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Consular news – Embassy 35

Committee chief calls for UKBA reform

The head of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, recently told consular officials that he was planning a thorough investigation of the underlying causes of the row over the relaxation of border checks on visa nationals.

Addressing a packed Consular Corps lunch, Mr Vaz explained that high levels of congestion at the UK’s airports had prompted officials at the UK Border Force to suspend fingerprint checks on visa nationals due to concerns over health and safety.

Responding to questions raised by consuls that their nationals faced much higher levels of congestion at UK ports in the run-up to the Olympics, Mr Vaz said his committee would be asking the UKBA to seek effective ways to reduce airport congestion, without compromising security.

He pointed out that the controversial measures undertaken by the Border Force were not part of the pilot scheme to lift routine controls on EEA nationals and children travelling with families and school groups in order to focus efforts on intelligence-led stops. The scheme had been successful in improving the flow of travellers and detecting high-risk entrants.

However, consuls pointed out that many of the illegal entrants were in fact victims of people trafficking and that the UKBA was too quick to deport them before a proper investigation could be undertaken into the criminal gangs responsible.

Mr Vaz said a “more coherent” approach to the migration system was needed in the UK and the EU, and he called for closer cooperation with the countries of origin of the migrants.

He called for a policy that was “tough on law breakers but that doesn’t prevent those visitors coming to the UK legitimately.”

In particular, he said the UK Government’s policy to include foreign students in immigration statistics was wrongheaded. Proposals to cap the number of students would be harmful to the economy, he added.

Consuls also pointed out that the visa system was deterring foreign investors from key emerging markets. Mr Vaz urged these countries to “speak up” and express their views to UK government officials.

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