Page last updated at 16:32 GMT, Wednesday, 25 June 2008 17:32 UK

Immigrant cash bond plan dropped

A passport being checked
The government wants to tighten up the rules on visas

Plans to make families pay a cash bond for relatives who visit from outside the EU have been dropped, immigration minister Liam Byrne has told the BBC.

Instead there will be heavy fines or the threat of jail if family members overstay, he told the Asian Network.

Proposals to make families pay a 1,000 deposit for visiting relatives to ensure they left the UK on time were unveiled in December last year.

But Mr Byrne said the government had now concluded the idea would not work.

The communities likely to be affected told the government it would hit poor families and fail to deter illegal immigrants.

"What people said was look, if someone wants to flout the immigration rules they'll be more than happy to put up 1,000," Mr Byrne told the Asian Network.

"On the other hand, people said for family weddings and so on you've got to sponsor all the people and people are just not going to have that kind of money - so what we want to do is have a new system but punish people if things go wrong."

Rather than asking from money upfront, Mr Byrne said, the government now wanted to "make sure that we can just hit people and hit people hard if their family member breaks the rules".

The plans - which also include cutting the length of time visitors can remain in the UK from six months to three - were attacked at the time as "unfair" by immigrant groups.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "Ministers have simply replaced the punitive bonds scheme with unnecessary threats to poor families.

"Instead of penalising family visits, the government should start looking at the bigger picture on border security.

"At a stroke, the reintroduction of exit checks would have a far greater impact on illegal immigration than any amount of bullying of immigrant families."

Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: "The government is trying to deter people to come for family visits."

Applications for visas have gone up by about 50% in the past five years and more than two million were issued last year.

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