The Immigration Services Union (ISU) and the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union have warned that UK visa holders are travelling to the country without legitimate reasons. It’s been reported that UK immigration staff have been powerless to refuse entry to visa holders giving bogus reasons to enter the country, despite tougher border rules.
General Secretary of the ISU, Lucy Moreton, said that UK immigration officers at airports have been confronted by international travellers saying that they are in Britain to ‘go shopping’ or visit friends. Moreton said there was one traveller who had come to the UK to visit Stonehenge.
Ms Moreton said nearly a dozen people a day are arriving in the UK for reasons that are not permitted under current coronavirus travel rules. The ISU’s General Secretary attributed the problem to some overseas consulates issuing UK visitor visas for types of travel that are currently prohibited.
Sightseeing, shopping, seeing family
According to Moreton, international travellers are still obtaining UK visas to come sightseeing, shopping and to see family.
The ISU General Secretary said: “Procedures for handling travellers with visas meant officers ultimately had to admit them despite their misgivings.”
Meanwhile, the PCS has also raised concerns over the government allowing what it described as ‘many travellers’ to enter the UK without an essential reason.
The PCS said: “This is a frustration for our members who are powerless to challenge this influx of travellers.”
Since February, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have all had varying levels of restriction on travel from a list of 33 ‘red list’ countries, which includes Brazil and South Africa. UK citizens returning from overseas, nationals of Ireland and anyone with residency rights in Britain are exempted from the travel restrictions.
However, anyone arriving in England from red list countries must quarantine in an approved hotel.
Extend travel restrictions
Some have urged the government to extend travel restrictions to countries not currently on the red list while shortening the list of people exempted from the restrictions.
The Home Office maintains that UK Border Force officers have the right to deny UK entry to anyone with a visit visa who is deemed to have travelled for reasons currently prohibited under current local health restrictions.
In a statement, the Home Office said: “We are in a global health pandemic — people should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary.”
However, Ms Moreton said that, although ISU members were informing visit visa holders that their reason for travel was invalid and they would be refused entry, they have the right to an automatic ‘in-country’ appeal against entry refusal.
Consequently, Border Force officers were forced to allow them into the country while they await the outcome of their appeal, which could be months away.
Ms Moreton said: “We had somebody who wanted to come and see Stonehenge — great, but you can’t do it during a pandemic. Coming to see museums, coming to see the sights, coming to see the shopping — they’re not things that UK residents can do.”
Visit visa applications on hold
Since January, the Home Office has put adjudication of visit visa applications from nationals in red list countries on hold and from people who have visited a red list country within the past 10 days.
Moreton acknowledged the possibility of people giving consular officials different, valid reasons for travel when applying for a visa compared to the reasons provided upon arrival in the UK.
The ISU General Secretary said that it could even be the case that people were using visas that had been valid for several months, issued prior to the start of the latest UK lockdowns.
Despite this, Moreton said it was ‘highly frustrating’ that many people were gaining entry on questionable grounds. She said: “Certainly, it’s every day and a good double handful every day.”
“The circumstances suggest some British consulates are issuing visas to people who have no good reason to travel. There are a particularly high number of travellers arriving from west Africa, such as Lagos, in Nigeria, Delhi, in India and Islamabad, in Pakistan. We’re questioning why visas are being issued for purposes that cannot possibly be fulfilled,” Moreton added.
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