Clegg at a creche for children of party members in Brighton. (Reuters)
London, March 22 (Agencies): Britain is considering introducing much tougher border controls and may oblige visitors from “high-risk” countries to hand over a returnable cash bond to deter them from overstaying their visas, its deputy Prime Minister said today.
“We need an immigration system that is zero-tolerant towards abuse,” Nick Clegg said in his toughest speech on the subject yet, talking of a “crisis of public confidence” in the immigration system.
“In certain cases, when a visa applicant is coming from a high-risk country, in addition to satisfying the normal criteria, UKBA (UK Border Agency) would be able to request a deposit — a kind of cash guarantee. Once the visitor leaves Britain, the bond will be repaid,” Clegg said. The deputy Prime Minister added that he had asked the home office or interior ministry to look at starting a pilot scheme for the cash bonds. A similar system is used by Australia.
While the agency is yet to confirm the countries likely to be classified as “high-risk”, there is speculation in the British media that it would include Pakistan and some in West Asia. A government source said the sum would be variable and could be at least £1,000 (Rs 82,578).
The issue of immigration is sensitive, not least because the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government says it is still anxious to attract foreign nationals to help it compete in what it calls “a global race” against surging economies like China and Brazil.
But opinion polls show many Britons want the current system tightened and are concerned about the expected arrival of thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians next year when EU freedom of movement restrictions on those two countries are lifted.
The country’s three main parties are also under growing pressure from the increasingly popular UK Independence Party (UKIP) which talks tough on immigration and has spoken of Britain’s inability to police its own borders.
Clegg, who is also the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, told an audience in London the government would increase the cash penalty for employers who hire illegal immigrants from £10,000 pounds per worker to a much higher unspecified figure, saying he personally favoured doubling it.
He also spoke of trying to move away from government-funded translation services for immigrants, saying it might be better to refer them onto English-language courses in time and to stop paying for translation if they failed to “stick with” courses.
Clegg backed away from a previous pledge, which has not been implemented, to give amnesties to illegal immigrants after ten years.
Vince Cable, the business minister, said he was concerned that skilled foreign nationals continue to be allowed to come and go freely in an interview yesterday, signalling tensions within the coalition over the issue.