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Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012: Visas

Volume 716: debated on Monday 11 January 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what arrangements they propose for issuing visas to foreign athletes attending the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012.

My Lords, all Games athletes normally requiring a United Kingdom visa will be able to use their accreditation card as a visa waiver, along with a valid national passport, to enter the UK during the Games period. The accreditation process will involve standard immigration checks and will not require athletes to obtain a visitor visa or to be sponsored under the points-based system.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, but is he not announcing the driving of a coach and horses through our immigration policy, in particular the security implications of our immigration policy, given that it appears that all that the athletes have to do is wave their accreditation card in front of the entry officer when they arrive?

Absolutely not, my Lords. The accreditation card gives you permission to get into the Games. It also acts as your visa. The checks that we will carry out are almost identical to those that we would carry out for someone who is getting a visa. The only difference will be that people will not have to prove that they have the funding and money available to be in this country for a certain length of time. Otherwise, all the checks are exactly the same. We think that there will be about 40,000 people altogether. The checks will be as good as they are for visa holders, so what the noble Lord says is absolutely not the case.

My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in congratulating our noble friend Lord Coe on the wonderful work that he is doing for the 2012 Olympics and in expressing our deep regrets to the friends and families of the slain members of the Togolese national football team and staff in Angola. What precautions are being taken to ensure that the Israeli athletes who will be participating in the London Olympics will not face arrest warrants or possible prosecution for serving in the Israeli Defence Forces during Operation Cast Lead, as has happened here recently with Israelis intending to visit the United Kingdom?

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House shares my noble friend’s views on the Togo football team. What this shows, I am afraid, is that terrorists of all types around the world are willing now to use sport as an arena in which to pursue their rather bent and perverted aims. It is extremely sad and unfortunate that that has happened. As regards visits to the United Kingdom, every case is taken on its individual merits when it comes to visas. It is very difficult to predict whether someone might be charged with something by somebody who has nothing to do with the Government. I cannot foresee any case where that would occur, but it is very difficult to predict because it depends on individuals’ actions.

My Lords, considering that the arrangements described by the Minister are slightly different from those that apply to athletes attending all other sporting activities in the United Kingdom, will he advise the UKBA to put a note on its website describing these special procedures? Also, will we have any arrangements for dealing with asylum applications for members of teams who come to compete in the Olympic Games, given that athletes attending other athletic events, such as the Falkirk Cup last year, have applied for asylum in the United Kingdom?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a couple of important points. I think that the current rules will apply to asylum, but I shall get the team to look at that to make sure that the rules are clearly articulated. There will be specific rules for athletes entering this country for the Olympics because the Olympic family amounts to about 40,000 people. They include not just those taking part in the Games but coaches, support personnel, International Olympic Committee and national Olympic committee members, members of the media et cetera. Therefore, we will have specific rules for the Games. We are carrying out a comprehensive education programme with airlines, airports, feeder airports and others to ensure that all this knowledge is known. The information will be put on a website. Indeed, we are intending to put in fast-tracking at certain airports—this is being discussed at the moment—so that the arrangements do not cause delays and impinge on people coming into the country in the normal way.

How will ordinary people wishing to visit the Games get their visas? I ask this because the immigration department seems to be very slow. The case that I took up with the noble Lord some months ago, which he kindly passed on to the immigration office, looks as though it has gone into a black hole. It would be very discouraging for people if they found that it took them ages to get their visas. How much warning will people need in order to get here for the Olympics?

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness. I did not realise that the case had gone into a black hole and I shall certainly go digging in that black hole to find out the answer. I apologise now and will get an answer on the specific point that she raised. Generally, our visa application process works within the parameters that we allow and I do not see that there should be any difference to that at all. There will be a slight addition to the load in that there are specialist volunteers for the Olympics who are not entitled to accreditation. I have had no indication from the UKBA teams that there will be a delay as a result of this, but I will look into it.

Can my noble friend confirm that the arrangements that he has just announced for the London Olympics will also apply for the Commonwealth Games to be held in Glasgow in 2014, which by my calculation should be the fourth year of the next Labour Government?

My Lords, my noble friend has caught me out, as I do not know what is in place for 2014. However, I shall certainly look at that and come back to him with an answer.

My Lords, further to my noble friend’s question about asylum, does the noble Lord anticipate the Government using the advent of the Olympics as a means of hastening the negotiation of the deportation with assurance arrangements so that we can avoid large numbers of people applying for asylum and, in effect, being free to stay in this country whether we like it or not?

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, I have personally been involved in deportation with assurance discussions with a number of countries. This is a real issue. It is not quite as bad as when the Soviet philharmonic orchestras used to visit here and go back as string quartets, but I think that there could be a problem and I will certainly look at whether this is an issue.

My Lords, can I have an assurance that competitors at musical festivals, such as the Llangollen international festival, of which I just happen to be a vice-president, will not be charged excessive fees? A fee of £67 per visa is a great hindrance to choirs with, say, 40 or 50 members. What are the regulations for this sort of competitor?

My Lords, for the Olympics, those 40,000 will not be charged for their accreditation cards. That was part of the agreement that was reached when one was negotiating the Olympic bid. I know that the noble Lord is very much involved in music festivals; indeed, we have been in dialogue on a couple of issues. I do not believe that the visa fee is excessive and at the moment there is no intention to change the pricing.