London: Britain's coalition government Friday announced a major crackdown on immigration, including introducing an Australian-style "security bonds" system.
Foreigners visiting the UK from certain countries will have to put up bail-like bonds worth thousands of pounds to deter them from overstaying their visas, under new proposals announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg here.
"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, adding the UKBA will draw up a list of these high-risk countries to run a pilot scheme by the end of this year.
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 a few other countries in the Indian sub-continent, as well as some in the Middle East.
The bonds would cost at least 1,000 pounds rising to as much as several thousand pounds for visitors from the countries deemed to pose the highest risk.
"The bonds would need to be well-targeted, so that they don't unfairly discriminate against particular groups. The amounts would need to be proportionate, we mustn't penalise legitimate visa applicants who will struggle to get hold of the money.
Visiting Britain to celebrate a family birth, or a relative's graduation, or wedding, should not become entirely dependent on your ability to pay the security bond," Clegg, who is also the chair the Cabinet's Home Affairs Committee, said.
The Liberal Democrat leader referred to the latest toughening of his party's stance on immigration as a means to "correct" some of the mistakes made by the previous Labour government.
"The problem is that the system has not been well- managed. It has been grossly mismanaged. I welcome Labour's recent admission that they got it wrong... We need an immigration system that is zero-tolerant towards abuse. Tolerant Britain, zero-tolerant of abuse. That's the vision the coalition is working towards," he said.
Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May will also be looking into doubling the maximum fine for employers who hire illegal immigrants as cheap labour, which could rise to 20,000 pounds per illegal worker.
"We're cracking down on the profiteers. I can confirm Friday that the coalition will increase the cash penalties for unscrupulous employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants because they're cheaper. Currently, the maximum fine is 10,000 pounds per illegal worker.
I've asked the Home Secretary to look into the right amount, but personally I'd like to see it double ? employers have an inescapable duty to employ people who are working here legally, not to turn a blind eye to those working illegally," Clegg said in his first major speech on immigration since joining the Conservative-led coalition.
Prime Minister David Cameron had announced an annual limit of 20,700 skilled migrants from non European Union countries soon after assuming office in 2010 and the Tory-led government has since been looking at a series of measures to tighten the country's immigration policy.
"We're clamping down on the most exploited routes into the country... I'm determined we lay the foundations for an immigration system that embodies this nation's instincts and its values: our openness and tolerance on one hand; our sense of fair play, on the other.
The Liberal Democrats are at the forefront of that. We want to stay a tolerant Britain, and to that end we will be zero-tolerant of abuse," the Deputy PM added.