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Visitors' Visas

Volume 201: debated on Wednesday 15 January 1992

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Lightbown.]

11.37 pm

I apologise for raising this matter at this late hour, but it concerns an important point of principle in the cases of Gurmeet Kaur and Manjit Singh. These are totally unrelated cases but they bear certain common features of interest to those who have a sense of justice. In the first case—that of Gurmeet Kaur—I have had discussions with the Minister, and I hope to pursue further discussions with him; it is therefore unnecessary for me to raise that matter further tonight.

On the second case, that of Manjit Singh, may I go into one or two of the circumstances? As an applicant for a visitor's visa from New Delhi, having been turned down by the entry clearance officer, he won his appeal before an adjudicator. Immigration refused to accept the position, called for further information and finally rejected the application again. What, in effect, the immigration authorities are saying is that, if a person wins his appeal, they will ignore the awards favouring applicants if they disagree with them. Spelt out in longer language, this is: congratulations on winning your case, but you lose your appeal.

The other significant fact is that requests for visitors' visas are not infrequently rejected for the thinnest of reasons. To put it another way, the honest and uneducated fail while the crafty and devious manage to penetrate the immigration network. Can the Minister tell me how many requests from India are rejected in this way after they have one their appeals? How many cases refused by the ECO are later allowed to enter the United Kingdom for short holidays?

Manjit Singh applied to the ECO on 23 March 1990 for a visa for a visit of one month. He was refused that visa by the officer on the usual grounds that he was not satisfied that Mr. Singh was genuinely seeking entry to the United Kingdom for the stipulated period. The appeal was heard by Mr. A. F. Hatt on 8 March 1991. a year later. The decision to grant the appeal was made on 16 April 1991. That appeal was supported by a letter from Dr. Fisher, dated 25 March 1990, who said:
"I would like to support the request of this young man to be allowed to visit this country … I understand that this young man is a particular favourite of the old lady and there would seem to be no way that she could see him again, other than that he should be allowed to visit in this way. The old lady herself, Mrs. Dhanti, is somewhat arthritic, but her main problem is that she is an appallingly bad traveller."
Mrs. Dhanti and her husband, Dhanta Singh, have two sons. One son, Mohinder Singh, lives in my constituency and he runs a splendidly profitable garage in Wootton. The other son, Jeswant Jakhu, is a lecturer in welding. Dr. Fisher said of him:
"All his children have done extremely well, one of them having recently qualified as a Doctor, another as an Industrial Psychologist. His two daughters have jobs as a teacher and a nurse … I regard both Mohinder and Jeswant as extremely trustworthy and reliable."
Many of those who come across from India do not understand the language well and they make serious mistakes. Once they come to put their documentation together, they often prove to be the greatest sinners. However, one expects that those who come on holiday to the United Kingdom will go home after their stay and that the people who will send them back are those who invited them. If those people are prepared to send their visitors home, surely that should represent the guarantee wanted by immigration officers.

Manjit Singh was invited to come to the United Kingdom by the old lady for no less than six months, but he selected to come for the shorter time of one month. There is no suggestion that he intended to stay on for longer. The old lady also had the medical advice, which I have already read, to support his case.

When the case came before the adjudicator, Mr. A. F. Hatt, he said:
"In my view Mr. Singh gave his evidence in an articulate and unbiased manner and he has produced certain documentary evidence in support of the appellant's appeal. I have no reason to doubt the credibility of the sponsor or the validity of the documents he produced".
He makes the following significant observation:
"I also take account of the fact that the appellant is fairly recently married with a young family and in my view he has considerable incentive to return to India at the conclusion of a visit."
He concludes that
"on a balance of probabilities … the appellant was genuinely seeking entry to the UK for the period of one month, and I therefore allow this appeal."

It is apparent that the Minister has the right to put evidence before the adjudicator. The adjudicator has an opportunity to examine any document or witness who comes before him and anything could be found at that stage. Naturally, it is possible that, after adjudication, further circumstances may upset the apple cart, such as documentation that is not considered genuine. However, this is not a case of a person who has come to settle in the United Kingdom but of someone who has come here for a very short stay of one month to see a sick lady.

So far, permission for that stay has taken a long time. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office required further interviews and eventually, on 30 October 1991, it refused to grant a visa, leaving open the road to another appeal. Surely there must be an end to the process. If an applicant coming to the United Kingdom shows that he is genuine and that is proven to be the case before an adjudicator, that should be enough to issue a letter authorising him to come here with the appropriate visa. I fail to understand why the case should go a different way and why further inquiries should be pursued, ad nauseum, to trip him up on the course that he has taken.

I shall give the Minister an opportunity to make his own observation on the matter, but he will have the guarantee of Mohinder Singh, who lives in my constituency at 17, Adelaide square—I know him. The other son is also known to the doctor and I am certain that we could guarantee that the man is returned at the end of the period for which he has applied.

