London, Nov. 3: Indians, among the worst offenders trying to enter the UK illegally, have been one of the main reasons behind Britain’s more stringent visa policy.
According to the new policy — the change was brought about last month — Indians along with citizens of five other countries will need visas even for passing through the UK. However, those with valid visas for the US, Canada or other European Union countries will be exempt. Earlier, Indians were not required to carry a transit visa.
Officials pointed out that nearly 2,500 Indians, mostly from Punjab, have tried to take advantage of the earlier liberal policy while passing through the UK and sought political asylum.
British home office minister Beverley Hughes said: “Visa regimes are an important part of border control, reducing opportunities for abuse of immigration laws while easing travel by legitimate passengers.”
“We are responding to intelligence that some nationals of these countries are using transit visas to flout our immigra- tion controls and either enter the UK illegally or make unfounded asylum applications,” he added.
Besides India, the restrictions are applicable to nationals of Angola, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Lebanon and Pakistan.
“The tightening of the rules is in response to attempts by some of these nationals to circumvent the UK’s immigration system,” the British home office said in a statement.
“The announcement is part of a package of measures we are using to strengthen UK border control abroad, including new screening technology and the better use of intelligence to break up criminal trafficking gangs,” Hughes said.
“We also intend to introduce new legislation to deal with those people who destroy their documents.”
The visa imbroglio has become a bit of an embarrassment for both the Indian and British governments which are trying their best to strengthen bilateral relations and get rid of irritants that stand in the way.
Lord Swraj Paul agreed that Britain’s decision could be described as a “sledgehammer approach” by some as it tried to put all Indians in the same category. “It’s a matter of concern for all of us, but we should keep in mind the problem about illegal asylum seekers.” Lord Paul, a key member of the Indo-British Round Table, said the issue along with others will be raised at the group’s next meeting on January 9 in Calcutta.