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Immigration: Visitors

Volume 697: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2007

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration and Minister for the West Midlands (Liam Byrne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today publishing a consultation paper on proposals to reform the visitor routes into the UK. This consultation fulfils the promise made in our strategy Securing the UK Border, published in March 2007, to consult on four main categories of visitor: tourist, business, short-term student and family. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Over the next 12 months there will be sweeping changes to the immigration system. The points-based system will ensure that only those whom the UK needs will be able to come here to work, study or train. We are also consulting on new arrangements for marriage visas, including whether to introduce an English-language requirement. The time is now right to look at short-term routes into the UK.

Our visit visa system for those people wishing to travel to the UK is already changing. By next spring we will be taking everyone’s biometrics so that only the people of whom we are sure can come to Britain. We now want to make sure that the visitor system is robust against abuse while maintaining the UK’s position as a destination of choice for tourists.

The consultation contains a number of options to ensure that the system is fit for the 21st century. These include reducing the maximum leave available to tourists from six to three months, introducing a UK-based sponsor for visitors travelling to see family in the UK, requiring this sponsor to put up a financial deposit to guarantee that their family member will leave the UK at the end of their stay and reforming appeal rights for these visitors.

The consultation period will run for 12 weeks and the final date for responses is 7 March 2008. Once the process has concluded and views have been considered, we will report on the results of the consultation and any proposed changes to the Immigration Rules relating to visitors.