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Volume 704: debated on Thursday 16 October 2008

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration (Phil Woolas) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

This year sees the biggest changes to Britain’s immigration and border security system for 45 years. Our policy will deliver strong borders, a selective migration system and an expectation that newcomers earn the right to stay. Our ambition is that migration policy maximises benefits for Britain and manages local impacts.

This strategy underpins our Australian-style points system, reforms to spouse visas and requires us to modernise visit visas. Earlier this year, my predecessor published our strategy for comprehensively overhauling our visit visa system. Today we are publishing a further Statement on the first of these changes with the creation of a separate category for business, sport, entertainer and special visitors. Copies are being placed in the Library of the House.

In modernising this system, our ambition is twofold: to let legitimate visitors connect with the UK quickly, and to strengthen still further our border security.

The Statement sets out the key features of the arrangements for business, sport, entertainer and special visitors respectively.

In respect of business visitors we are bringing currently separate Immigration Rules and concessions together in one coherent visa; and making clear what business visitors can do here and what they cannot. We believe, after consulting stakeholders, that having a list of permissible activities is a good way of defining them.

We are introducing a new visa to provide for visiting sportspeople based on the current concessionary arrangement. Our purpose here is to ensure that the contribution of overseas visiting sportspeople to the UK’s sporting tradition continues as now, while making clear the circumstances in which sportspeople can come to the UK outside of the points-based system for participation in sport.

Similarly, we are introducing a new visa to provide for visiting entertainers and the circumstances in which they may come to the UK in that capacity, outside of the points-based system. In effect, we are retaining the current concessionary arrangement while removing two criteria relating to festivals which add little value to the current arrangements.

Lastly, there are a number of groups of visitors for whom specific Immigration Rules have been introduced as a need was identified or for which concessions existed outside the rules. The new special visitor visa brings these together although the specific criteria that currently apply to each of these categories would be retained.