Visa grace for Arab and Belarusian kids urged

Mark Durkan MP.
Mark Durkan MP.

SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan has called on the new Minister for Immigration, Robert Goodwill, to ensure visa flexibility is made available to Chernobyl children who are visiting Donegal and Londonderry on a yearly basis, and to Syrian refugees who are now living on both sides of the border.

Speaking during a recent Westminster debate on the implications of the EU referendum on the UK-Ireland border, Mr Durkan said: “I note what the Minister has said about developing and strengthening the Common Travel Area. Of course, the Common Travel Area does not apply in terms of visas for visitors coming in from outside Britain and Ireland, except for Chinese and Indian visitors.

“Will he, in his new role, look at ensuring that similar flexibility can be available to people such as the Chernobyl children who visit on a charity basis? They are not allowed to come in from Donegal to avail themselves of offers of swimming or bowling in a place like Derry because they need a separate UK visa.

“Similarly, visa systems mean that refugees from Syria who are on either side of the border, with some in Letterkenny and some in Derry, are not allowed to cross the border to meet one another.”

The Minister for Immigration, Robert Goodwill, replied: “Those are all areas we can review. Indeed, they may well be a central part of the negotiations.

“The UK Government are committed to working with the devolved Administrations as we prepare for a new negotiation with the EU.”