Hindustan Times, February 17, 2008
Britain, which is seeking to overhaul its immigration policy, cannot afford to upset the Asian community because of its increasing electoral clout, says the chairperson of the Indo-British Friendship Society.
“No political party can govern if they upset the Asian vote,” India-born Rami Ranger, who also heads the Sun Group of Industries, told IANS.
Ranger, who visited India earlier this month as part of a delegation accompanying British Immigration Minister Liam Byrne, was commenting on the controversial set of proposals that could mark the most comprehensive revision of British immigration rules in 45 years.
“We can elect 40 to 50 members of parliament from several inner cities. . . . They cannot afford to go wrong,” said Ranger, 60, who migrated to Britain in 1971 and today steers a business empire that exports products and services to 40 countries.
He was referring to some key proposals that have raised hackles in the South Asian community. These include halving the visa period to three months and mandatory deposits for “high-risk” relatives.
The proposals are amongst several others that have been proposed in a Visitor Consultation Paper released by the British Home Office to review immigrations rules.
Before their visit to India, Ranger and other team members were informed of the large number of immigration frauds that take place in India.
“We were shown examples of fraudulent applications by the British Home Office. We saw how one bank statement was used again and again for 10 visa applications.”
Most of the fraudulent applications originated from Punjab, he said, adding that several gangs operating in the state even supplied sponsors for potential immigrants.
Ranger said he was concerned that the proposed visa policy would hit the economically backward sections of the Asian community.
Another proposal seeks a deposit of 2,000 pounds ($3,922) for a relative visiting Britain.
“Often, young boys, who have just completed their education, do not get visas to visit their relatives as they are perceived to be in the ‘high-risk’ category. In such cases, bonds will be helpful. But we envisage it only as a last resort.”
He, however, pointed out: “Poor sections (of the community) should not be penalised.”
“We have explained it to him (the immigration minister) that the policy has to be equitable and fair.”
A lifelong Conservative Party supporter, Ranger was impressed by the Labour minister’s ability to lend an ear to their worries. “He is listening.”
Ranger also suggested to the minister that a new category of visas could be introduced to address a problem peculiar to Asians in Britain.
“We have asked (the government) for special visas for ‘pujaris’ (priests). It is an important function for our community, with priests combining several events at different households and temples in the same visit.”