Academics struggle to get visas for relatives to visit UK

Bestselling Albanian author Lea Ypi among those prevented from seeing family members because of Home Office decisions

December 20, 2022
Source: Getty

Difficulties in obtaining visas for family members to visit the UK are increasingly likely to deter academics and students from settling in the country, scholars have warned.

While a rise in postgraduates bringing dependants with them has been blamed for recent record high immigration figures, those working or studying in British universities said that they have been left separated from loved ones during difficult times, exposing the reality of the UK’s “hostile environment” immigration system.

Lea Ypi, professor of political theory at the London School of Economics, said that her brother had been unable to visit from her native Albania for 14 years after being rejected for a visa and then deciding against reapplying because, as a young Albanian man, he knows he is almost certain to be denied entry.

She said an application for her mother to visit following the birth of her second child was also rejected in 2016. On this occasion the application was denied because she needed help with childcare, with a further request for a visa that did not mention the grandchild granted in 2018.

“If you are seen as belonging to a category of needy immigrant who might need to work, then there is no engagement with the context – it is just a blanket rejection,” Professor Ypi said.

The bestselling author, who is now a British citizen, said that the “escalating and worrying” discourse about Albania being pushed by some politicians, who have blamed the country for the UK’s immigration issues, was making it especially difficult.

“I think it is highly damaging for the UK higher education sector. It is a constant struggle for universities to encourage people to come to the UK, given how restrictive the immigration system is becoming,” she said.

“Britain is not unique in this, but it is very international and it tries to compete globally for talent. The government rhetoric is all about wanting to attract highly skilled immigrants but of course they are also people with relationships and families – connections that go beyond the borders of Britain – and so if you make the environment hostile for their family members, that will also affect how they see Britain and whether they want to come.”

Amber Murrey, associate professor in human geography at the University of Oxford, similarly had a visa rejected for her mother-in-law, Marcy, to visit from Cameroon after she gave birth recently. In its reasons for the rejection the Home Office said that Dr Murrey’s mother was widowed and therefore less likely to return after her trip. This was not true because her husband of 25 years was still alive, but the decision could not be appealed.

“The premise already is she is a potential criminal; she will overstay her visa. You have to actively disprove this bias and that is really difficult to do,” Dr Murrey said.

Sanaz Raji, a visiting researcher at Northumbria University and founder of the campaign group Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC), said visa rejections were a “massive problem” for higher education.

The group is currently supporting University of Warwick postgraduate student Riham Sheble, who has terminal cancer but whose mother has been unable to visit from Egypt after being denied a visa because officials did not believe she could support herself financially on the trip, despite her providing copies of bank statements.

Given how international fees “prop up” UK higher education, universities may soon take a financial hit as students grow tired of “being put in a situation of consistent precarity”, Dr Raji said.

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Reader's comments (3)

The article has a quote from a campaign group Unis Resist Border Controls (URBC). Why not one from Migration Watch or the UK government, who are implicitly being criticised?
The UK system seems to have a difficulty understanding temporary visits, for both short & medium lengths of stay. Even people who are here legitimately to work are viewed as potential UK citizens whereas - particularly in academia - many only want to stay for a short while (a few years, perhaps) then take another job which might easily be in another country.
I can see that students will absolutely want to bring their spouses, children too if they have any, but I really can't see why they also want their parents, brothers, uncles, cousins, the entire family, and then their relatives too and so on.


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