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Britain Nixes ‘Discriminatory’ Visa Proposal

By Roy Maurer  11/13/2013
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The U.K. government has scrapped a controversial immigration proposal that would have required visitors from some south Asian and African countries to pay a cash deposit in return for a six-month visa, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced Nov. 4, 2013.

Causing outrage in the targeted nations and exposing a rift in Cameron’s coalition government, the proposal was aimed at deterring people from overstaying their visas and would have required visitors from six “high-risk” countries—Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sri Lanka—to pay a £3,000 deposit (more than $4,600) for an entry visa to the U.K. The money would be forfeited if they did not return home. The countries were chosen because of their allegedly high levels of immigration abuse and fraud.

The U.K. government said in June 2013 that it would launch the yearlong trial program in November. It was just one aspect of the Cameron administration’s overall effort to reduce net migration to the U.K. to tens of thousands each year from more than 200,000 annually in recent years.

Immigration has become a critical political issue in Britain, as the recent economic slowdown and government austerity measures have produced a rise in living costs just a few years after the European Union’s 2004 enlargement caused a surge of immigrants to Britain. This has led some to wonder whether the influx of people from other countries is putting a strain on the labor market and public services in the U.K.

The Cameron government’s tough stance on immigration includes legislation restricting bank accounts and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, increasing fines for employers that hire illegal immigrants, forcing landlords to check their tenants’ immigration papers and making temporary workers pay to use the state health system, which is free for residents.

The plan was condemned by immigrant communities within the U.K., coalitions such as the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Indian Workers Association and the business community, which said the proposal would deter investment and the flow of genuine tourists from the targeted countries.

The Confederation of Indian Industry had called the plan “highly discriminatory” and warned that small businesses, students and tourists would be negatively affected.

Large companies, including luxury retailer Harrods, criticized the idea, saying it would deter tourists with buying power from coming to the U.K.

“The idea was misguided and politically disastrous in the first place,” said Elaine Martin, the managing director for global immigration at Paragon GeoImmigration, a global network of immigration-service providers.

“Aside from the negative public relations implications, imposing a bond would probably be ineffective,” she told SHRM Online. “If people were determined to come to the U.K. to live and could not afford the bond, maybe they would endanger themselves by trying to enter illegally. The £3,000 bond would simply be added to all the other ‘fees’ that traffickers usually extort from victims, worsening the victims’ plight.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
 Follow him @SHRMRoy

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