One of Unesco’s chiefs has said she will no longer host any international conferences in the UK because of the Home Office’s “inept”, “embarrassing” and “discriminatory” visitor visa system.
Alison Phipps, the Unesco chair in refugee integration, has accused the government of operating in effect a “secret travel ban” by refusing visitor visas to academics – particularly those from Middle Eastern and African countries – even when they have full sponsorship to visit the UK and are visiting to take part in government-funded projects.
Phipps is particularly frustrated by the refusal of the Home Office to issue visitor visas to academics taking part in the government’s own Global Challenges Research Fund – a five-year, £1.5bn fund that uses UK aid money for research on intractable global challenges.
“The fund’s purpose is to hire and pay overseas academics to work with the UK on a range of government-funded projects,” said Phipps. “But even though we’re using the government’s money for exactly the purpose we’ve been given it, academics we sponsor are turned down with no appeal rights.”
Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, a professor of migration and refugee studies at University College London, spoke of the frustration of inviting academics to attend a parliamentary event in March, which was co-sponsored by the House of Commons’ international development committee, only for most visas to be refused.
Mary Ryan, a research manager and the international development coordinator at the Glasgow Centre for International Development, has said there is “deep-seated concern” for the ability of UK research institutions to be globally relevant given the “perceived obstructive nature of visa processes”.Frustrated by the frequency with which visas they applied for were refused, the Glasgow Centre for International Development recently asked its partners for information on visa denials for researchers from low and middle income countries (LMIC) coming to visit UK institutions.