The Scotland Malawi Partnership has, for more than a decade, been expressing serious concern about the way our friends and partners in Malawi are treated when invited to Scotland and apply for a UK visa.
Our concern is less to do with the outcome of the decision-making (although too many from Malawi still have visa applications rejected) but the process itself.
Malawians spend weeks and months navigating an ever more unreasonable online process; having to post not just passports, birth certificates and other proof of ID, but also evidence of affluence and status, with multiple bank statements, letters from employers, and even evidence of marital status.
We find all this deeply problematic. It conflates poverty with criminality and has the potential to undermine the dignified partnership we enjoy with our partners in Malawi.
It is also deeply disproportionate. We have been informed by UKVI that there has never been a known instance of visa-overstay from anyone associated with the Scotland Malawi Partnership or our members.
Click here to read more about issues our members have faced trying to secure visas.
Scottish MPs and Peers have represented our concerns again and again in the Commons and the Lords, and the SMP has met with successive UK Immigration Ministers to discuss these issues. Most recently, more than a dozen of Scotland’s 59 MPs used a Westminsterhall debate to communicate our concerns, with visa issues raised 26 times in the 60-minute debate.
Members are reminded that if they wish to invite their partners to the UK they should liaise as early as possible with the SMP. We can offer direct support to our members’ visa applications and, while partners in Malawi still have to navigate the unpleasant process of application, the SMP is able to speak directly with the visa issuing office to offer the necessary reassurance for a visa to be issued.
While we take serious issue with the policy, principle and procedure – all fairness to the actual officers on the ground who are always very alert and responsive to SMP messages of support.
1. Start the application early
2. Engage the SMP from the outset
3. Include as much evidence as possible
Follow this advice and most applications are successful.
Sadly, we have noticed in recent weeks a second issue of concern: a seeming increase in the harassment and intimidation of visitors to the UK, as they pass through UK immigration despite having all correct visas and paperwork. One recent senior visitor from Malawi described the hostile and humiliating reception she received from the UK immigration service at Edinburgh Airport. She was stopped three times in the space of just ten meters. She had her passport taken from her and she was laughed at.
This is not how Scots are treated as we arrive in Malawi and we have made clear to the UK Government that it is not an acceptable way to treat those invited from Malawi.
The SMP has met with the Scottish Government’s Minister for International Development who in turn is making representation with the UK Government. We have also met with the UK Government’s Minister for Africa, and have written to Rt Hon Brandon Lewis MP, the UK Minister of State for Immigration, requesting a meeting to discuss these concerns.
In the meantime, in addition to the letters of support and direct representation we offer members as they apply for visas, we can also offer a letter to be carried by your Malawian partner as they travel into the UK. This strongly worded letter makes clear our expectation that those invited to the UK who have the correct visas and paperwork be treated with all possible respect. We offer a 24/7 phone line our members’ Malawian visitors can call if the standards they experience fall below those expected, and this will in turn be passed directly to the Home Office, raised in Parliament and discussed with the relevant Minister.
We encourage members to share their experiences on this topic with the office, to ensure we understand the scale of the challenge and can represent your concerns accurately.