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

Either the Immigration Minister or I will have to write to the hon. Lady on that point. I am simply stating that one of the drivers for the cooling-off period was a sense that people were effectively here on a permanent basis, which was not the intention of the original visa policy.

We have heard a lot about those who come to the UK on a temporary basis, perhaps to cover for a minister of religion while he or she is on holiday. To be clear, the Government absolutely recognise that that is a legitimate activity. We certainly have no wish to leave any communities bereft of a spiritual leader while the normal incumbent has a holiday or is otherwise absent.

Remarks were made, which I thought were wildly off target, suggesting that we are targeting God or penalising the Catholic community, as if we were targeting Christian communities. These changes do not mean that we are targeting any particular group. All faiths are treated equally. Of course, we do not want communities to be bereft of spiritual leaders while the incumbent has a holiday or is otherwise absent.

That is precisely why the immigration rules for visitors specifically refer to those coming for religious purposes. Among the permitted activities for those coming on a visit visa, or for a visit without a visa if they are a relevant national, the rules state:

“Religious workers may visit the UK to preach or do pastoral work”.

This provides an opportunity for ministers of religion to officiate at a wedding or funeral, for example, and even to conduct a weekly service on an ad-hoc basis.

The visit rules rightly do not permit a Minister of religion to undertake paid work. If the intention is to provide cover for a holiday incumbent on a prolonged basis, which involves remuneration, we believe that the visiting Minister should have a work visa. That position is no different for a locum doctor providing cover for a GP or a supply teacher in a school, or anyone else coming to the UK on a temporary basis to provide cover for a full-time worker.

Anyone in that situation does require a tier 2 visa, as we have elaborated. It is right that those rules apply in the normal way to ministers of religion, not least because tier 2 contains an English language requirement. This ensures that visiting ministers of religion have the required level of English reflecting the important role that faith leaders play in ensuring community cohesion.