This comes amid the ongoing discussions by British MPs who have warned that the UK visitor visa system is “broken” and doing “severe damage” to UK-Africa relations. The bias within the system has kept away experts such as Zahira as they have felt the system has high prejudice.
Asmal had been due to give a lecture in London this September as part of a series of talks organised by the Architecture Foundation.
But Asmal, who is director of Cape Town urban research, publishing and placemaking agency The City, withdrew following a gruelling and costly battle with UK diplomats over her visa.
In a Facebook post, she described the visa application process as “humiliating, overpriced and unfair” and said her decision to cancel her lecture was “tough and heart breaking”.
“We are made to feel like criminals each time rather than collaborators and guests,” wrote Asmal, who has visited the UK on numerous occasions in the past and worked for two years at the London office of Adjaye Associates as research and special projects manager.
Labour MP Chi Onwurah, chair of the all-party group for Africa, said: “At a time when the UK needs to be ‘open for business’, the broken visas system is doing severe damage to UK-Africa relations across a variety of sectors. It is embarrassing, patronising and insulting to African applicants and leaves the slogan of ‘Global Britain’ empty and meaningless.
In one case, senior producers at the London international festival of theatre told the committee that they were unable to bring a dancer from the Congo to perform his personal experience of the civil war. The reason given for refusal was that they had not done enough to recruit dancers from the UK for the role.
Asmal said UK visa restrictions had recently got tougher and the application process more time-consuming and expensive. Visa staff, who are difficult to contact, treat applicants with suspicion, haughtiness and inflexibility while application forms involve lengthy and intrusive questionnaires.
Inconsistent and vague advice makes it hard for prospective visitors to plan their travel, Asmal said.
One of the major issues raised was financial discrimination against applicants. Many of them were being rejected because they don’t have enough money in their bank accounts. Even in cases where all expenses were being paid by British sponsors, applicants were still facing discrimination.
This is in stark contrast to the process that visitors coming from the UK have to go through to get into African countries. The costs are much lower compared to the applications costs Africans incur in their applications.
The prejudice of the Home Office may be a representative of the general feeling of how the British perceive migrants in general. One of the main points that stuck out in Britain’s Leave campaign during Brexit vote campaign was the issue of migrants coming to the island from mainland Europe.
The xenophobic sentiments are represented in the outrageous reasons for refusal. For instance, applications are rejected for having too little money, some applicants were told they had too much money, or were rejected for not having children because this made them “likely to fail to return home”.
Africa has been receiving foreign expats with open arms and giving them an opportunity to grown an understanding of Africa. Sadly the same opportunity has not been given to Africans.