UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is threatening to suspend UK visas for citizens of countries that refuse to take back people deported from Britain. The threat has sparked fears of tit-for-tat visa suspensions targeting British citizens. Plans to give Patel the power to suspend visa services were contained in the controversial Nationality and Borders Bill.
In addition to visa suspensions, proposals in the Bill would also hand Patel the power to increase UK visa fees based on her ‘opinion’ and any matters she ‘considers appropriate’, according to a report published by The Independent. The proposals have been branded a form of ‘blackmail’ by many.
Meanwhile, other government amendments to the Bill, include the use of X-rays on asylum seekers accused of lying about their age, in order to ‘scientifically analyse’ how old they are. The plans to suspend visa services for countries refusing to take back deportees, follows a similar threat made in July toward countries who refused to take back failed asylum seekers.
Immigration advocates have described the power to suspend visas as ‘simply oppressive’, while there are fears of a diplomatic retaliation from those countries hit by potential suspensions, which could affect Brits seeking to travel for work, holidays or to visit family.
The law allowing Patel to suspend visas will apply if a country refuses to take back failed asylum seekers, foreign national offenders, or those deemed to have no right to remain in Britain.
The Home Office has not disclosed how many people they are unable to deport due to a lack of cooperation from other countries. Nor have they specified which countries are failing to cooperate.
The revised Bill said: “The powers will incentivise other countries to cooperate with the UK government to remove those who have no right to be in the country.” However, it does not present any evidence that this would be the case.
Priti Patel said: “The UK has a proud history of being open to the world, but we rightly expect our international partners to work with us to remove those who have no right to be in the UK, such as dangerous foreign national offenders.”
“It is unfair on UK citizens and taxpayers that pressure is put on our public services by foreign nationals with no legal right to be here,” the Home Secretary added.
The interim executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), Minnie Rahman, described the plans as ‘immoral and manipulative’, adding that they are effectively blackmailing countries in accepting returns, with UK visas for their citizens at risk should they refuse.
“This would mean workers, tourists, performers, students and academics could be refused entry to the UK if their states don’t sign return deals with Britain. This will put our relationships with other countries at risk, and is likely to lead to more discrimination against Black and Brown nationals looking to travel to the UK,” Rahman said.
“It’s time government stopped making the world a smaller place by demonising migrants and refugees, and started turning its attention towards the glaring winter crisis this country is facing.”
The refugee and migrant rights director for Amnesty International, Steve Valdez-Symonds, said that penalising someone – whether it’s by refusing visa applications or increasing fees – based on being unable to deport someone else is ‘simply oppressive’.
“It should not be given yet more arbitrary power – parliament should throw out this measure, along with much else in the Nationality and Borders Bill,” Valdez-Symonds said.
It’s understood that the new law will create a sliding scale of penalties targeting specific countries, which would include a £190 surcharge on applications to come to the UK, increasing visa processing times, or suspending visa services completely.
The law would apply to all kinds of visas, including visit visas, work visas, study visas and visas for settlement in the UK. However, the law could be waived for individuals in ‘extraordinary circumstances’.
Currently, in draft form, the law states that the powers can be used where ‘a government of a country fails to cooperate with the return of its citizens from the UK, who require leave to enter or remain in the UK, but do not have it’.
Existing return arrangements
However, Priti Patel did state that she would take into account any existing return arrangements, along with the extent of the lack of cooperation and the reasons for it. Meanwhile, any penalty imposed will be reviewed after two months.
It’s understood that the new law would also make it a criminal offence for asylum seekers to arrive in the UK via small boats or other ‘irregular means’, while providing a legal defence for Border Force personnel should refugees die during planned pushback operations at sea.
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