London Corporate Training, along with many other reputable organisations, has suffered for too long from the difficulty in obtaining UK entry visas for Iraqis. Not everyone can afford the time and money to fly to Jordan to apply for their visa – and then wait for up to three weeks to learn whether or not their application has been successful.
At a recent meeting at the MEA (Middle East Association) in London I learned that the director of an Iraqi organisation wanting to come to Britain to buy materials for a construction project was so appalled at the difficulty in getting a British visa that he went elsewhere. A Shengen visa, allowing entry into 27 European countries (but not Britain), was obtained in two days; so much easier than having to apply for a Jordanian visa so that he could lodge his documents with the UK Border Agency in Amman; and then wait expensively in a hotel for many days to know whether his application was approved or not. This particular fiasco cost British exports the tidy sum of €7,000,000.
My own experience based on three visits last year to Kurdistan, northern Iraq, is an equally sorry tale of failure to help the UK get out of its present financial mess.
The Iraqi director of a Norwegian oil company wanted to fly to Scotland to buy equipment. He flew to Amman and waited for his visa to be approved. Eventually he ran out of time and had to return to Iraq. He went instead to Europe (but not to Britain).
At a new power station in Erbil, capital of Kurdistan, I was much impressed by all the latest Swiss generating equipment. There I was told that a party of a dozen engineers had wanted to come to the UK to source machinery. The visa delay caused by UK Border Agency was too much for them. European visas, available in two days, were a much better bet. It has since been noted that they spent a total of nearly US$80 million in France and Germany.
Following pressure in various quarters, including from this organisation, the office of the deputy-consul in Erbil has this year been upgraded to full consular status. This means that Iraqis can now deposit their visa applications there without having to go to Amman. A great improvement; but this can still take up to three weeks for visas to be approved.
The present troubles in Libya are causing a loss of business to many British organisations, including London Corporate Training, where we have been providing quality management training for many years. We have to look for other markets and indeed have recently signed an agreement with the Erbil Chamber of Commerce. This means that senior members of the Chamber will be coming to London where they will have the opportunity to learn the latest techniques and ideas for doing business at top level – that is, if they can get their visas in time.
If Mr. Cameron, the Prime Minister, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are really serious about creating “an enterprise culture” in this country they really must get a grip on the UK Border Agency. The Prime Minister, In his own words, has declared war on “officials who concoct ridiculous rules that make life impossible for small firms”. Equally impossible for large firms. And, of course, don’t forget the backing, or otherwise, of the UK Border Agency.
In Kurdistan we have had terrific support from the Consul-General’s office in Erbil who have gone to great lengths to ease the way to providing visas for Iraqis to come to the UK for business.
Let us look forward with hope; and a greater understanding of the ways in which British industry can help Iraq move towards a better future.