The nightmare of suspicion and bureaucracy unleashed when Patrick Kamzitu applied for an eight-day visa reveals a UK becoming as hostile to visitors as Trump’s America
The British immigration system is nothing if not cruel. But it is not just elderly UK citizens from the Caribbean who have been treated badly, as anyone from sub-Saharan Africa invited to visit Britain will know.
Three months ago, the Gumbi Education Fund, a tiny charity set up in 2002 by Guardian readers to help educate children in Malawi, invited Patrick Kamzitu, its administrator and sole employee, to come to Britain to give two talks and meet donors.
Because he had set up four community libraries in villages that had never seen books, Patrick was to speak at the Hay international book festival with the author and historian Bettany Hughes about how books can change lives and bring development.
Inviting Patrick was easy. Getting him a visa from UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to come for eight days to tell his simple, inspiring story about friendship and books has been a nightmare of hostility, suspicion, bureacracy and the exercise of remote power.
A long visa application form must be filled in online – a costly and hard task in itself for most Malawians who live without computers or electricity and who only go to the capital occasionally. But Patrick also had to provide his birth certificate, passport, marriage certificate, his children’s birth certificates, his employment contracts and several months of bank statements.
At the UK end, the Gumbi fund had to issue a letter of invitation, an hour-by-hour itinerary of everywhere he hoped to visit as well as personal and business bank account details.
It was not enough. After three weeks and paying £147 online to a French-owned call centre giant based in Johannesburg, which Britain uses to process all southern African visa applications and which charges anyone who wishes to contact them £5.48 per email, his request was refused.
A rude letter stated that the combined income he was earning from administering the fund and working for the Malawi government as a health assistant was not enough to cover his stay in the UK. Nor could he show he earned enough money in Malawi. Moreover, he was told that because he was a rural health assistant it was unclear why he should be chosen to speak at Hay about rural development and books.
But he was invited to apply again, for another £147. All the points were addressed and this time, his second application was accompanied by a letter of support signed by a member of the House of Lords, the head of a large international charity and an organiser of the Hay festival programme.
His application was refused again on Monday. This time he was told that he could not show he had strong enough family and financial ties in Malawi to return; that he appeared to have no savings or assets, and that he could not show that he would not abscond.