Decision to Deny Pakistani Christians' Visit To Glasgow To Be Reviewed

Representatives from Glasgow Presbytery received a warm welcome when they visited a twinned congregation in Hyderabad. Pictured at front with hosts from Hyderabad are (from left): Rev Fiona Gardner, minister at Temple Anniesland Church; Bill Gray, Presbytery world mission convener; Rev Tom Pollock, Presbytery moderator 2015-16; and Very Rev Bill Hewitt, Presbytery clerk.Church of Scotland

Following accusations of bureaucracy, the Home Office has announced that it will review its decision to refuse visas for two Pakistani Christians wishing to make a short trip to the UK.

The visit of the two senior members of the Church of Pakistan was due to be funded by the Church of Scotland as part of a twinning project with the Presbytery of Glasgow.

Presbytery Clerk the Very Rev Bill Hewitt told Christian Today, "We are very pleased that the visas are being reviewed and are hoping it will be a successful outcome."

The move to review the decision to bar the Christians comes after the Church of Scotland criticised the Home office, arguing that red tape was affecting its efforts to develop links with other Christian communities internationally. Hewitt was one of a group of representatives from the Church's Glasgow Presbytery who visited a congregation in Hyderabad last year. They wanted to reciprocate the "tremendous hospitality" they received by inviting the two Christians to visit Glasgow this year.

Despite the fact the Church said that it would pay for the trip, both Christians had their applications refused because of their financial circumstances and were told, unless these circumstances changed, future applications were "likely to be refused... not subject to appeal."

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"The visa refusal wasn't about Christianity," said Hewitt. "The grounds for refusal was that they didn't have enough money in their bank account. What we're concerned about is, as a country, are we only letting people in who have money? And what does that say about us?"

Kristen Oswald, the SNP MP for East Renfrewshire, who raised the case with Theresa May, said that "the initial response of the Home Office was completely unacceptable, suggesting the visitors were not genuine." She, too, is pleased that Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill has agreed to review the refusal. "I welcome the Minister's new approach and tone – and hope that we can sort this out and resolve it.''

While the Pakistani Christians were "shocked and depressed" when they received the initial refusal, the Church of Scotland is not letting this set-back hinder their relationship with the Church in Hyderabad. The presbytery chose to partner with Pakistan as there was already a connection, with Glasgow having quite a large Pakistani community, comprising about 3 per cent of the city's population.

"It's about being the worldwide Church," says Hewitt. "Learning from them and supporting one another, particularly in prayer."

The Immigration Minister has written to Oswald saying that he has asked for both decisions "to be reviewed". This is a positive sign, suggesting that the visit, which has been rescheduled for a third time to February 2017, might finally be able to go ahead.

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