Dr Doseline Kiguru, a Kenyan expert in world literature, was overjoyed when she secured a permanent position at Bristol University. But that all changed last week when the Home Office refused to allow her six-year-old daughter to join her.
The decision, which furious colleagues have called “an act of unthinkable cruelty”, will fuel fears that the government is disproportionately blocking academics from the global south from coming to the UK, despite Rishi Sunak’s pledge to make Britain a global “science superpower”.
It echoes two similar cases in 2019, where the Home Office was forced to do a U-turn on refusing entry to the children of two women researchers at Oxford University, after widespread condemnation from academics across the world.
Academics say that banning the children of researchers is not uncommon, but parents are typically too scared to go public. Kiguru said this weekend that she was “devastated” by the “horrific” decision to ban her daughter from moving to the UK and could not bear “to think about how alone and isolated she is feeling” back in Kenya.
Kiguru said her daughter asks her on the phone each day when she will be coming to collect her. “Of course, a child doesn’t understand these [visa] complexities. She thinks I left her.”
She first came to Bristol in 2021 as a research associate on a £1.3m EU-funded project on literary activism in Africa. Her field work required her to spend large amounts of time in Kenya, so the family decided it was not necessary to uproot her daughter.
However, when she was offered a permanent lecturer position, she committed to starting a new life in the UK with her daughter. Her husband, who is also an academic, cannot look after his daughter because he travels a lot for research, but hopes to move to the UK.
Kiguru returned to Kenya to apply for her daughter’s visa in July. Expecting no problems, she had enrolled her at a primary school in Bristol from September and bought her uniform.
The visa process should take 15 working days, but it was not until Bristol University intervened at the start of November that she discovered her daughter’s application had been rejected earlier in October. She now has only one week left to appeal.
The Home Office’s rejection said it saw “no compassionate grounds” on which to allow the child to join her mother. The letter, addressed to the six-year-old girl, added: “It was your mother’s personal decision to depart for the UK.”
A colleague supporting Kiguru’s appeal, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of Home Office reprisals with her own visa, said: “They imply Doseline chose to leave her daughter. The hostility of that reasoning, which can only come from a place of racism and misogyny, took my breath away.”
Madhu Krishnan, a professor of African, world and comparative literatures at Bristol University, said: “The decision to separate a young child from her mother under such spurious grounds is an act of unthinkable cruelty, of which we have sadly become familiar in recent years.”
She described Kiguru as a “world-leading scholar” and said her loss would be “strongly felt” if this drove her out of the UK.
A recent report by the Royal Society found academic visas were often rejected for “arbitrary and subjective” reasons. It said African nationals applying for a visitor’s visa – which scientists need to attend research conferences in the UK – were three to four times more likely to be rejected than applicants in east Asia.
The report described a research conference that was focused on gathering insights from the global south, but ended up with no attenders from that part of the world.
The society has denounced “disproportionate” increases to visa fees, planned from next year, as a “punitive tax on talent”, with top researchers coming to the UK facing costs up to 10 times higher than other leading science nations.
Sir Adrian Smith, the society’s president, said: “If the UK is to truly be a world leader in the competitive global research environment, we need urgent action to remove these barriers.”
A Home Office spokesperson said they did not comment on individual cases but added: “All visa applications are considered on their individual merits in accordance with the immigration rules.”
- The Guardian, UK