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Was Mitchell Starc's journey really necessary?

The UK's visa policy for the past couple of years has been a shambles, with changes in regulations frequently leaving cricketers with visa problems and delayed entry into the UK

David Hopps

May 9, 2012

Comments: 26 | Text size: A | A

Mitchell Starc celebrates one of his three wickets, Sydney Thunder v Sydney Sixers, BBL, Sydney, January 8, 2012
Whatever you do, Mr Starc keep your signature inside the box and do not use a red pen © Getty Images
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There is something depressingly small-minded about the decision of the UK Border Agency to send Mitchell Starc back to Australia because his visa forms were not filled out correctly.

In one inflexible decision, the UK announced to the world that when it comes to the application of the law above the application of common sense it is still capable of proving itself a world leader in the field.

Well done everybody. An elite sportsman has to fly all the way back to Australia, collect a form and then fly back again. That will teach the world that when it comes to the protection of its borders the UK means business.

Yorkshire, having dispensed with Ajmal Shahzad this week as a long-running and largely misguided virility contest finally played itself out, were understandably anxious to proclaim themselves innocent as Starc, the Australian fast bowler who they imagine will kick-start their season, was deported.

Indeed, it was noticeable that as Colin Graves, Yorkshire's no-nonsense chairman, rubbished Starc's agent he defended the right of the immigration authorities to apply the letter of the law. "You can't blame the English authorities, they've got rules and regulations, and he didn't have the proper paperwork," he said, so inviting suspicions that when he finally loses patience with Yorkshire, a job will be awaiting him running immigration at Leeds Bradford airport.

He is being overly generous. Starc is an international sportsman and as such is coming to England to increase the happiness of the nation, although if this rain continues admittedly not by much. He is not a drug trafficker, an illegal immigrant or somebody trying it on. There are times when a spot of courtesy does not go amiss. There are ways in which these issues can be resolved and flying somebody around the world to fill in a form does not strike you as the best of them.

If you have to introduce a rule where only a government minister can give dispensation then get the sports minister on the phone. It should be a relief to talk about something other than the Olympics.

It may have been noticed that UK immigration policy has not exactly been running smoothly recently. Long queues at Heathrow have been brought widespread criticism, arguments have raged in the House of Commons and the immigration minister, Damian Green, has been told to sort it out. Presumably staff shortages mean that the jobsworths are now making key decisions.

Is it really beyond the wit of the UK immigration service to sit Starc in a room, contact his agent in Australia and get the correct paperwork emailed over? Make him suffer a little bit if you must. Give him a plastic chair and a dusty formica desk, treat him to a bit of the dismissive arrogance that characterises immigration officials the world over, even force feed him undrinkable coffee, but don't put him on a plane back to Australia.

And if email can't be used to receive the missing paperwork for some inexplicable security reason, if the fax machine has broken and if carrier pigeons are disallowed because of the dangers to air traffic control then if somebody must suffer a couple of back-to-back 24-hour flights let it be the agent who allegedly made a mess of it

The UK's visa policy for the past couple of years has been a shambles. Changes in regulations mean that cricketers - both professional and amateur - are regularly beset by visa problems and their arrival in the country is delayed. Three West Indies players are late arriving in the UK with the first Test at Lord's a week away because of this very fact.

It is happening far too often to be constantly explained away by human error. It is the system, stupid.

British Olympians have been complaining apparently that their home advantage has been weakened ahead of the London Olympics because of a wish to parade the "British sense of fair play," which has meant that overseas competitors in many sports have been allowed to get first-hand knowledge of the facilities in advance. They never did that in Beijing, or Athens, or Sydney or pretty much any Olympiad in modern times.

But Britain's Olympians need not worry. On the evidence of Mitchell Starc, the UK Border Agency can be relied upon to be full of nationalistic zeal. All these assumptions of a Fast Track may prove to be untrue. The first Russian weightlifter to be spied walking towards the border will be sent back to Moscow to fill in another form in no time.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by PSKI on (May 10, 2012, 7:12 GMT)

If his visa form was just incorrectly filled out, as the columnist suggests , it would have been captured and got corrected at the time of visa application and issuance. Australians need a visa if they are entering UK to work, as in this case. Here, based on the information given by Starc at Immigration on the purpose of his visit, it must have been determined that the information filled in the visa application was misleading. In this scenario, UK or any other country, will refuse entry and ask the concerned person to go back and apply afresh. The columnist would do well to understand the facts of the case, and immigration policy, before pronouncing judgement.

Posted by oleg_mcnoleg on (May 9, 2012, 23:35 GMT)

Behaviour like that of the UKBA isn't confined to England. Nor is it confined to cricketers. In 2010 Stuart Williams, one of the UK's leading Tenpin Bowlers, was returned from the US - where he was supposed to be playing in the World Series - for holding a standard visitors visa rather than a sportsman's visa. And being a UK national in Australia I can confirm that their Visa application process for there is equally bureaucratic, unwieldy, overlong and unforgiving. But basically it comes down to poor planning - if you know where you're going you get the right visa and submit it at the right time. In the WI case this clearly hasn't been considered. And if sportsmen become a "special case" then where do you stop ... at least the benefit of Mitchell Starc's case is that it will serve as a reminder to all the other sporting bodies (and individuals) to ensure that their paperworks is right first time ...

