LONDON – Foreign Christian musicians and missionaries to the United Kingdom could be deported if they are not sponsored by a licensed organization and do not obtain the necessary visas, according to new immigration rules.
Early this month, Colorado-based Christian singer Don Francisco was refused entry into London and a team of missionaries from Arkansas were denied entry to Scotland after being told they needed work visas to enter the country.
Francisco arrived at Heathrow Airport on March 2 to take part in the Christian musical "Why Good Friday," in which ten of his songs are included. Upon arrival he was detained, fingerprinted and escorted onto a flight back to the United States after officials claimed he did not have the proper paperwork.
Francisco, who has traveled throughout the United Kingdom for 30 years without trouble, said, "I felt like they were looking for a reason to keep me out," according to the Pentecostal publication Charisma.
"Anyone who goes into England from this point on for any reason other [than] to be a tourist and just spend money had better have their ducks in a row."
Just the day before, a Master's Commission team from Arkansas was refused admission to Scotland after immigration officials found that they would be volunteering at soup kitchens in partnership 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 Arkansas. "So essentially you can stay [in the UK] 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 added that instead of being escorted to a U.S. flight, the chief immigration officer could have let them through.
"The [immigration] team kept apologizing to us profusely. The [chief immigration officer] had the power to just discretionally wave us through. She was just doing her job; I understand that. But discretionally she could have waved us through."
Daniel Webster, parliamentary officer of the Evangelical Alliance, said the new immigration regulations had been introduced last November to counter illegal immigration and the threat of terrorism. The new rules, he said, had left many ministers and organizations confused.
"The recent cases highlight just how complex these cases are and the urgent need for churches and ministries to be kept up to date. The Evangelical Alliance is working on a full analysis to help churches better understand the law so that this does not happen again," he said.
Christian artist Francisco added that he still hoped to take part in the musical but said, "My main concern is that this one misinterpretation and misapplication of immigration law will result in my being unable to return to the UK in the future. One question that is always asked at a border is, 'Have you ever been denied entry into this country?' Unless this present situation is reversed, my truthful reply would probably result in yet another denial of entry."