Over the last twelve years, the UK government has gradually changed its visa delivery system. Visa decisions are no longer made by the Embassies in various countries but at Visa Application Centres (VACs), and the decisions are made at Decision Making Centres. This change impacts on the quality of visa decisions for African women visa applicants.
In a reply to a freedom of information request regarding a list of UKVI international application points and decision making centres by Lexis Nexis, the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has published a list of the international application points and decision-making centres it runs. The report reveals that for countries like Uganda, only short visit visas and non-settlement visas are handled in Pretoria, South Africa while the rest of the visa applications are flown to UK centres in Sheffield and Liverpool for decision making.
In its recent damning report on UK visit visas, the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for Africa noted that there are severe consequences where visa decisions for African applicants are made hundreds or thousands of miles away from African countries and, significantly, far away from any local input, context and insights which were previously provided for by the local embassies.
There is substantial evidence that the UK visa application system considers an African woman through the lenses of patriarchy. In other words, women are viewed as lacking in agency and direction, only to be redeemed by the plight of men. And quite often, African women who apply for UK visas find themselves at the receiving end of injustice and unfairness. The visa decisions often are not grounded in the local context or realities of the day.
In Uganda, the informal sector is an engine growing so fast that it contributes 43 per cent of GDP. In fact, seven in ten Ugandans are in the informal sector. Coupled with the ubiquity of telecommunications and the relatively affordable mobile devices, the informal economy has taken new pathways with the rise of e-commerce. Many young women, disenfranchised by harsh working conditions characterised by low pay and sexual harassment, have resorted to self-employment, in the informal sector.
They have founded reliant marketplaces in platforms such as WhatsApp and Instagram through which they sell their wares. Further, their businesses are run with little or no overheads and they transact through non-traditional channels such as mobile money yet the informal sector, despite its contributions, falls short of grace. It is easily underestimated and written off as chaotic and lacking.
Land ownership enables other factors of production to flourish and for any successful UK visa application, land/property is a “requirement”. The large informal sector means that there is a lack of land/property ownership in the hands of women and the consequences of this place women at a disadvantage compared with men.
Even when a visa application is supported with evidence of land/property ownership, the lack of local context and realities of the day means that such is ignored and or as often one is told that she cannot sustain herself in the UK for two weeks because of a low income despite beating the odds to get on the property ladder and already has enough money in the bank account at the time of application.
In conclusion, this highlights the extent to which African women are discriminated against when local context and expertise is not part of the visa decision making. It means that for many African women especially with kids or without a spouse, UK visas are a distant dream. The system is rigged against them, decisions are unfair as evidence of property ownership by women is not assessed positively. And in the words of The Independent Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) the lack of local knowledge does impact adversely on decision making quality.
Thomas Ddumba is a UK lawyer
Email: [email protected]