Indian writer wins visa fight after Home Office U-turn

Indian writer wins visa fight after Home Office U-turn

An Indian writer who was refused a visa for a poetry project has had the decision overturned by the Home Office weeks after Tiny Owl illustrator Ehsan Abdollahi won his visa fight.

Avner Pariat, from Shillong, was due to arrive in Wales on 15th August but was refused the visa days before his flight for reasons which echoed the case of Tiny Owl's situation last month. The indie publisher had organised for one of its illustrators, Abdollahi, to appear at the Edinburgh International Book Festival before this was thrown into doubt after his visa application was rejected by the Home Office. After a groundswell of support from the public on social media, Ehsan's visa was finally granted.

The Home Office also initially refused Pariat's visa application because it was not satisfied by his "financial circumstance and available funds" despite the fact his trip was financed by third parties. However, it has now reversed its decision after The Bookseller requested a comment on the case. However now the entire project has had to be rescheduled and Pariat will not be visiting until October at the earliest, three months after the originally intended date.

Pariat was invited by Literature Across Frontiers (LAF), a European platform for literary exchange, translation and debate, to participate in Poetry Connections India-Wales this month. This project celebrates cultural relations between the two countries and is part of the official UK-India Year of Culture Season supported by the British Council.

His visit was financed by Wales Arts International, a partnership between the Arts Council of Wales and British Council, and he was invited for a two-week reciprocal collaborative residency to work with the poet and performer Rhys Trimble. The pair were tasked with exploring the special historic connection between Wales and Pariat’s homeland, the Khasi Hills in Meghalaya, north-east India.

Pariat, who is also a recipient of an India Arts Foundation grant and had been researching the cultural connections with Wales and preparing for his visit when he received the rejection letter only two days before he was due to fly.

The letter stated that the writer did not have enough funds to meet the trip’s costs, despite the fact it was fully funded by third parties.

The document said: “The way you have presented your application means that I am not satisfied that your financial circumstance and available funds are as you state... Therefore I am not satisfied that you have the funds available to meet the proposed expenditure of your trip.”

Pariat told The Bookseller that he “felt terrible that LAF had ended up spending their money on a losing wager".

The writer believes that the assessor “did not bother using their common sense”. He said: “I am married, I had sponsorship, I had my flight booked home. All this mattered little to the assessor and all that [they were] concerned about was my bank statement.”

The Bookseller contacted the Home Office for a comment on 22nd August and a day later it asked Pariat to re-submit his passport for travel following a review of the case.

Pariat said that he was very glad to hear that the Home Office would now allow him to travel. He said: "It is good to hear that such things can happen. And that wiser minds prevail over arbitrary whims."

He added: "It's sad that today people are getting drawn apart further and further by certain politics but hopefully cheesy as it sounds art can reverse this trend."

Alexandra Büchler, LAF’s director, said the initial visa rejection had been “infuriating”. She said the team had been forced to reschedule the entire project and now it would not take place until October or November, when Pariat will visit. She revealed he must also fly to Kolkata in West Bengal again to submit his passport again.

Büchler said she was “really puzzled by the refusal reasons given - the main reasons were that he cannot support he cost of his visit, pay for flights”.

She added: “It is ironic that this happened on the anniversary the whole UK-India season is commemorating: the 70th anniversary of independence.”

A Home Office spokesperson told The Bookseller: "All visa applications are considered on their individual merits in line with UK immigration rules.”

Rebecca Gould, head of arts for British Council Wales, said the team was "delighted" by the change in decision.

She said: “Poetry Connections from Literature Across Frontiers is one 15 projects that make up India Wales season, supported by Arts Council Wales and British Council. The whole season is intended as a celebration of international cultural collaboration between Wales and India and we're delighted that Avner will be able to take part". 

Pariat has contributed articles and poems to a number of publications including Economic and Political Weekly and Cafe Dissensus. He is a contributing editor for raiot.in, an independent Indian webzine, and writes a blog "From Mawlai".

Abdollahi was refused permission last month to enter the UK for the Edinburgh Festival but after fierce campaigning from his publisher Tiny Owl and reporting from The Bookseller, amongst others, he was granted permission and appeared at the festival. Tiny Owl also organised two events celebrating his visit to the UK.