New visa rules for Jamaicans in immigration crackdown Read more
All Jamaican nationals entering Britain will have to apply for visitor visas in order to enter the country, the Home Office announced today.
From midnight tonight, no Jamaican will be allowed through immigration without the necessary papers.
The Home Office touted the move as a way of reducing queues at airports as well as reducing the number of people who abscond while on temporary visas.
According to Home Office figures, between January and June 2002, 150 Jamaicans absconded each month while on such visas.
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said the visas would also cut down on the number of Jamaicans who are refused entrance upon arrival in Britain.
In the run-up to Christmas last year, 20% of all passengers refused entrance to the UK were Jamaican.
The HO spokeswoman did concede that the new policy would aid the Government’s battle against the smuggling of drugs from the island.
She said: “This policy has been introduced for immigration reasons, but obviously we are in very close co-operation with the government in Jamaica which includes the fight against drugs.
“It is reasonable to expect that this (policy) might make it more difficult for those people involved in criminal activity to get access to Britain.”
Although both the Home Office and the Jamaican High Commissioner in London played down the role of the visas in helping to crack drug trafficking, the issue is a matter of concern for both countries.
For the last eight months, the UK and Jamaica have been involved in a joint operation against smugglers.
Codenamed Operation Airbridge, it has seen UK law enforcement officers stationed at Jamaican airports and extensive screening of passengers there.
From the beginning of this month, two Jamaican officers were stationed at Heathrow Airport to help interview suspected mules.
In January last year, British Deputy High Commissioner in Jamaica Phil Sinkinson, claimed one in 10 passengers leaving for Britain was a drugs “mule”.
Maxine Roberts, the Jamaican High Commissioner in London, voiced the dismay felt by many in her country.
She said: “I am very disappointed and so is the government and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.
But speaking on Radio 5 Live Ms Roberts did concede the change was inevitable.
“We have to recognize the sovereign right of the British Government to make their arrangements where they consider it is necessary,” she said.
“It is not something we are going to fight really because we can’t. It has already been approved by the British Cabinet and it has been announced in the House of Commons.”
The High Commissioner denied that the new policy was anything to do with drug trafficking and crime.
She said: “They (The Home Office) were very clear this was strictly an immigration matter, not a crime matter.”
However, Ms Roberts did acknowledge 3,500 Jamaican nationals had been refused entry in 2001, leaving a large bill for repatriation.
Ms Roberts said she now expected long queues back home for the new visas.
“I guess there will be a long lines at the British High Commission in Jamaica,” she added.