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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

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.

Posted by spence1324 on (May 9, 2012, 13:32 GMT)

Any one else see the Johnny barstow interview on skysports news when they told him starc had been deported he burst out laughing brilliant!

Posted by Delilah on (May 9, 2012, 13:19 GMT)

@Essex_broker: Surely the 'common sense' option would've been for the appropriate people to have completed the paperwork correctly in the first place, and with ample time to allow for any complications? That's what the rest of us low-security-risk people do.

Posted by adm21 on (May 9, 2012, 13:09 GMT)

You'd be very lucky to find a minister for sport who knows of every single international sportsman and is prepared to vouch for them on a whim. I'd prefer my government to get on with running the country and not micro-manage their staff.

Posted by Tom_Bowler on (May 9, 2012, 13:00 GMT)

I'm not sure what this article is about. On the one hand the author mentions "an elite sportsman" who will "increase the happiness of the nation", on the other it appears to be about Mitchell Starc.

Posted by CricketPissek on (May 9, 2012, 12:50 GMT)

Essex_Broker - I don't think common sense and border security will ever be friends :) your definition of "high profile" is a bit subjective here mate. Do you honestly think the author would have so much passion if a young up and coming, say Pakistani, cricketer faced the same problems? Why should Mitch Starc be considered a lesser threat than an American businessmen who has worked in the UK for 5 years bringing in millions of pounds into the UK economy? Only those with Diplomatic passports should be treated any differently as they have special clearance. The Olympics will be a special case for a fixed period and can be treated differently by the border patrol. Other sportsmen who come and go throughout the year have to be classed with the rest of us 'low profile' workers.

Posted by Rawlonski on (May 9, 2012, 12:49 GMT)

I do have to agree that there is no reason that sportsman should get special treatment.... but that is where my agreement with the other writers stops. The Idea of sending anyone around the world to get a form is stupidity at it best and totally indicative of just why the UK is in the mess that it is.

I have been to many countries, but always know that I am going to receive the third degree when I go to the UK...

Posted by Hayes_Close_End on (May 9, 2012, 12:10 GMT)

In response to the other posters, i don't believe the author is suggesting that cricketers per se deserve 'special treatment', merely that the slightest bit of research would prove Starc is a high-profile, professional cricketer that we knew in advance was coming and not a security threat etc. i.e. common sense.This would mean less work involved for everybody in the long run.

Posted by somerfjord on (May 9, 2012, 11:57 GMT)

As an Aussie in this country I know this visa pain all too well. The UK Border Agency are inflexible - unless you happen to have iron-willed patience and happen to get the right person to deal with your case. I had been told I would be deported a few years ago, only for my constant badgering to cause them to actually look into the case and realise a day trip to Croydon - and not Canberra as I had been numerously told - would sort the problem. You've got to fear the haste with which Yorkshire have tried to push this through has meant this option - like I say, only available to the iron-willed - was not open to them. I miagine Starc's agent applied for a standard Working Visa rather than the visa that professional athletes have to apply. That *should* as mentioned above be a task that can be sorted in Croydon allied by someone in the office willing to ring the relevant agent, CA, ECB and Yorkshire. Given the strain on the UKBA you get the feeling it's just easier to deport Starc!!

Posted by shillingsworth on (May 9, 2012, 11:35 GMT)

Anyone who is serious about coming to work in the UK fills in the necessary forms correctly and doesn't delegate the task to a 3rd party. Starc has made an embarrassing mistake. It isn't anybody's fault but his.

Posted by unregisteredalien on (May 9, 2012, 11:25 GMT)

I can see both sides (and possibly more, being a cricket fan, a lawyer and an Australian, in no particular order) but whatever your stance there's no denying this is a very entertaining and well-reasoned piece. Of course I agree with the comments that all are equal in the face of the law (/immigration procedures), but surely it is always fair to ask "is there a better way?" There are few things more loathsome than small-minded bureaucracy - nationalistic self-interest possibly being one of them!

Posted by Dashgar on (May 9, 2012, 11:23 GMT)

Unfortunately in the area under "Do not write in this space," Mitchell Starc wrote "Okay".

Posted by pierre_taco on (May 9, 2012, 11:15 GMT)

In an article full of outrageous assertions, the most outrageous of all is the claim that an Australian fast bowler is arriving here to make the nation happier.

Posted by jmcilhinney on (May 9, 2012, 10:17 GMT)

There is something depressingly small-minded about the assumption that someone should get special treatment because they are a sportsman. I don't see why Starc or anyone else should get special treatment. If I flew over to the UK for an important meeting and had the wrong visa would immigration simply let me wander around the airport for perhaps days until I provided the appropriate paperwork and it was approved via the appropriate channels? I doubt it, so why should a cricketer be treated otherwise? Starc is not playing in the UK as a favour to the people of the UK. Three WI players are late arriving due to visa issues but at least 11 got there on time. I doubt that the rules are significantly different for those three so if the others could get it right, or the WICB could get it right for them, then why couldn't those three? It's not like this tour wasn't on the FTP for some time. Everyone knew it was coming so everyone should have got their stuff together in a timely manner.

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

Why does it make a difference that he is an athlete? The rules should apply equally to all? That should be the key

Posted by dave_williams_london on (May 9, 2012, 9:45 GMT)

It's not "nationalistic zeal" - it's a lesson following procedures correctly the first time to save yourself hassle.

I think it's ridiculous to state border controls should be governed by something as subjective as common sense.

Do you want a situation where it's up to an individual officer as to whether or not they apply the law in every situation? Wouldn't you rather it was applied equally in all cases?

I don't think you'll find a lot of sympathy for bending the rules for "international sportsmen". Let's face it, the vast majority of people in this country wouldn't know who Mitchell Starc was is they fell over him. Believe it or not, something really are considered more important than cricket; David Hopps doesn't seem to be aware of this.

Colin Graves is spot-on in this matter.

Posted by CricketPissek on (May 9, 2012, 9:42 GMT)

David Hopps has obviously never had the pleasure of dealing with the UK Border Agency himself. A sportsman isn't above the law. Us normal folks have to check, re-check, and then double check that to make sure the applications are filled in correctly. Students paying tens of thousands of pounds renew their UK visas annually, workers do it every 2-3 years. Why should a cricketer be treated differently?

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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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