A Catholic institute training priests and nuns has been forced to leave Britain following a dispute over visa applications for foreign students.
The Institute of St Anselm in Margate, Kent, is relocating to Rome after the Home Office withdrew its license for visas.
Institute founder Fr Len Kofler said that dealing with the Home Office over the years had been like “mental torture”.
He said that a Catholic priest was recently refused a visa to study at the Institute because he wasn’t married. A nun was also denied entry to the UK because she did not have a personal bank account because she belonged to a religious order.
Fr Kofler said: “All our priests and religious are sent to train and go back to their own countries after their studies. I think its a total misunderstanding and religious illiteracy from the Home Office.
“At the age of 82, I am no longer able to work in a situation where my hands are bound due to the Home Office’s inability to function. To work in that mess is not my desire any longer.”
A spokeswoman for the Institute added: “There is clearly a non-understanding in the Home Office of Catholic and religious priestly life or it is not taken in to consideration. We lost our licence for having more than 10 per cent refusals… All these refusals count against us and we are then considered responsible and even criminalised as encouraging the wrong people to come.
“All our inspections have been highly positive – some directly by Home Office personnel. It seems they do not even read what is sent. There is no one to explain or negotiate the situation, just letters of supreme authority.
“Because of our closure up to 10 local people will be made redundant and half a million pounds that goes to the local economy – not to mention what the students put into it through their travel and purchases – is lost to the local economy.”
The Institute of St Anselm was founded in 1984 to train formators, leaders and evangelisers in the Church.
Writing in this week’s Catholic Herald, former prisons minister Ann Widdecombe accused the Home Office of failing to understand basic facts about religious life.
“Officials seem unable to comprehend that, for example, African nuns do not have bank accounts and Catholic priests cannot adduce wives and families as evidence of an incentive to return home after their studies,” she wrote.
“One would think the Home Office would want to hold up St Anselm’s as a shining example of probity, because 100 per cent of its students do complete their courses and return home; but instead it has removed that college’s Tier 4 status (which enables institutions to take in over-16s on student visas).
“The reason given is that revocation is automatic following the refusal of more than 10 per cent of visa applications. Yet the applications have been refused on the spurious grounds given above.”
She continued: “Expecting nuns and priests to satisfy financial thresholds designed for people who are self-sufficient is of a quite different order of ignorance and is inexcusable. St Anselm’s itself undertook responsibility for them so it is that institution’s record which should have been the salient factor.
“Some fairly significant people are writing to [Home Secretary] Amber Rudd, but if the letters are opened by people in her department who think Christmas is about Santa Claus and Easter about chocolate eggs then it is unlikely she will see them before St Anselm’s has gone to live in a better-informed state.”
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “Educational institutions that benefit from the immigration system must ensure they have robust compliance systems in place or risk losing their privilege to sponsor students.
“All institutions holding a Tier 4 sponsor licence must pass an annual assessment in order to retain the ability to recruit international students.”
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