Scotland deporting Christian workers
Whilst immigrants from EU countries come to Scotland only to sell copies of the Big Issue on the streets, a team of American church volunteers have been deported from Scotland by immigration officials who told them they needed work visas to give food to the homeless. The Christian workers have branded the decision as “Godless”.
According to the Sunday Times -
The volunteers from Arkansas, who had each raised almost £1,500 to fund the trip, had planned to spend 10 days working in homeless hostels in Edinburgh.But they were detained after arriving at Edinburgh Airport last Sunday and sent home on the first available flight.Craig Johnson, 28, an associate youth pastor with the Harvest Time Church in Arkansas and the leader of the team, said he was astonished by the decision. “It was the last thing we expected when we touched down on Scottish soil. We were coming over to do God’s work and were treated in a less than Godly way,” he said.“It just floored me that I can stay for six months without a visa but if I want to volunteer to work in a soup kitchen for a couple of nights to help a church, I need to have a visa. That was what blew me away. I mean, we were hardly a threat to national security.”Johnson said his church had been involved in several missions to other European countries but had never encountered similar problems with immigration officials. He said: “We take a team to Europe every year but I think it will be a while before we consider Scotland again.”Reverend Andrew Smith, superintendent of the Assemblies of God Churches in Scotland, who had organised the trip, said: “I really hope this doesn’t have a lasting impression of Scotland on these young people who were coming here to do unpaid work for a very good cause. The whole episode has been rather embarrassing.”Last week Michael Connarty, the local Labour MP, described the decision to deport the volunteers as “outrageous”, adding that he would raise the matter with the Home Office.
Read the full story...Meanwhile at Heathrow, a visiting Gospel singer has been escorted out of the country.
A 'watchman' message to Christians Together has said:
I have just discovered the shocking news detailed below. In two separate incidents last week, a well known American gospel singer and a team of 11 young American Christian missionaries were all deported from the UK.
It seems that they had fallen foul of new immigration legislation which has specific sections aimed at religious workers. It seems that this new points based (tier) system became law in December but it appears that very few people know about it.
Under this system the applicant has to be sponsored by a licensed sponsorship agency and then apply for a visa. The ‘agency’ which in this case is likely to be a ministry or church would have to pay to be registered with the Government and would then pay a fee for each applicant it sponsors. The applicant would then also need to pay for his visa. This rule will apply whether you are applying to come in for a year or more, or whether it is just for a few days’ ministry.
In the case of one well-known ministry I have been told that they had to employ a lawyer to help fill in the highly complicated application for their team of foreign volunteers (I believe it is about 50 pages) which can only be done online and which only permits one mistake before voiding the application and necessitating a second fee payment. (This meant that the fee of several hundred pounds became several thousand pounds to cover the lawyer.)
While clearly this is meant to be a revenue raiser and will rule out anyone without funds, its complicated nature would also appear to be designed as a deterrent. It will have the further effect of giving the powers that be, very full details of any ministry which applies. I gather that ‘authorized officers’ will then be able to visit and do spot checks.
At Heathrow Don Francisco, an American Gospel singer
who has been ministering in the UK for over 30 years and who was only planning to be here for a few days and holding a return ticket was sent back to the USA.Fancisco has written:"I arrived at immigration with a new passport since mine had expired the previous month. I had filled in my occupation as "Gospel singer", the same phrase I had used for the last 30 years. When it became obvious that the officer did not want to let me in, I told him that I had come to England dozens of times and had never had any problems with entry before. He then asked me if I had my old passport with me to prove this. I didn't.
I thought the last thing I would need was an old expired passport. He had me wait while he went to talk to his supervisor and then asked me to follow him down to baggage claim. We collected my luggage and he thoroughly inspected everything I had. I then loaded everything on a cart and followed him back upstairs to a place behind a security door. He then did a lot of work on a computer which I couldn't see, took a digital picture of me, and then tried to get the fingerprinting machine to work. He failed.
After that he led me to about a 20x20 foot room with an observation room next to it with several guards in it. I was then offered food and coffee. One of the sandwiches was so rancid I had to throw it away. While there I made an acquaintance with a man from Barbados who had been charged with felony. I was lucky enough to have some change to help him call for help on a payphone which was in the room. After an hour I was led back to the fingerprinting room where several employees tried to get the machine to work again, but they all failed.
I was then fingerprinted manually - where a man grabs your fingers and presses them into ink and onto a piece of paper one by one. I was instructed carefully about how to wash my hands. Then I was led to another office where a young lady who was obviously uncomfortable with the task assigned to her, told me I had been refused entry and was going to be put on a plane back to the United States.
She led me back to the lockup where I reclaimed my luggage. I was then led by two armed Guards, one in front and one behind, through various hallways, elevators and escalators, to a van on the tarmac. There was a cage in van and I was instructed to get in. The guards were very nice and one of them expressed embarrassment at my having to ride back there.
They drove me to the British Airways plane, escorted me onboard where they handed the stewardess an envelope containing my passport, boarding passes, and other paperwork. They told her not to give the envelope to me until the plane was in the air and that I was not to be allowed to leave before then. I arrived back in Denver at midnight, 40 hours after I had left home.
I have travelled all over England and the UK for over 30 years. My wife and I love the UK very much. We have many, many dear friends there. It is deeply saddening to us and to the thousands who receive our newsletter that this has happened. Our office has been flooded with letters of shock and apology.
The Watchman continued:
If that was true for Don Francisco, what about the Christian leaders and speakers and worship leaders who regularly come in and out to speak at conferences, meetings etc? The more high profile, the more difficult it would be for them to merely say they are here ‘on holiday’.
If you know of other incidents such as these I would be grateful if you would let me know. I also urge you to take this up with your MP or anyone you may know in Parliament. I believe this is urgent and significant and has somehow got through Parliament while we were sleeping. I believe we should be asking why religious workers are singled out for special treatment? Would a secular singer have had a similar problem e.g. Michael Jackson singing at 02 last week? I recognize that this in principle affects all religions, however it seems to me that it is much more likely to affect Christians than others who may be prepared to be less honest about their activities.If you are a ministry or church who invites speakers and guests from abroad I believe you will need to look into this urgently and in detail and warn anyone already booked to be aware of this. As ministries we will have to be prepared to become sponsors and to consider which of the tiers our contacts may fall into. We will also have to plan our conferences etc longer in advance to ensure that our speakers actually do get visas. The cases above were Tier 5 – but each tier requires separate registration. A Minister of Religion falls under Tier 2 as ‘a skilled worker’. The Immigration website is complicated and does not seem to work properly.
The above scenarios are another manifestation of an earlier report in Christians Together regarding Christian workers in the Highlands. And the matter was discussed as a serious concern at a prayer of Christian leaders earlier this week.
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Christians Together, 12/03/2009