UK visas access is an 'obstruction to trade'

04 Jun 2012 | Posted by Carl Thomas

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former British ambassador to the UN has stated that he is "horrified" by the UK visa system after difficulties obtaining a visa prevented a Syrian delegate attending a Scottish conference.

The delegate, who is president of the United Nations Association (UNA) of Syria, was forced to cancel his trip to attend the international conference on A Middle East Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction, which took place at the Scottish Parliament.

Sir Jeremy told the PA: "I'm afraid that Professor George Jabour, president of  UNA-Syria, was unable to reach us because he couldn't get a visa easily under the British system. Having left my government service I think I can freely say, without being sacked this time, that I am horrified by the way the British government runs its visa system.

"We are a country with 30 per cent of our GNP involved in global trade. If businessmen in a large number of countries around the world; if politicians, other visitors, members of civic society, cannot get a visa to the UK in their own capitals, they're not going to want to come to Britain."

He extended his apologies to Professor Jabour, noting that the professor would have had to travel to Beirut in the Lebanon before waiting several days for a visa to be issued.

Howeve,r a UK Border Agency spokesman responded to the news agency: "It is unfair to make sweeping generalisations based on a single case or the current exceptional situation in Syria. We recognise the importance of business visitors to the UK and seek to offer a fast and efficient visa service around the world."

"However, our visa centre in Damascus closed in March after British Government staff were withdrawn from Syria because their safety could not be guaranteed. Applications are currently being processed in Lebanon or Jordan which can take slightly longer."

Beirut lies some 50 miles west of the Syrian capital Damascus in neighbouring Lebanon where UK visas can be obtained from the British consulate there.