Evangelicals highlight traps in new UK immigration rules

By staff writers
18 Apr 2009

The new immigration system in Britain is throwing church workers and organisations into confusion because the UK Border Agency has not taken into account the complexity of religious activities.

That was the message from the Evangelical Alliance (EA) this week.

Other Christians have also been tirelessly campaigning about the basic injustice of the system, whether or not those caught up in it are Christian, or adherents of another religion.

The EA has drawn up a set of guidelines to help Christians and their organisations navigate the system, following a number of cases where individuals and groups who travelled to the UK to speak or volunteer were refused entry.

American Gospel singer Don Fransisco was refused entry into the UK last month, when he arrived to give a free concert in Dorset. He said immigration officials did not believe he would perform for free.

In a separate incident, a group of American church volunteers were deported from Scotland because their applications for temporary work visas, required under the new legislation, had not been processed in time.

Daniel Webster, from the Evangelical Alliance, says a number of questions still remain, and has written to the UK Border Agency asking for clarification.

However, his comments seem to accept the legitimacy of the government's policy and approach, which migration justice campaigners have criticised and are seeking to challenge.

Webster declared: “Recent abuses of the immigration system have shown the need for tighter rules, so churches and others who want to bring people over need to find out how to abide by these. But in some cases they will struggle to know how their particular situation fits in."

He added: “Some of the problems we have seen are due to churches not being aware of their new responsibilities, while on other occasions immigration officials have wrongly banned people from the country because they haven’t understood their own rules.

“While drawing up our guidelines for the new system, it became clear that the Border Agency hasn’t taken into account the way Christian activities work in practice.”

Mr Webster said that one unclear area is whether donations can be made to a charity promoted by an unpaid visiting speaker – a common occurrence for churches hosting visiting speakers.

“We are hoping to obtain greater clarity from the Border Agency to help churches fully comply with the regulations, but in the meantime we are advising churches to read our guidance and be aware of their responsibilities under the new rules,” he said.

Muslim and other religious groups have also been hit by the implementation of the rules.

Vaughan Jones, a URC minister and CEO of the London-wide agency Praxis, which works in solidarity with displaced people regardless of creed, says the immigration issue is one of basic justice.

In his speech last month at the Convention on Modern Liberty, Jones, who is also an Ekklesia associate, declared: "There are two deep-rooted threads within most religious traditions. One is concern for the stranger in our midst, the 'other' who is worthy of respect; and the second is the religious requirement to care for our brother and sister in need."

He added: "It is by no means uncommon for a local church congregation to find itself defending a member facing deportation. Most pastorally engaged clergy in urban contexts will be dealing with immigration issues of one kind or another."

"The governments of the western world have consistently refused to sign the International Convention on the rights of Migrants and their Families," Jones points out.

"It is not considered inappropriate to imprison children in the UK detention centres for considerably longer than 42 days when neither they nor their parents have committed crimes. It is not considered an imposition on freedom to deny the right to income, recourse to public funds. It is not considered an imposition on liberty to remove their access to legal representation.

"So does the migrant have a human right? Are migrants fully human? The answer as it currently appears from government is, 'unfortunately they are human, but we will do everything we possibly can to stop them from being so',” he commented.

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See also on Ekklesia: Vaughan Jones,'Humanity and justice is "modern liberty" for Christians' (http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/8859), 'The asylum debate has lost its humanity' (http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/8059) and 'Are immigration controls moral?' (http://ekklesia.co.uk/research/280405immigration)

Ekklesia's coverage of immigration justice issues, nationally and internationally: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/tags/156

Praxis: "The place for people displaced" - http://www.praxis.org.uk/

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