UK visa policy 'damaging third world links'

The UK's "convoluted and discriminatory visa practices" threaten to thwart Prime Minister Boris Johnson's aim of creating a 'Global Britain', according to a senior African politician.

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Arkebe Oqubay, a minister and special adviser to Prime Minister (and Nobel Laureate) Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, says that the current "draconian" system is an obstacle for students, academics and businessmen wishing to come to the UK.

UK visa policies discriminate against visitors from Africa, India and China - and are an impediment to creating a 'Global Britain'

Writing in the Financial Times, Mr Oqubay says, "Boris Johnson has declared that his country will have a new kind of immigration policy based on 'treating people the same wherever they come from, by putting people before passports'."Such things are easy to say. But in practice, the experience from my continent as well as from other parts of the world, including India and China, is that the UK’s convoluted and discriminatory visa practices are a huge impediment to its stated aim of creating a 'Global Britain'."I am not talking principally here about permanent relocation but rather about visitors’ visas. Britain’s draconian visa regime is an obstacle to academics, business people, politicians and artists seeking to visit the UK for short periods to attend conferences, symposia and academic exchanges."He says these restrictions damage the UK's post-Brexit aim of establishing new trading, business and diplomatic links with nations beyond Europe.

Africa is now home to eight of the world's fastest-growing economies

Pointing out that only last month London hosted a UK-Africa Investment Summit and that Africa is now home to eight of the world’s 15 fastest-growing economies, Mr Oqubay says that, despite this, anyone wishing to visit Britain from Africa faces "a cumbersome and convoluted visa process that many applicants find humiliating and discriminatory".He adds, "All too often applications end in refusal, causing a colossal loss of goodwill, not to mention time and money."
Almost all visa applications from African countries are processed in Pretoria, he says, and take up to four weeks to complete. In most cases, visas are valid for only 30 days and that applicants are often charged a much higher fee than British visitors pay for visas to enter African countries.
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What can the UK do to make short-term visas more accessible to African visitors?

"Britain can take three practical measures to address these concerns, particularly when it comes to Africa," he writes.
"First, visas should be easily accessible for legitimate African visitors to the UK and the fees should be reduced from current levels. The minimum validity period should be comparable to those of the EU Schengen visa and the US visa, which are each 24 months."Second, student visas should be the simplest and most accessible visas of all. Hosting African and other students in Britain is instrumental to the strategy of developing long-term and deeper relationships with the world."Students educated in the UK, as I was, will become the next generation of business leaders, government officials and community representatives, improving the quality of public institutions in those countries."Third, the UK should sign bilateral reciprocal agreements with the governments of individual African countries waiving visa requirements for diplomatic passport holders."

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