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Visa Waiver Test

Volume 487: debated on Monday 9 February 2009

Today my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and I are announcing the final outcomes of the UK’s first global review of its visa regimes.

Britain thrives as a society and economy that is open for business, education, culture and tourism to people from around the world, but we want to do that in a way that enables us to distinguish clearly and effectively legitimate from illegitimate travellers. We are completing some of the biggest ever changes to strengthen Britain’s border security by implementing a system of triple checks: stronger overseas checks including fingerprint visas and wider pre-arrival screening; tougher checks at the UK border itself; and strong new measures within the UK: against illegal immigration, organised crime and other threats.

The Visa Waiver Test process, announced in March 2007, further strengthens the UK border by ensuring that our visa regimes are properly targeted. A visa regime is a simple but very effective immigration, crime and security control measure.

The Visa Waiver Test measured travel from every country and region beyond the European economic area and Switzerland against a range of criteria including illegal immigration, crime and security concerns.

As part of the test we also considered whether any countries or regions posed a sufficiently low risk such as to warrant the lifting of an existing visitor visa requirement, so as to facilitate legitimate travel.

In the final stage of the test we worked closely with 11 countries whose nationals had been identified as posing a sufficiently high risk as to warrant, in principle, the introduction of a visa requirement for all travellers. We worked with the countries concerned over a six-month period to find ways to reduce the risks posed to the UK without the need for a visa requirement.

We have been able to make real progress with a number of countries through a combination of advice, training and improved working relations on migration matters. As a result some of the 11 countries have made concrete improvements to the immigration, border control and identity systems which would not have happened without the test. Even where a visa regime is the final outcome, we have improved co-operation on migration matters with the countries concerned. At the end of this process we assessed the overall progress made by each country, and whether or not it was sufficient to mitigate the risks to the UK.

We will not be introducing new visa requirements at this time for certain countries involved in the final stage of the test: Botswana, Brazil, Malaysia, Mauritius, Namibia and Trinidad and Tobago. We will continue to work with these countries on migration matters and assess the effectiveness of the actions taken. Should circumstances warrant it, we will re-examine the situation and take prompt action.

We have also concluded that Taiwan presents a low migration risk and we will be lifting the visitor visa requirement for Taiwan passport holders coming to the UK for less than six months, and who are not seeking to work. This will take effect from 3 March.

We have decided to introduce new visa requirements for Bolivia, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland and Venezuela. This means that short-term visitors from these countries will need to apply for a six-month visa and provide their fingerprints, before travelling to the UK. Nationals of these countries seeking to travel via the UK en route to another country will also need a transit visa. This is in addition to the existing requirement for a visa in order to live, work, study or marry in the UK.

In the case of South Africa, we will introduce the visa requirement in two stages. The first stage, beginning on 3 March, will require only first time visitors to the UK from South Africa to obtain a visa. Those who can show a satisfactory previous travel history to the UK will initially be exempt from the visa requirement. This exemption must be evidenced by a UK entry stamp in their current passport. We will introduce the full visa regime by the middle of 2009.

In the case of Venezuela we will require visas from their nationals but we will waive this requirement for all those travelling on biometric, machine readable passports. This is because our main concern related to the ease with which old-style Venezuelan passports could be forged or fraudulently obtained. Our assessment is that their new-style passports are secure and that the new visa requirement is proportionate to the remaining risk posed by the old-style passports.

We will announce implementation dates for the full visa regime for South Africa, and the visa regimes for Bolivia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Venezuela, in due course. Implementation for all these countries will be by the middle of 2009. We will announce the final dates at least 21 days before imposition.

All the new visa regimes will be implemented to the high standard of the UK’s current visa operations.

Separately to the Visa Waiver Test, we have also decided to introduce a transit visa requirement for nationals of Jamaica. In January 2003 a visa requirement was introduced for Jamaican nationals visiting the United Kingdom. It did not include a requirement to obtain a transit visa when passing through the UK to another destination. We have been monitoring the situation and have found evidence that some Jamaican nationals have attempted to exploit the visa-free transit concession to enter and remain in the UK illegally. The requirement for a transit visa will take effect from 3 March.

The Visa Waiver Test is ongoing. We will conduct a full review in due course to ensure that benefits are fully realised and costs understood. In the meantime we will continue to work with all these countries and regions to build on the excellent working relationships we have developed during the Visa Waiver Test process to make sure we effectively secure the UK border.