BY Peter Diamond | September 28 2018 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

1-FR-TOBIAS

Priest appeals for help after UK visa system heartache

Our special report looks at how the complex visa process is affecting foreign priest recruitment

A PRIEST of Dunkeld Diocese has opened up about the agony of his Nigerian parents being denied visas by the UK Home Office when trying to visit for his Silver Jubilee celebrations.

Fr Tobias Okoro, parish priest at St Fergus’ Church, Forfar, has revealed that he fears the situation may happen again either to him or another foreign priest working in Scotland, particularly after Brexit.

In a special report we reveal some of the problems facing the Church and foreign priests and fears ahead of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

One bishop spoke of his frustrations at getting supply priests for his diocese, saying it’s ‘not fair to have a system that’s deliberately opaque and ineffective’ while another said the current system is ‘cumbersome’ and ‘too bureaucratic.’

 

Devastated

Fr Okoro celebrated 25 years as a priest at the end of July with a jubilee Mass.

However, his parents were unable to travel from Nigeria due to a failed visa, despite having visited Fr Tobias for a month long trip in 2008.

Fr Tobias said: “I was totally devastated and deeply saddened when I received the unfortunate news that my parents were denied the visa to visit the United Kingdom and join me in celebrating the Silver Jubilee of my priestly ordination on July 29.

“My aged parents were deeply distressed too. The excitement and joy they felt that they are alive to see that day, and are strong enough to travel to the UK for the occasion was totally dampened.”

So far the diocese have been unable to get to the bottom of why the elderly couple were refused entry to the UK, however Fr Tobias has cited that Brexit may have already started to impact applications for visas.

Fr Tobias said: “It is quite expensive and takes a very rigorous process to obtain a UK visa in Nigeria.

“Perhaps, due to local circumstances or resulting from the current Brexit saga, most of the UK visa centres and agencies around [Nigeria] have been shut down.”

The closure of the visa centre used by Fr Tobias’ parents meant they had to travel 400 miles from the east of Nigeria to Lagos in the west to submit their applications in person.

“They had to endure the long distance journey of over 400 miles from the east to Lagos in order to access UK immigration services and submit their visa application personally, and when they were denied the visa, the fees were not refunded,” he added.

“My mother’s passport was withheld for almost two months.

“When the passport was eventually returned without visa, the letter of refusal alleged that ‘satisfactory documentation was not provided with the application to establish her current circumstances in Albania.’

“This has left us wondering if there is not a mistaken identity in the investigations that delayed the decision. My mother is an old woman of 74 years.

“She does not reside in Albania, and has never visited Albania in her life… it is most probable that someone else was being mistaken for my mother.”

 

Appeal for help

Fr Tobias and his family have tried to contact the UK Visas and Immigration International Contact Centre but so far have made little progress with the enquiry.

The Forfar priest added: “It is likely that my parents will be invited again to visit me in the UK. If this mix-up is not verified or clarified, they might be refused the visa again. We need help.”

Fr Tobias also stated that the current uncertainty surrounding Brexit would further impact visas in the future.

He said: “It is unlikely that the current Brexit situation does not have its effects on foreign priests intending to come to minister in the UK as it is extremely difficult to obtain the visa even when you have apparently satisfied the required conditions.”

The problems facing the Church are not restricted to Dunkeld Diocese. In 2015, Galloway Diocese recruited three priests from India but they never arrived as their visa application failed.

Aberdeen priest Fr Maxamillian Nwosu, CCE, of St Mary’s Church Beauly, also revealed that his diocese had two priests from Ghana rejected due to a failed visa.

Fr Max, who has been parish administrator for three years, said: “It’s not just happening in Dunkeld diocese, last year two priests from Ghana were in line to come to Aberdeen but there was an issue when their visas were rejected.”

 

 

 

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