11.43 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) for what he said, and I shall speak to him further about the case of Mrs. Kaur. Before I go into detail on the case of Mr. Manjit Singh, it may be helpful to the House if I first explain the procedure followed at our posts overseas in those cases where an appeal against refusal of visit entry clearance is allowed by an adjudicator. This will provide the necessary background against which I will comment on the case that my hon. Friend has raised.

The standard procedure in cases where the adjudicator finds in favour of the appellant, but gives no clear direction to issue an entry clearance, is for the entry clearance officer to invite the appellant for a further interview and for the case to be reconsidered in the light of the appellant's current circumstances. The courts have acknowledged that, in the absence of directions, an entry clearance officer has an obligation under the immigration rules to consider the circumstances at the time the matter comes before him again and that, if some possible fraud or deception comes to light, it may well be appropriate and, indeed, necessary to refuse entry clearance.

I must emphasise that all our posts have clear instructions that a second refusal decision with a corresponding right of appeal must not be taken lightly and only where there has been a real change of circumstances subsequent to the original decision of which the adjudicator was either unaware or was unable to take account, or where it has become clear that material deception was practised to obtain the visa. Any decision to refuse a successful appellant is carefully reviewed and endorsed by an entry clearance manager, senior to the entry clearance officer responsible for the refusal decision.

Mr. Manjit Singh originally lodged an application with the High Commission in New Delhi on 23 March 1990 to visit this country for 15 days to see his paternal uncles and his sick grandmother. The visit was sponsored by Mr. Singh's uncle, Mr. Mohinder Singh, who is my hon. Friend's constituent. The sponsorship declaration completed by Mr. Mohinder Singh referred to a six-month visit. On his application form Mr. Manjit Singh stated one month.

Mr. Singh is an agriculturist, and is married with three young children. He proposed to spend 500 United States dollars plus 12,000 rupees on the trip. The entry clearance officer suspected that the bank book produced by Mr. Singh in support of his application was not genuine, but confirmation of that was not received from the bank until very much later, in July 1991. Nevertheless, weighing up all the evidence available to him, the entry clearance officer was not satisfied—as he is required to be under the immigration rules—that Mr. Singh was genuinely seeking entry to the United Kingdom for the period stated and refused his application.

The entry clearance officer received an appeal from Mr. Singh against the refusal decision on 28 May 1990, whereupon he reconsidered the case in the light of the grounds for appeal. He could, however, see no reason to alter his decision, and forwarded the appeal to the independent appellate authority in London for consideration by an independent adjudicator. In his determination, handed down on 16 April 1991, the adjudicator, having considered all the evidence before him, found on the balance of probabilities that the appellant was genuinely seeking entry to the United Kingdom for the period of one month and allowed the appeal. It is significant, however, that, although the adjudicator took note of the entry clearance officer's strong suspicion that the bank book produced by Mr. Singh had been falsified, the adjudicator said that there was not at that time any corroboration of the entry clearance officer's suspicion.

A copy of the adjudicator's determination was received at the High Commission on 27 May 1991 and Mr. Singh was reinterviewed in October, by which time confirmation had been received from the bank that the bank book presented by Mr. Singh in support of his original application contained 19 fraudulent entries which inflated the balance from the equivalent of £11 to £2,357. When informed that the bank had identified fraud, Mr. Singh said that he did not know whether the book was genuine or not as it was his father's book. At interview later in the month, when asked whether he had spoken to his father about the bank book, he said that he had not.

There were other discrepancies. The sponsor, Mr. Mohinder Singh, had claimed at appeal that the appellant had last seen his grandmother when the sponsor and his mother had visited India in 1987. At the October 1991 interview, Mr. Singh said that he had not seen his grandmother in 1987, and in fact had not seen her for 10 years. There was also a discrepancy about the occupation shown in Mr. Singh's passport. He said that he had always been an agriculturist, yet the passport, issued in 1988, described his occupation as "private service", which is the usual description for persons seeking employment overseas. He claimed that he had obtained the passport in case he needed to attend a wedding in the United Kingdom, but he did not attend the wedding of his paternal uncle's son. It was against this background of fraud and deception that the entry clearance officer felt obliged to refuse the application a second time.

I should like to take this opportunity to assure the House that it is extremely rare for entry clearance officers at our posts abroad, on reconsidering a case in the light of an adjudicator's determination, to reach a conclusion different from that of the adjudicator. My hon. Friend has asked me how many times that has happened. I cannot give him a precise figure tonight, but I can say that I have never seen such a case before in the 18 months during which I have been responsible for such matters in the Foreign Office.

In the case in question, the decision to refuse for a second time was taken only after the most careful consideration of all the facts at a senior level in the High Commission in New Delhi, and I am satisfied that the officials concerned acted properly and in accordance with the requirements of the immigration rules.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes to Twelve o'clock.