When the Commission on General Conference announced the further postponement of General Conference to 2024, access to visas was a major reason they cited for the postponement. This United Methodist experience with visa troubles makes a recent NPR article about the challenges of obtaining visas for global health experts from the Global South to attend professional conferences therefore relevant. Read in light of the UMC's experiences, the article highlights several lessons that the UMC would do well to consider long-term:
First, issues with visas are a constant challenge from people from developing countries, not just during the pandemic.
Second, issues with visas are systematic, not just limited to The United Methodist Church. While the UMC can do a better or worse job of supporting visa-seekers, obtaining visas to the United States will always be hard.
Third, issues with visas for people from developing countries apply not only to entry into the United States but to entry into most wealthy nations.
Fourth, having conference outside of rich countries can be a real route to better representation.
The article notes, "When [Dr. Ulrick Sidney] Kanmounye and a research team from Harvard University's Program in Global Surgery and Social Change looked at publicly available data, they found that conferences hosted in low- and middle-income countries were more likely to have diverse participants. In addition, 'hosting a conference in Latin America, Africa or Asia significantly increased participation of researchers from the region and minimally impacted high-income country attendance,' he says."
Organizers are already working on securing a spot for General Conference in 2024, and it may be too late to change that location. But this article is a reminder that the location of General Conference matters. Especially as the UMC becomes more internationally diverse, choosing a location that ensures the fullest participation of delegates from all countries will be increasingly important, even if that location is no longer in the United States.