The petition of the residents of Glasgow North East,
Declares that visiting clergy offer respite to dedicated Ministers and bring enormous cultural benefit to the communities they serve; and further that the introduction of severe conditions regarding English language proficiency and the sharp rise in fees for visas for Ministers of Religion would cause detriment to the communities they wish to serve.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Minister for Immigration, the hon. Member for South Ribble, to revoke the decision to reclassify visiting Ministers of Religion as being Tier 2 visitors under immigration rules.
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr Paul Sweeney, Official Report, 7 October 2019; Vol. 664, c. 1599.]
Observations from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Seema Kennedy):
The Government recognise the role of faith in our communities, helping to build social cohesion and support our congregations in the UK. The Government recognise too, the value of the contributions, made by members of religious institutions from overseas, which is reflected in dedicated visa arrangements.
The immigration rules for visitors include specific provisions for Ministers of Religion, coming to the UK to undertake pastoral duties. This can include one-off engagements such as conducting ceremonies or leading a service, provided they are not receiving payment.
Beyond this, Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) and Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) offer routes for religious workers who wish to fill positions in the UK, for longer periods. Ministers of Religion play leading roles in our communities and Tier 2 allows them to do so, for up to three years, with the option to stay longer. It is important to ensure that anyone taking up such a role can communicate with both their congregation and the wider community in which they live and serve, which is why Tier 2 visa holders are required to demonstrate a strong command of English.
Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) offers a dedicated subcategory for religious workers undertaking non-pastoral, supporting roles, for a maximum of two years. As a package of routes, designed to facilitate cultural exchange and knowledge sharing, Tier 5 visa categories do not require English language proficiency.
The changes made to the immigration rules in January 2019 better defined what activities may be undertaken by Tier 5 temporary religious workers, and ensure that those filling positions as Ministers of Religion, may continue to do so, via the correct visa category.
The issue of fees has been raised and the Government acknowledge the extra cost of a Tier 2 visa. However, the Government’s policy remains that those who use and benefit most from the immigration system should contribute towards its operation. Tier 2 incurs the greater costs, but, in return it offers the most favourable conditions, whereas, a visit visa for a Minister of Religion carrying out permitted activities for less than six months, attracts the lowest cost of all.
The Government continue to believe that existing visa arrangements for Ministers of Religion and religious workers, strikes the right balance between serving the needs of all congregations and the Government’s wider position on integrated communities.