Britain scraps bonds for family visitors

June 25th, 2008 - 7:12 pm ICT by IANS  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, June 25 (IANS) The British government Wednesday scrapped a controversial proposal to introduce financial bonds for people visiting their relatives in Britain, following a strong campaign by the ethnic Indian community in Britain. The proposal, which was criticised as unnecessary and too harsh, would have hit South Asians hardest as they are the largest ethnic group in Britain with near and extended families still in their countries of origin.

Earlier this year, the South Asian community led by Indians in Britain launched a major write-in campaign to protest the proposal.

The widespread criticism led British Immigration Minister Liam Byrne to take the unprecedented step of broadening the three-month process of consultation on the proposal to include ordinary people in India.

The British government said Wednesday visitors will be allowed to stay for a maximum of six months and that while there would be no financial bonds for family visitors, those who broke the rules would face civil penalties.

Under a new system, British citizens or those who are permanent residents in Britain will have to become ‘licensed sponsors’ before their relatives can be allowed to visit.

“Sponsors will have a duty to ensure that their visitors comply with the terms of their visa and that they leave before the visa ends… If sponsors fail in their duties, they face a ban on bringing anyone else into the UK, or in more extreme cases, fines of up to 5,000 pounds or imprisonment,” the government said.

The government also introduced a new low-cost three-month group visa for tourists that is likely to be tested in India before implementation worldwide.

The rejection of the bond proposal was welcomed by Keith Vaz, Indian-origin MP and chairman of the parliamentary select committee on home affairs.

“I am absolutely delighted by the government decision, which has been due to the genuine concerns of the community.

“Seven years ago this was mooted as government policy and it has achieved the same fate as then. That’s because you cannot put an economic cost on people visiting their families,” Vaz told IANS.

“What it shows is that Liam Byrne was prepared to listen to the community, and his visit to India was an important step in the right direction.”

However, Vaz said he was concerned about what kinds of penalties the government had in mind for those who overstayed their visa, saying: “We need to look at the detail.”

Minister Byrne added: “We know that many people have a stake in us getting this policy right. We, therefore, issued a consultation document last year. In addition, I not only travelled around the UK listening to people, but was also accompanied by a delegation of community leaders and businessmen to India to review first hand some of the issues in one of our most important overseas markets.”

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