Tier 5 Religious Worker Visas — [Mike Gapes in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:01 pm on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd The Minister of State, Home Department 4:01 pm, 4th July 2019

I am not sure how fair that is, because I do not know the background to those conversations. However, I know the Immigration Minister well. She is the listening type, and I think she is entirely sincere in saying that she recognises the sensitivities that have emerged from this policy change.

Before I go into why there were changes, it is always helpful to assert the common ground. Many Members—Carol Monaghan was particularly powerful on this—spoke about the importance and the value of faith communities in all our constituencies. I think she spoke for many of us in expressing the importance of those communities, not least in giving many people a sense of strength and purpose. I absolutely recognise that from my constituency and the extraordinary work of churches such as Emmanuel Church in Northwood, the Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue and St Martin’s Church in Ruislip, to mention three.

We all know the fundamental truth of that, and I think we all agree with the point about the added value of contributions made by members of religious institutions from overseas, which is at the heart of the debate. That is why the immigration system maintains dedicated arrangements for religious workers, with two dedicated visa categories make provision for those seeking to come to the UK to fill long-term vacancies and shorter-term postings. As hon. Members know, the requirements necessarily differ between the two, to ensure that system is used in an appropriate manner.

The adjective “generous” is not often attached to the Home Office, but we think that this is a generous offer. However, it must be balanced against ensuring that those wishing to lead congregations, regularly performing the primary rites and rituals of their faith, are subject to stronger requirements than those coming to the UK to fill supporting roles for shorter periods. We believe that those tasked with leading roles within our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples must be able to demonstrate a strong command of the English language, which is fundamental to the change to tier 2. The changes that the Government have introduced ensure that all those seeking to undertake such important roles can explain their teachings in English to all in the community, not just to their congregation.