SNP MP David Linden will today (Thursday 4th July) lead a House of Commons debate ramping up pressure on the Home Office to reverse its damaging changes to the religious work visa system.

Since the changes came into effect last December – whereby Ministers of Religion were removed from the eligibility criteria for tier 5 entry visas to the UK – church ministers have been struggling to get visas to enter the UK.

Previously faith communities were able to invite religious leaders from overseas under the tier 5 temporary work visa, at a cost of £244, to provide supply cover for religious services while community faith leaders were away for short breaks or unavailable.

However under new Home Office rules, religious leaders on supply placements will now be required to use the £610 tier 2 long-term work visa route – more than double the cost and making supply cover effectively unaffordable for many faith communities.

The policy has resulted in faith leaders being unable to take breaks or reduced worship schedules, as well as severely limiting the opportunity for faith leaders from developing countries to gain experience and income in the UK.

The SNP has led the campaign on this at Westminster with both David Linden MP and Gavin Newlands MP raising the issue in the House of Commons on numerous occasions, and Patrick Grady MP tabling an Early Day Motion on the issue which gained cross party-support.

Commenting ahead of the debate, David Linden, MP for Glasgow East, said:

“It is imperative that the Home Office reverse without delay these retrograde and damaging changes that are generating great concern from faith leaders in my constituency, and disproportionately impacting parishes and other faith communities across the UK.

“The original tier 5 work visa allowed faith communities to keep ticking over smoothly, with no reduction in services, while the parish priest or religious leader took a short break or sabbatical. It is nonsensical to expect faith communities, many with little spare money to begin with, to pay more than double the cost of a temporary work visa for a long-term one they do not need.

“Religious leaders across Scotland and the rest of the UK are voicing real concerns over the impact the unnecessary changes are causing – it is time the UK government listened and acted. If it does not, the Scottish Government must be given full powers over immigration to ensure faith communities across Scotland continue to run smoothly and benefit the entire community.”