| The Tower Bridge in London
London, June 22: Relations between India and Britain, which are very cordial at the moment, could become complicated if the UK insists that all visa applicants will have to undergo the indignity of being fingerprinted like common criminals from 2008.
Britain wants to cut back on the number of illegal immigrants and bogus asylum seekers.
This is why it is bringing in a new bill which will fine employers '2,000 every time they are caught hiring a worker without a proper work permit. It also intends to fingerprint each visa applicant within three years.
In the past, many farms have employed illegal Indian workers, often Punjabis, with gang masters to organise the shifts. Bangladeshi restaurants also take in a certain number of illegal workers. But the vast bulk of illegal workers have been from eastern Europe.
The system suits both sides. The employers can exploit cheap labour and pick up Third World workers to do menial tasks which locals have no wish to do, and the workers are grateful for the cash, however meagre.
But fingerprinting dignitaries and celebrities from India is bound to risk retaliation. As it is, 5,00,000 Indians come to Britain every year for business and holidays and many spend much more than the Americans.
To undermine this source of income is not in Britain’s interest but at the same time the British mainstream political parties are scared of losing support to right-wing groups such as the British National Party.
Britain wants more students from India but is doing its best to discourage them. Their fees and visa charges have gone up, the courses are often not as good as the ones on offer in America and there will be no appeal for those whose visa applications are turned down.
In many ways, Britain would make more money from Indians if short-stay visas are given on arrival.
Immigration minister Tony McNulty was due to launch the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill today.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten said: “Increasing fines for illegal working will be meaningless unless this becomes a police priority.
“Parliamentary answers revealed today that only two employers had proceedings brought against them for employing an illegal worker in 2003.”
The bill is not aimed at Indians but could easily sour relations with it.
The US fingerprints people on arrival and takes pictures of their eyes. But given a choice, many people will give the UK a miss if fingerprinting becomes compulsory.