UK Weighs New Immigration Restrictions

Raphael G. Satter, AP, December 18, 2007

Britain may start requiring residents to pay deposits when their non-European Union family members visit—refundable only when the relatives go home,—according to a government proposal aimed at tightening borders and eliminating illegal immigration.

The idea was one of several floated Tuesday, starting a three-month period of public debate, as the government touts its tough new immigration policies.

Britain has progressively been tightening the screws on immigrants and asylum seekers for years, closing loopholes and deporting violators amid worries over terrorism and concerns that immigration is placing an unacceptable burden on public services.

Next year, the government plans to introduce a system that favors skilled workers over unskilled migrants and institute compulsory identification cards for foreigners.

Among other ideas put forward by the Border and Immigration Agency were proposals to halve the length of tourist visas from six months to three, and to strip foreign visitors of the right to appeal decisions by the immigration tribunal.

The Home Office, which runs the immigration agency, said it had no specific figure in mind for the proposed visitors’ deposits, but media reports put it at $2,000 per person.

Currently, non-EU relatives of a British citizen or resident can enter the country if they can show they are visiting family. The agency said requiring a resident sponsor to supply a “financial guarantee” could help ensure the relatives return home on time.

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Should the measures ever become law, they would further harden Britain’s once-lax immigration system. Here, as elsewhere in Europe, illegal immigration generates an enormous amount of political heat, and Britain’s governing Labour Party has been under almost continuous fire over the issue since it came to power in 1997.

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