“I am doubtful this decision would have been made were it not for substantial public pressure”
“We are very pleased that the Home Office has now reversed its earlier decision,” a spokesperson for the University of Glasgow, where the conference is taking place, said in a statement.
“Academic events and conferences involving participants from around the world are important vehicles for discourse and debate.”
But many observed that without public pressure and media attention, with coverage from mainstream media, The Independent and the BBC most prominently, the case wouldn’t have been resolved so quickly.
Originally from Bosnia, 21-year-old Nadza Dzinalija was denied a visa on first application because immigration officials were not convinced she would leave at the end of her stay, although she had provided proof of her return flight, the Independent reported.
The reason seemed to be that her student visa in the Netherlands was due to expire in December, although Dzinalija had already applied for an extension.
After the first reports on the case, Dzinalija was contacted by the Home Office and informed that a decision had been made to grant her a visa.
Speaking to The Independent, she said she was sure it was because of the media attention.
Immigration barrister Jan Doerfel, who took up the case on a pro-bono basis and defined the Home Office decision to initially refuse her application as “not only unlawful but also deeply insulting,” also agreed that media attention had played a role.
“Nadza received a fast remedy because her case was highlighted in The Independent and because she could benefit from pro bono representation,” he said, adding that other applicants are not so lucky.
NUS international student officer, Yinbo Yu, told The PIE cases like this highlight the need for a rethink of immigration processes.
“I am doubtful this decision would have been made were it not for substantial public pressure. This reveals how arbitrary and baseless many of the visa processes currently deployed by the government actually are,” he said.
“Cases like this demonstrate the need for a full overhaul of the system: to create one which is fair, rational, and works for all students”.
The reputational damage of such occurrences for the UK’s HE and research sector has also been highlighted, with professor of international law at UCL, Philippe Sands QC, saying that he regularly organises meetings and conferences outside of the UK because “problems with visas are a regular occurrence”.
“For several years I have been unable to invite certain individuals – distinguished professors, international civil servants – to speak in my classes at UCL, or attend conferences in the UK,” he explained.
The case was again highlighted when the World Health Organisation complained to the UK over the decision not to grant visas to academics for its symposium in Liverpool.
“The onus rests on the UK government to roll out the welcome mat”
For CGHE research associate Ludovic Highman, the pressure is on the Home Office to ensure these incidents are not replicated in the future. But more generally he said Brexit and the Windrush scandal are damaging the perception of the UK as a welcoming destination for students and scholars.
“The onus rests on the UK government to roll out the welcome mat. A lot of resources and goodwill must be redirected towards promoting the UK as an open and welcoming destination,” he said.
This is vital for UK universities, which rely on their ability to attract European and global talent for their academic excellence, he said, citing the London Schools of Economic and Imperial College as examples of institutions with a high proportion of EU academic staff, 40% the former and 32% the latter.
“The UK’s best universities are populated with the highest densities of non-UK academic staff, which contribute disproportionately to their university’s reputation,” he said.
“A constant flow of unjustified academic visa restrictions will lead to scientists and academics bringing their science elsewhere.”