Racial profiling revealed in Home Office visa processing

African academics are routinely being denied entry to attend conferences and seminars in Britain.

The author is a specialist content writer for the Immigration Advice Service.


As part of its stated policy of lowering net migration to Britain, the British government has created an extremely and intentionally ‘hostile environment’ for migrants to these shores – and to African migrants in particular.

It is now significantly harder for migrants to enter the country legally than it was only a few years ago – and this is likely to get worse if the proposed ‘skills-based’ immigration plan comes into effect. The rejection rate of visa applications has also soared recently, with as many as 260,000 visit visas being rejected last year, rousing suspicion that the Home Office is operating with overzealous scrutiny.

In line with this theory is the latest scandal in which it has emerged that many foreign academics are having their visa applications denied because the Home Office apparently fears they will enter the country and then stay here illegally once their visa has expired. This is disproportionately affecting academics from Africa, causing observers to speculate that the Home Office is institutionally racist. While the refusal rate for African applicants sat at around 21 percent in 2016, this jumped to 28 percent in 2017, although overall visit visa rejections were kept within the range of 13-16 percent.

In essence, it would seem that Britain is operating a de facto travel ban on African academics, NGO leaders, artists and businessmen and women. Organisations attempting to fill their conferences with respected contributors from around the world are finding empty seats. As many as 17 delegates were unable to attend the European Conference of African studies, and 24 of 25 researchers were prevented from sharing their expertise at the London School of Economics (LSE) Africa summit.

In Dundee, a further seven delegates were unable to attend the World Community Development conference. All of these incidents were due to visa refusals, a policy which Dundee West MP Chris Law described as causing “massive hurt” to Britain’s international reputation.

Another similar instance occurred during a flagship preparedness programme run by the Wellcome Trust to tackle the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where only six delegates from Africa were present. The World Health Organisation has warned that the current immigration system is making international academic cooperation more difficult.

The seemingly disproportionate denial of visit visas to African academics has roused suspicions that the Home Office is operating with a racial bias. The justification usually given for denial of a visa is that the applicant is considered likely enter on a visit visa and then stay on in the country illegally instead of returning home. However, this is a decidedly odd charge to lay at the door of established academics, who would have to abandon their jobs, families, and often their life’s work to remain in Britain, unable to access the jobs they are qualified for and forced to a life of endlessly dodging immigration officials.

Most of these academic applicants submit a plethora of evidence to support their assurances that they plan to return home, including endorsement letters from their institutions, funding receipts from fellow researchers in Britain, and even hotel bookings. In most similar scenarios, visitors are granted visas providing they can prove they will return back home and can evidence the exact days of their stay. It is suspicious to say the least that academics from Africa in particular are being refused. And particularly egregious since those who are rejected have no right to appeal.

Multiple African academics affected by this discrimination have come forward with their stories on the visit visa application process. Brenda Ireo, a social worker from Uganda, was criticised for having no children back home to return to, which the Home Office took as proof she was more likely to use her visa to stay on illegally. An anthropologist hoping to attend the Wellcome Trust’s Ebola conference was denied by the Home Office on the basis that they didn’t believe he was a researcher – despite his providing evidence that he was. Another professor who had been invited to a conference in recognition of his contribution to his field was denied a visa because he had not “previously been sent on similar training in the UK” while one senior researcher in Uganda working with LSE was told there was “no evidence” he would “benefit” from his trip.

Applicants who have submitted the appropriate supporting evidence are regularly having their applications rejected – in many cases with little or no reason. As far back as 2014 the immigration inspector found that numerous refusal notices were “not balanced and failed to show that consideration had been given to both positive and negative evidence”. This has led many to label the Home Office – not for the first time – as institutionally racist, since it seems that the only reason many of these visas are being denied is because the applicant is from Africa.

At a time when the government is eager to make new trade deals and attract talent from beyond Europe’s borders, this hostile policy is self-defeating to say the least, and is already affecting Britain’s standing in the global academic community. LSE has moved its conferences to Belgium, while many African academics are now simply refusing to accept invitations to events held in Britain so they do not have to endure the humiliating, frustrating and costly visa application process.

The news comes as it emerges that the Home Office has been reliant on “racist” computer algorithms to process visa applications. Without a fresh assessment into how caseworkers – and computers – handle visa applications, the routine refusal of African academics could well pave the way to a truly hostile Britain in which only those with British citizenship are able to share their expertise.

Editor’s postscript

This is just one inevitable result of decades of racist immigration policy in Britain, pursued by our rulers in order to encourage workers to blame each other for the ills of a system that is unable to meet their needs.

At our party’s fourth congress in July 2008, the following text was adopted into the party programme:

“This party firmly believes that immigration is not the cause of the ills of the working class in Britain, which are solely the result of the failings of the capitalist system.

“Immigration and asylum legislation and controls under capitalism have only one real goal: the division of the working class along racial lines, thus fatally weakening that class’s ability to organise itself and to wage a revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of imperialism.

“These controls have the further effect of creating an army of ‘illegal’ immigrant workers, prey to superexploitation and living in dire conditions as an underclass, outside the system, afraid to organise and exercising a downward pull on the wages and conditions of all workers.

“The scourge of racism, along with all other ills of capitalism, will only be finally abolished after the successful overthrow of imperialism. But since immigration can no more be abolished under capitalism than can wage slavery, our call should not be for the further control and scapegoating of immigrants, but the abolition of all border controls, as part of the wider fight to uproot racism from the working-class movement and build unity among workers in Britain, so strengthening the fight for communism.”

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