U.K. Deports U.S. Christians Under Visa Rule

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CBNNews.com - A Christian musician and a team of missionaries from the United States were recently denied entry into the United Kingdom under new immigration rules that require religious workers to obtain a visa.

Christian singer Don Francisco arrived at Heathrow Airport on March 2 and was detained, fingerprinted and escorted onto a flight back to the U.S.

"I felt like they were looking for reason to keep me out," Francisco said.

Immigration officials said he lacked the proper paperwork.

"My main concern is that this one misinterpretation and misapplication of immigration law will result in my being unable to return to the U.K. in the future," Francisco added.

Missionaries Deported

The previous day, a Master's Commission team from Arkansas was denied entrance into Scotland. They would have volunteered in soup kitchens with Assemblies of God churches in Edinburgh.

"She told us that we'd have to have a work visa," said Craig Johnson, associate youth minister at Harvest Time Church in Fort Smith, Ark., and leader of the missions team.

Christian leaders inside the U.K. said few ministries are fully aware of the work visa regulations, which were introduced late last year.

Under the new regulations, religious workers must be sponsored by a U.K. government registered organization. Also, applicants must pay a fee to obtain a work visa.

"So essentially you can stay in the U.K. as a tourist for six months, but if you want to volunteer some of your time working in a soup kitchen, you have to have a work visa," Johnson said.

The Rev. Andrew Smith, superintendent of the Assemblies of God Churches in Scotland, said he was "horrified" by the deportation.

"I felt that the team should have been allowed to stay even though technically our application was being processed by the U.K. Border Agency," he said. "Even though technically they weren't allowed to do charitable work, they should have been allowed to stay as tourists."

Smith said he paid the $550 fee to sponsor the Master's Commission team, but the application was still in progress. He is now filing a complaint with the Home Office and wants a formal apology.

"We're not taking this lying down," Smith said, "because I was ashamed that my country would. We don't want to be restricted from inviting co-workers from around the world in standing with us in sharing the gospel here."

*Original posting March 14, 2009.

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