Suffolk: Bishop Nigel Stock claims church links are being ‘jeopardised’ by visa row

THE beleaguered UK Border Agency faced a new blow last night after Suffolk’s most senior clergyman accused it of unfairly blocking entry into the UK of foreign church representatives.

The Rt Rev Nigel Stock, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, accused the UKBA of being “inefficient” - and said it was causing offence and in some cases leading to a frustrating and costly stalemate.

He claims the Church of England’s relationships with overseas Christian organisations were being jeopardised by the agency’s refusal to grant visas for visiting representatives.

It is the latest blow for the troubled UKBA, which has already under fire for its backlog of 275,000 cases. A spokesman said it was “only right and fair” that immigration rules applied to everyone.

Bishop Nigel, also a member of the House of Lords, said Christian agencies were having “great difficulty” getting clergy and other church representatives in to the UK from Africa since the Border Agency took on the responsibility for issuing visas from high commissions.

He said that large numbers of “very good people” are being denied access by the UK Border Agency, because their income in their country is too low and they cannot prove their intention to return to their home country.

He said: “In our diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich the cathedral at Bury St Edmunds had recently invited The Rev Absalom Vyankende, principal of the Bible College at our link diocese of Kagera in Tanzania.

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“He is a well respected member of his African diocese who has hosted a number of visitors from our diocese in his country.

“Despite applying in good time he was turned down on the grounds he did not have a big enough income or other assets and despite the fact that his sponsors, our diocese, had paid for his trip, UKBA advised him that he had not produced evidence he would not stay in the UK.

“Clergy are low paid in Tanzania, as so many others are in the country, and there are times when the diocese there are pressed financially and stipends do not get paid for months at a time, and so it is difficult to prove regular income.

“However, The Rev Absalom Vyankende had documentation including a letter of invitation from myself as the Bishop of the Diocese he was visiting, and assurances that all would be paid for by the Dean of the Cathedral, the Reverend Canon Dr Frances Ward.”

The Bishop said the Border Agency was “very inefficient” with its replies, or gave no reply at all to emails asking for clarification, and there seemed to be no possibility of actually talking to anyone about this.

He added: “I know that the Anglican Alliance is having similar difficulties having organised a conference later this month and people’s visa applications are again being turned down for financial reasons.”

A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “We welcome visitors to the UK. Everyone applying for a visa must demonstrate they meet the UK’s immigration rules and supply evidence to support their application.

“This includes proving that they intend to leave the UK at the end of their visit and that they have the funds to support themselves while they are here. It is only right and fair that these rules apply to everyone.”

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