News Analysis

Overlooked: Dozens of priests refused entry to Britain

A literacy problem? The Home Office

What happened?

Dozens of priests have been blocked from entering Britain in the last five years, a Times investigation has found. Ten of the 22 dioceses in England and Wales said they had experienced a total of 45 visa refusals. Bishop Paul McAleenan, the bishops’ spokesman on migration, blamed a lack of “religious literacy” at the Home Office.

Why was it under-reported?

The news came out on Easter Saturday and was overshadowed by the Sri Lanka bombings the next day. It was a significant story because it confirms two trends which have often prompted complaints: first, that institutions have difficulties in getting visas for priests and religious; second, that the Home Office sometimes struggles to deal with the particularities of applications from believers. Last month, it distanced itself from a letter sent by an employee which disputed an asylum seeker’s claim that Christianity was a peaceful religion.

What will happen next?

the Home Office issued a statement saying that it has “dedicated immigration routes both for clergy and religious workers, so that they can undertake short and long-term postings here. Each application is considered on its individual merits.”

Yet there is clearly room for improvement. Some priests were refused entry because their position had not been advertised locally. As the bishops’ conference observed, “The role of the Catholic priest is not one which could be advertised in a Jobcentre.”