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 certainly do not think that is the case. If I understand the hon. Gentleman’s line of thinking—it has not been made explicit—he needs to recognise that the original instinct came from the previous Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in terms of the integrated communities strategy. That might possibly undermine the hon. Gentleman’s point.

With your permission, Mr Gapes, I shall try to answer directly the fundamental question of the what and the why for the policy. I have set out that the new requirement is for individuals seeking to enter the UK as a minister of religion to use tier 2, demonstrating their command of the English language. We are also introducing, as has been noted, cooling-off periods for the tier 5 religious worker and charity worker routes. Applicants who have held a visa in one of those categories will not be permitted to hold another visa in the same category for 12 months after expiry of their leave. The immigration rules had previously permitted tier 5 religious workers to fill roles that may include preaching, pastoral work and non-pastoral work. That allowed an applicant to come to the UK and fill a role as a minister of religion without demonstrating an ability to speak English. That is no longer possible and, as we have discussed, applicants must use tier 2 to accommodate that.

The cooling-off period for the tier 5 religious and charity worker categories was introduced because we had become aware of a small but increasing number of religious and charity workers who were living in the UK on a near permanent basis, returning overseas for only a brief period to renew their visa. On the point that was made, I do not detect in the change and I am certainly not aware that underlying that are concerns about security. It is more concerns, as I said, about people using the system to live in the UK on a near permanent basis, which was not the original intention.

The shadow Home Secretary, Ms Abbott, and others asked about the process of consultation. There is a sense that people have been bounced into this and that the ground was not prepared, so let me restate that the changes were included in the “Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper”, which was published on 14 March 2018. Stakeholders were invited to respond. The Minister for Immigration chose to write directly to faith leaders in December 2018, before the rules took effect. That letter set out the detail and explained the rationale behind the changes. As I have said, the Minister for Immigration is extremely clear about her wish to hear directly from religious leaders themselves, and that is the context of the meeting that she is chairing next week. She wants to listen to concerns and discuss the future system.

The Government therefore feel that there was consultation and communication. To what degree the messages have been absorbed and people have focused on them is obviously open to debate. It is quite possible that people have started to focus on them only as we have got closer to the time when applications are made and positions need to be filled. We understand that, but the Government’s view is that we did engage, communicate and consult, and if people have problems, we need to see the evidence; the process needs to be evidence-led. My hon. Friend John Howell stirred the debate up, but he also made the important point that in the Anglican community, there does not seem to be an issue. The Government must listen to evidence, but those with problems and concerns must present evidence in those discussions.