Posted by Delilah on (May 9, 2012, 20:13 GMT)

@cricketdebator: Sorry, you're right - he was temporarily refused entry, not deported. My mistake. Regarding your example, the police would waive prosecution on account of the driver's underlying reason for breaking the law, yes? On what grounds would the UKBA use discretion in Starc's case? I think there are two issues here - a) that such a (presumably) minor mistake cannot be rectified without the traveller returning to their country of origin, and b) that an international cricketer shouldn't have to suffer this inconvenience because he's clearly not a threat to national security. On a), we're in agreement that the current arrangement is, for lack of a better word, daft. It's b) that I have an issue with, because I'm no more a threat to national security than any cricketer out there, but no one's gonna use any discretion if I were to mess up my paperwork.

Posted by cricketdebator on (May 9, 2012, 17:59 GMT)

Delilah,----- I think you have it wrong. The passenger was not deported. If he was, he would not have been allowed to return. And, whereas I agree that the laws must be maintained, I am always of the impression that discretion plays a part in the application of the law. EXAMPLE - If someone parks in a no-parking area for the purpose of saving a life, he would have broken the law by parking there in the first instance, but I am almost certain that in the circumstances, the police would excercise discretion and waive prosecution. The issue here is not that the passenger should have been allowed entry dispite the mistake, but rather, to send him back all the way to Australia to correct a mistake, which most likely could have been resolved at the Airport, or Croydon for that matter.

Posted by bennybar on (May 9, 2012, 17:24 GMT)

While back in Australia, I hope some Indian IPL owner calls Starc up and hires him... and he travels back to India instead of UK....it will be mind boggling, or not!...

Posted by cryptq1 on (May 9, 2012, 16:05 GMT)

Obviously common sense isn't all that common.

Posted by Delilah on (May 9, 2012, 14:54 GMT)

The law (as I understand it; correct me if I'm wrong) is that if your paperwork is not in order, you get deported...regardless of who you are, what you do, or your reasons for entering the UK. This is the law that every traveller to the UK on a non-diplomatic passport is expected to follow. What happened to Starc is the same that would happen to any law abiding traveller who happened to make an innocent mistake with their paperwork. Unless the author is suggesting that no one should ever be deported due to an error with their paperwork, the call for Starc's case to be considered without deportation IS a call for 'special treatment', surely? I don't think anyone here is saying that the law in question is a sensible or practical one, but it IS the law. And the law must be adhered to at all costs.

Posted by cricketdebator on (May 9, 2012, 13:56 GMT)

With reference to some of the previous posters, I haven't read anything in the article where the author is suggesting that Mr. Starc should have been given special treatment. All the author has said is that in the circumstances, the matter could have been resolved using a bit of discretion and common sense, rather than sending the passenger all the way back to Australia to correct the application form and return. I could understand and accept the decision of the Uk Border control agency if Starc was deemed a scurity threat or such, who they did not want to enter Britain. But saying he can infact enter, only he has to fly halfway around the world just to correct a mistake on his Visa application, seems ridiculous in my opinion.

Posted by mike9999 on (May 9, 2012, 13:41 GMT)

This officious, small-mindedness has been an English trait for many a year. It's one of the main reasons that I emigrated to Canada forty years ago!

Posted by seabass2003 on (May 9, 2012, 13:32 GMT)

Should articles like this involve some element of research? It sounds like David Hopps has made up his mind that because Starc got sent back and this happened to some other cricketers then he can do the maths. Perhaps some research or facts on these cases would back up his opinion and give some substance.

Other countries have tougher immigration laws than us and, as pointed out, if you find out the correct procedure and follow it then it is no issue. He has an agent that he pays to do this so is surely more at blame than authorities (even if David Hopps does not what actually happened).

Finally, to suggest that a man (albeit good player) that a very small minority of our population will have heard of is coming over "to increase the happiness of the nation" is absolute nonsense. He is coming over to work, earn money and improve his career. Absolutely nothing wrong with that but don't dress it up as coming over here to entertain us - he's no Rolf Harris.

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David Hopps David Hopps joined ESPNcricinfo as UK editor early in 2012. For the previous 20 years he was a senior cricket writer for the Guardian and covered England extensively during that time in all Test-playing nations. He also covered four Olympic Games and has written several cricket books, including collections of cricket quotations. He has been an avid amateur cricketer since he was 12, and so knows the pain of repeated failure only too well. The pile of untouched novels he plans to read, but rarely gets around to, is now almost touching the ceiling. He divides his time between the ESPNcricinfo office in Hammersmith and his beloved Yorkshire.

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