Charity Woodcraft Folk is campaigning for improvements to the UK visa system which is impacting international youth work.
Woodcraft Folk is calling for a change to the UK visa system to better support international youth work and cultural exchanges. Established after the First World War with a goal of ‘spanning the world with friendship’, developing international understanding and exploring co-operative solutions to global problems, Woodcraft Folk has a long history of participating in international projects, exchanges and camps.
This summer, Woodcraft Folk hosted a ten day international youth camp, originally planned for 2020. The event welcomed 2,700 young people from 23 countries, however some young people were prevented from participating due to the UK visa system. The UK’s current Visitor Visa system is completely incompatible with youth and cultural exchanges as each individual is assessed separately, resulting in some group members having their applications rejected whilst other members have theirs approved.
The charity is also arguing that there is no short-term visa option with every participant being assessed for a 6-month multi-entry visa with a requirement for the applicant to prove they do not intend to overstay in the UK. The charity states however that there is nowhere on the application to include evidence of applicants being mid-studies in their home country, having a job or even family ties.
Woodcraft Folk’s Chief Executive Debs McCahon says:
“Our experience suggests that disadvantaged individuals are being further disadvantaged and excluded from opportunities to engage in non-formal education and cultural experiences. The process is especially discriminatory towards 18 year olds who are being judged on their financial independence – a test which most 18 year olds living in the UK would fail! Even when external 100% funding was in place from recognised sources such as Erasmus+, individuals still had their applications rejected for our Common Ground camp. The individuals more likely to obtain a visa were aged 35+. Which defeats the purpose of an international YOUTH camp.”
The other aspect of the visa process which Woodcraft Folk are arguing is unworkable, is the rule that you can only apply for a UK visa three months before your departure date, with the charity arguing that this is unfair as visa processing can take several months.
Debs McCahon goes on to say
“We saw camp participants getting visas the week before, or during camp. Flights were no longer available or had doubled in price. This is very cruel on young people who had waited for years for this unique opportunity, had raised funds in their local area, learnt English, prepared performances or workshops. To come so far, and then get rejected or accepted at the last minute makes a mockery of the system. Intercontinental travel cannot be arranged within two days’ notice, not unless you are an affluent business traveller…”
Woodcraft Folk is now calling upon the Government to identify youth work and cultural education as a legitimate reason to visit the UK, supporting young people to play, to learn and develop cultural understanding across borders.
The charity request that the Home Office reviews the visa application process and to permit group applications which assesses the host and sending organisations rather than the individual participants.
Woodcraft Folk are calling on people to add their voice to the charity’s campaign by writing to your MP.
The charity have a template available for download below.