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Christian ministers not getting visas raised in House of Commons

by Cara Bentley

The SNP MP for Paisley & Renfrewshire North, Gavin Newlands, has raised in parliament the issue in parliament. 

In a debate on Thursday about immigration Mr Newlands said: "Recently, the UK Government also imposed changes for tier 5 entry visas, including, notably, the removal of ministers of religion from the eligibility criteria.

"That decision has generated much concern from faith leaders throughout my constituency and in religious communities across the United Kingdom. If we take the example of Catholic communities, that change will have a significant impact on priests coming into the UK because most Catholic dioceses regularly use the tier 5 religious worker visa route for them to come here on supply placements while parish priests are away for short periods."

Tier 5 visas are for temporary work, issued for no longer than 12 months, and previously open to 'ministers of religion'. 

Church ministers would use this if covering for another minister's sabatical, for example. 

Mr Newlands told the House: "The supply placements are imperative as they enable people to continue attending mass and receiving sacraments, while keeping parish activities running smoothly - activities that are of benefit to the entire community, not just to Catholics.

"Under the new Home Office guidance, priests on supply placements will now be required to use the tier 2 minister of religion visa route, which will double the costs incurred by parishes and make supply cover effectively unaffordable in some of the poorer communities.

"Unfortunately, the tier 2 route also imposes strict language requirements, and even those priests who have completed seminary in English may now be required to sit an additional English language test before embarking on their placements."

Tier 2 is for long-term work visas and for ministers of religion it costs £610 if applying outside of the UK, compared to £244 for the religious worker visa. 

"Religious leaders in my constituency are extremely worried, not only about the financial and practical implications, but about the human costs of those hostile policy changes. I will go into more detail on this issue in the Westminster Hall debate next week initiated by my hon. friend David Linden and touch on some of the representations that I have received from faith leaders across Renfrewshire, including from Bishop John Keenan."

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