Visa Refusals at the 2016 ASAUK Conference at Cambridge
After a successful 2016 Conference of the African Studies Association at the University of Cambridge we received a great deal of positive feedback. Unfortunately, however, an increased number of colleagues experienced visa refusals. The ASAUK council felt it was imperative to gather reports of any visa problems and to investigate these thoroughly. To this end we wrote to all colleagues to seek reports of their experiences and also wrote to panel organisers to ensure we gathered all reports of problems. Given the current wider context of increasing hostility to visa applicants, including international students, we believe it is vital to collect data and evidence when we have problems of this nature reported to us. Given the importance we attach to scholarly collaboration, to fair and equitable research relationships and to the politics of knowledge production, we are determined to ensure that any problems encountered in participating in our meetings is taken very seriously indeed.
We received five detailed accounts of visa refusals from scholars who were affected by them, which we checked with them and reproduce here with their permission.
Those affected by visa refusals included two scholars from South Africa, two Nigerian colleagues and one professor from Ethiopia. Three were senior scholars with sufficient funds, international travel experience and the support of their respective institutions. The two junior scholars had both been awarded the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Young Scholars award and were fully funded and supported to attend the conference.
Professor Horman Chitonge (University of Cape Town, SA), fell victim to monopolisation and excessive pricing by the outsourcing of the visa procedures of the British consulate in South Africa. All other colleagues provided the correct documentation in a timely manner and were given dubious reasons for refusal.
Barrister Christiana Ejura Attah (Joseph Ayo Babalola University, Osun State, Nigeria) was refused a visa because the embassy official was uncertain of her will to leave the UK at the end of her visit because her husband had already been granted a visa for the same conference. Despite the fact that she has four children in Nigeria, and that a letter from Barrister Attah’s Vice Chancellor accompanied her application, which stated that she was granted leave and that the University supported her attendance in the sum of £2500, the UK embassy questioned whether the funds held in her account were genuinely available to support her visit. This case reflects a strong gender bias. That visa officers think it appropriate to make their judgements based on a woman’s marital status in relation to her husband’s travel plans is staggering.
Dr Fana Gebresenbet Erda (Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia) reported to us that he had received a £2000 travel grant and had multiple stamps from various European countries as well as the US in his passport. His application was rejected with the argument that there was no proof that he would return to Ethiopia after the conference. Dr Erda told us that as an academic, he did not own his home and that the car used by his wife and himself was in her name. The fact that the visa officers did not take his employment at an Ethiopian university into account when they made the decision to refuse his visa suggests a misrecognition of the social value of scholarship.
The last two refusals were both holders of Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Funds. Confirmation of airline tickets and hotel accommodation were provided in the application process. Ms Florence Ncube, a student at the University of the Western Cape (SA) was told that her personal finances would not suffice to sustain herself during her travel, and that she had not provided sufficient evidence of the continuation of her studies in SA.
Mr Philip Ademola Olayoku, an Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Ibadan (Nigeria) was denied a visa because his personal account did not show sufficient activity. He was also accused of inflating his account with money that would not be available during his stay in the UK. As an aid worker in a remote area of Nigeria, he receives his wages in cash. While Mr. Olayoku did provide wage slips for his salary, he had occasionally had sums of money from DFID pass through his account in order to facilitate projects with Action Aid. (This money had been accounted for afterwards and was not intended for personal gain.) Mr. Olayoku explained this in an accompanying letter. He is also the holder of several entry stamps to different European countries as well as a 2-year visa to the US, something he believed would provide him with sufficient credibility in his intent to return to Nigeria.
We believe that the refusal of visas to credible applicants who have sufficient funds and have no intention of remaining in the country illegally after the termination of the conference is extremely worrying. Like other restrictive visa policies, the limitation of academic exchange poses a threat to academic freedom and the rigorous and equitable study of Africa, both in the UK and beyond.
Dr Insa Nolte, President 2016-18
Prof Ambreena Manji, Vice President, 2016-18
On behalf of the African Studies Association of the UK