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Volume 800: debated on Monday 21 October 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review the visa system for non-European (1) academics and (2) musicians visiting the United Kingdom.

My Lords, UK Visas and Immigration continually reviews its global visa operation to improve its performance and deliver fast and fair decisions to customers while protecting the integrity of our immigration controls. UKVI continues to work with all stakeholder sectors, including artistic and academic bodies, to deliver improvements to the way we process visa applications from those who seek to enter the UK.

My Lords, there is mounting concern for the health of academic and cultural exchange between the UK and other countries. Is the Minister aware of universities’ concerns about the number of academics now refused entry and the worry that ambitions for conferences might be scaled down? Is she further aware of the treatment of some here in the longer term, including, shockingly, that of medical researcher Dr Furaha Asani, who is threatened with deportation to the Democratic Republic of Congo—a ruling decried by the University of Leicester? There is a disconnect between our academic interests and Home Office decisions that needs to be addressed.

The noble Earl will appreciate that I cannot discuss individual cases, but I hope that he will also be aware that on 8 August the Government announced a new fast-track system for top scientists and researchers, and the numbers are uncapped. Overall, our visa grant rate is 87%, and 98% of tier 2 applications are granted.

My Lords, many creative organisations have been forced to use standard visitor visas or the PPE route, despite their preference for the security of the sponsored tier 5 system. Will the Government accept the recommendations of the Creative Industries Federation and ensure that any new immigration proposals reduce the administration and costs for tier 5 certificates and enable artists to undertake multiple engagements with different organisations while they are here on a temporary stay?

I appreciate the point the noble Lord makes. He has made it before, particularly on the route from Ireland. There is a concession under the tier 5 route for creative workers and entertainers for non-EEA and non-visa nationals. That concession, as he knows, allows them to enter the UK without obtaining entry clearance. But he will also know that new guidance is now out for those multiple applications. Indeed, not only has the route through Ireland been temporarily clarified since February this year, but we plan to make secondary legislation changes to the Immigration (Control of Entry through the Republic of Ireland) Order 1972 so that non-EEA and non-visa nationals who hold a valid COS not only will receive deemed leave but will not have restrictions on paid entertainment.

My Lords, the Minister has heard a couple of examples of the problems that academics and visiting musicians are having getting visas to work and perform in the UK. What effect does she think these cases are having on our international reputation?

I outlined the visa acceptance grant rates, which are extremely high— 98% for tier 2—and the speed at which they are granted. I think 97% are now granted within the 15-week service standard.

My Lords, the noble Earl raises a very serious issue with his Question. Across the creative industries and the talent unions, there is concern about being able to forward plan programmes and artistic festivals. Will the Minister consult with talent unions and the creative industries to ensure a degree of certainty in these visa applications?

I thank the noble Lord for that. I misspoke in my previous answer: I said “15 weeks” when I meant 15 days. The whole point of a visa system is not to deter people or keep them out but to encourage the creative industries from around the world, while keeping our borders under control.

My Lords, talking of musicians, the Minister will be aware that, 214 years ago today, musicians were playing on the decks of the battleships of the British fleet as it bore down on the Franco-Spanish fleet. Will the Minister pass the regards of the House to the Royal Navy, who still protect the freedom of the seas for our nation, on this very special day for the naval service?

Turning from the high seas to our green and pleasant land, the Minister will be aware that there is already a recruitment problem for workers coming to harvest the crops in this country. The upcoming Immigration Rules will exacerbate this problem massively. It is not only tier 1 academics and people like that, but also people who work on the land, in our care homes and across our economy. That economy is going to be damaged by these rules. Can the Minister undertake to reassess the thresholds that are being used?

We are trying to achieve a fair immigration system for those who are visiting, those who are staying for a short time and those who are coming to work, from EU and non-EU countries. Looking forward, we are going to create a points-based system so that we can attract the brightest and the best to this country.

My Lords, like many noble Lords, I am sure, I welcome the intention within the Queen’s Speech for a more accessible visa system that attracts global scientific talent to tackle the greatest challenges facing our society, but does the Minister agree that science alone will not be enough to solve those challenges and that the perspective of the humanities and the social sciences will be essential if we are to take lessons from history, understand how people engage with technology and communicate the messages in a way that will drive changes in human behaviour?

I agree with the noble Baroness that science alone will not solve the problems that we face, but science is hugely important, particularly given that we have a shortage of scientists in this country and a shortage of specialist engineers. That is why I think noble Lords focus on this area.

My Lords, does the Minister’s definition of “the brightest and the best” extend to the brightest and best fruit-pickers?

I think that the noble Lord is conflating two issues. In terms of our future immigration system, yes, we want the brightest and best, but it must be a system that works for people coming here both temporarily and for work.