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MP seeks Home Office intervention over worker visas for Hindu temples

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GARETH THOMAS MP has written to the home secretary seeking his intervention over Tier 5 religious worker visas, which enable UK temples to recruit priests, saying such places of worship face closure over staff shortages.

In a letter to James Cleverly on Wednesday (17), the Labour MP for Harrow West, who is also the chair of the All Parliamentary Group for British Gujaratis, said many temples have closed down or offer reduced services due to “severe delays” in obtaining Tier 5 religious worker visas.

Priests are vital to the community as they not only lead prayer services in temples, but are called upon by families for house warming and wedding ceremonies, among other religious events.

Thomas said he met the Mandirs United group, which represents 20 Hindu temples in UK, and urged Cleverly to set up an expert panel to resolve their concerns.

“Temples often find themselves without a religious worker and they struggle to serve their community,” he said.

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In his letter, Thomas said for most UK temples, the Tier 5 religious worker is the only paid member of staff and their wage is funded through donations.

It is a temporary two-year visa with no option to extend, so these institutions have to search for a new religious worker for up to six months before the existing religious worker’s visa runs out, Thomas pointed out.

Representatives of the Mandirs United group suggested amending the rules for Tier 5 visas to be issued for three years, with an option to extend up to five years.

In a briefing document presented to the APPG on December 13, the group noted delays over processing of applications, rising visa costs and raised questions about the quality of translation staff, which they claim led to visa refusals.

The Shree Laxminarayan Mandir in Birmingham said it had to close down last year due to delay in issuing visa to a religious worker. When the temple lodged a formal complaint, a visa was issued to the worker but not his wife and no explanation was provided.

In another instance, when Shree Ram Mandir in Birmingham complained about an inaccurate end date on biometric residence permits (BRP), they were informed that it was being looked into. However, nothing happened for six months. Further, around £6,000 had already been paid for the service.

Gurjar Hindu Union Temple in Crawley said it did not receive a ‘priority service’ even after paying £262 towards that.

Shrijidam Havelli, Leicester said its application was rejected last September as the interview conducted in Gujarati was not translated correctly. It has now asked for the script of the interview.

The Shree Krishna Mandir, West Bromwich, had to rely on volunteer members to do the rituals for important Hindu festivals last year due to the delay in issuing visas to a religious worker and his family members. It took five months to get the visa (excluding the spouse visa), instead of the stipulated 15 days.

Thomas said in the letter that temple representatives expressed concerns over the resident labour market test as there are no gurukuls (religious schools) or Hindu religious education establishments in the UK from where they can recruit workers.

“As a result, the resident labour market test cannot be met, and temples have to wait thirty days before they can start their selection process and conduct interviews.

“Temples further feel they are facing lengthy delays and there is no easily available hotline they can speak to within the Home Office about their application,” he wrote.

Thomas told Eastern Eye, “Mandirs play a crucial role in our communities. Due to these problems many have had to reduce their hours.

“I call on the Home Secretary to look into the problems around Tier-5 Religious Worker visas and the specific cases which the Mandirs have raised.”

 

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