Thursday, April 12, 2007

£1,000 fine for sponsors of immigrants who overstay

Britons who sponsor immigration visas for family visitors or overseas staff, including nannies and other domestic workers, will face £1,000 fines if they overstay, under immigration reforms unveiled yesterday.

Families who sponsor overstayers will also be banned from bringing other members of their family into the country, while employers and universities will be barred from recruiting overseas staff and students.

The immigration service said yesterday that credit card agencies would be used to track down overstayers and an automatic stop would be placed on their bank accounts until they left the country.

The overhaul of the visa system, under which 2 million people travel to Britain each year, is accompanied by a concerted attempt to create "an offshore UK border", with many more illegal migrants prevented from even getting on a plane to Britain.

The next phase of the reforms, published yesterday by the immigration minister, Liam Byrne, sees the creation of a new "white list" regime of countries whose citizens do not need a visa, the extension of electronic biometric visas, and new rules designed to prevent forced marriages.

The government has acknowledged that it must take into account the impact of migration by setting up an advisory forum to look at the effect on community cohesion and the extra burdens faced by housing, health and education services. It will operate alongside a new migration advisory committee which will recommend where gaps in the labour market should be filled.

Mr Byrne said the package, which follows the enforcement strategy to tackle illegal migrants announced this month, was needed because the idea of a single, staffed frontier where travellers showed paper documents was out of date.

"The days when border control started at the white cliffs of Dover are over. Our immigration control needs to start well before people come anywhere near British shores," said Mr Byrne. More than 150,000 people had already been prevented from boarding flights to Britain in the last five years and it was now necessary to introduce "offshore border controls covering all modes of transport worldwide".

The core of this will be the introduction within two years of an "authority to carry scheme", with passenger lists checked against British watch lists before travellers are allowed on a flight.

It is to be strengthened by a shake-up of the visa regime, with a new waiver test to assess the risk of illegal migration from all 169 countries outside Europe by the end of this year. The test will assess the security of their passports, willingness to accept deported migrants, risk of terrorism or criminality and the economic impact of requiring a visa from visitors.

Ministers said they would not prejudge how this would lead to the revision of the current white list of 55 countries outside Europe whose citizens do not need a visa to come to Britain. Biometric electronic visas will be introduced for those countries facing a visa regime.

The visa rules will also be overhauled, with separate categories of visas for visitors, business, student and sponsored family visitors. Tourist visas are expected to be shortened from six months to three, and special Olympics visas and "European tour" visas are to be introduced to encourage tourism. Business visas will be made more flexible, from "quick and simple trips" to an expedited Business Express scheme for trusted regular travellers.

The Home Office is proposing much tighter controls over sponsored family visitors, with those signing the visa forms facing £1,000 fines if the visitor overstays or breaches the terms of the visa.

The Home Office is also proposing to tackle forced marriages by raising the minimum age for a marriage visa for potential spouses from 18 to 21 and requiring them to pass an English test before they come to Britain. Ministers say that they need to tackle situations where young people are forced by family pressure to enter into an unwanted union. Raising the age limit will ensure they have completed their education and gained in maturity. Currently about 15,000 Britons marry foreign nationals each year.

But the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said having a high age limit for marriage for foreign nationals - it is 16 in Britain - was discriminatory and would prevent large numbers of genuine marriages.

Main points

Britain's new offshore border:

· Fines for the sponsors of family visitors and others who abuse their visas

· New global visa regime with new categories of visitor visas

· Migration impact forum to look at community cohesion

· Tougher checks on all before they travel to Britain

· Higher age limit and English tests for marriage visas

Link to £1,000 fine for sponsors of immigrants who overstay | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited