to ensure that there is clarity about who will bear thefinancial costs during such visits. The issue of timescales willalso be considered to give appropriate guidance on how long beforea 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 practicesand a greater understanding of these processes." said MsElliott.