By Roya Shahidi, Co-Editor-in-Chief and Milan Perera, Deputy Editor
In an unexpected turn of events, Dr Doseline Kiguru at the University of Bristol learnt that the visa application for her six-year-old daughter to the UK was refused.
Since then, there has been an outpouring of support and solidarity from her colleagues at the University of Bristol and beyond to appeal the decision.
Dr Kiguru, a Kenyan academic in World Literatures in the Department of English at the University of Bristol, joined the University in 2021 as a research associate on a £1.3 million EU-funded project.
Dr Kiguru is a scholar in post-colonial literary networks and won the prestigious Vilakazi Prize for new and young scholars in African Studies in 2016. She was appointed to a permanent lectureship last year through a highly competitive selection process.
As a leading academic on a skilled worker visa, Dr Kiguru did not foresee any issue regarding the visa application for her daughter and enrolled her at a school in Bristol. Unaware of the unexpected outcome, she even purchased school uniform and supplies in anticipation of the new academic year starting in September.
The Home Office has rejected the 6-year-old daughter's visa to join her mother in the UK. It is reported that despite the published processing time of 15 working days, it took four months to communicate the decision which came only after a direct intervention.
In its letter addressed to Dr Kiguru’s 6-year-old daughter, the Home Office indicated that it saw ‘no compassionate grounds’ on which to allow the child to join her mother.
The letter further added: ‘It was your mother’s personal decision to depart for the UK.’
The rejection was made under the UK immigration rules which specify that a child cannot receive a visa to accompany or join a parent unless both parents travel or settle in the UK together.
In Dr Kiguru’s case, this was not possible due to her husband's employment arrangement as an academic, which requires travelling. For this reason, the Kenyan High Court, with the consent of her husband, granted her sole responsibility for her daughter.
Dr Kiguru won the Vilakazi Prize in 2016, for new scholars in African Studies. She's published in journals including AFRICAN STUDIES, SOCIAL DYNAMICS, and ENGLISH IN AFRICA. We are *so lucky* to have her here at Bristol - she's such a great colleague, researcher and teacher https://t.co/PHlZilRVY6— English@Bristol (@UoBrisEnglish) November 12, 2023
As a result, Dr Kiguru intends to re-apply for a visa for her daughter. Her husband is also forced to relocate to the UK for the family to remain together. In order to cover the expenses of the visa application process, a GoFundMe page was set up with a target of raising £10,000.
During this ordeal, the Department of English at the University of Bristol expressed its solidarity with the academic and hailed her as ‘such a great colleague, researcher and teacher’.
Her colleagues at the University of Bristol took to X (formerly known as Twitter) to express their dismay at the original decision and to extend their support.
Professor Madhu Krishnan, Senior Lecturer in Post Colonial Writing at the department, called the situation an ‘act of unthinkable cruelty.’
Dr Noreen Masud, another colleague at the department, called the decision ‘shameful’ and ‘devastating.’
Dr Kiguru’s situation has also prompted reactions from academics in other universities. Professor Ben Ansel from the University of Oxford called for far-reaching changes to the existing criteria: ‘We cannot have a ‘world-class university system’ if we deny permanent academics the possibility of having their small children join them.’
This is absolutely appalling. We simply CANNOT have a ‘world class university system’ if we deny permanent academics the possibility of having their small children join them. The Home Office… https://t.co/hvaHcmaylt— Ben Ansell (@benwansell) November 11, 2023
A Home Office spokesperson said they did not comment on individual cases and added: ‘All visa applications are considered on their individual merits in accordance with the immigration rules.’
Regarding this ongoing situation, a University of Bristol spokesperson said: 'Dr Kiguru is a much-valued member of our academic community, and we are offering her advice and support during this difficult time.
'We will be providing the Home Office with testimonials regarding her academic excellence and her important contributions to our research and education in the hope the situation can be resolved, and her daughter will be able to join her here in Bristol soon.'
Featured image: Milan Perera
Does the criteria around visa applications need an update?