The Bishop of Paisley has said that current immigration policy made him “embarrassed to be British”.
Bishop John Keenan was one of a number of faith leaders who signed an open letter to home secretary Sajid Javid, arguing that “it is inhumane to use destitution, or the threat of destitution, as a policy tool to encourage people to leave the country”.
The letter complained that current immigration policy “deliberately prevents” people who lack the correct documentation, even for perfectly innocent reasons, from seeking employment or safe accommodation, and from accessing essential services.
The letter said that employers, landlords and social service providers were being asked to play the part of border guards. Bishop Keenan explained that he had a personal reason for signing the letter.
He told the story of an African student he had met while serving as Catholic chaplain of the University of Glasgow, who was prevented from coming to the UK by the high price of a visa and the cumbersome and uncertain system of acquiring one. Bishop Keenan said that when he wrote back to the student, with whom he had worked in the Legion of Mary, he felt embarrassed to be British.
He said that the issue was “that when anyone applies for a visa they experience a hostile environment”.
Bishop Keenan explained that while an EU visa was relatively cheap and quick to obtain, a UK visa was comparatively expensive, at as much as £800 for a ten-year visa, and could take six weeks or more to process.
The Home Office acknowledged the hurt done to the Windrush generation, but said that the public expected careful checks to prevent illegal immigration and profit from human trafficking.