Faced with a storm of protest over aspects of its impending immigration policy, the British High Commission in India said criticism of the policy was misplaced as the exercise launched earlier this week was a “consultation exercise.”
“No decisions have yet been taken on whether or not to introduce a bond or to shorten the length of tourist visas,” a spokesman for the High Commission said. “This consultation relates to short term visits for students, tourists, sponsored family visitors and business travellers, and is part of wider changes to our immigration system.” The “consultation” process will last 12 weeks.
Liam Byrne, the British Immigration Minister, told media on Sunday: “Over the next 12 months, we will see the biggest shake-up of the immigration system in its history.”
Among the new laws proposed, families who “sponsor” visits on temporary visas from relatives abroad may have to put up a cash bond — possibly of £1,000 — before their visitors are allowed in. The move is also set to see ordinary tourist visa limits halved from six months to three. The plans will potentially affect millions of people who come to Britain on temporary visas annually from outside the EU.
The Indian government has decided to “wait and watch” before taking formal cognizance of the proposed changes, a senior official said. “There is no question of issuing a demarche (a formal protest) at this point. We haven’t even flagged it as an agenda item for the (forthcoming) visit” of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in January, though informally, India’s concerns about the issue will be raised.
Member of Parliament and former Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill is convinced the impending changes to British immigration laws are targeted at South Asians, particularly Indians, and will write to the External Affairs Minister, voicing his protest.
“I am aware that it is a consultation paper,” Gill told HT. “But I know how the bureaucracy works in both countries and am concerned that this will hit Indians and particularly, the average worker from Punjab.”
According to the Cambridge-educated Gill, “How come this exercise does not affect the expanding brotherhood of migrants from the European Union or those from Canada, New Zealand or Australia, our Commonwealth brethren? I want to ask the British, how do they explain the difference between a chap from Rumania and a chap from the Punjab?”
“This did not happen during (former Premier) Tony Blair’s time. Why do they now think we are something the cat brought in?” Gill said, especially when Indian tourists have overtaken the Japanese as the highest spenders in Britain. Gill said the Commission for Racial Equality in Britain had criticised the proposals and urged the Indian government to “hold a firm line on the issue.”