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Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 22:17 GMT
UK tightens entry rules for Jamaicans
Jamaicans travelling to the UK will be required to have visas for the first time under new rules designed to tackle illegal immigration.
They have previously needed only a plane ticket and a valid passport to enter Britain for a period of up to six months.
However, from midnight on Wednesday, the rules will change, in a move the Home Office says will help cut severe delays at immigration control.
Travellers on flights from Jamaica are often held up at UK airports for as much as two hours by immigration and customs checks.
Drug trafficking is also a problem and large amounts of cocaine have been found on Jamaican flights in recent years.
Home Secretary David Blunkett, announcing the rule change, said: "For some years the number of Jamaican passengers being refused entry on arrival in the UK has been increasing.
"This is a real problem and the consequences of this abuse of the immigration system are felt mainly by genuine visitors from Jamaica.
"The UK has strong links with Jamaica which contribute to the richness and diversity of our country.
"Visas will not stop genuine visitors from Jamaica coming to the UK but this will mean they will no longer spend hours at Immigration Control on arrival."
Mr Blunkett said he was also concerned by the high number of Jamaicans who come to the UK as visitors and then abscond - more than 150 a month during the first half 2002.
"Figures from one airline demonstrate the worrying extent of this problem where children are concerned," he said .
"Last year only half of those who arrived at Gatwick North went home again."
The Home Office (HO) said that while the policy had been brought in for immigration reasons, it would also help in the ongoing fight to stop drug smuggling from Jamaica.
Home Office minister Beverley Hughes told BBC News 24: "We've decided to institute a visa regime from tonight but with transitional arrangements for those who already have tickets.
"This will make it much easier for those people who are coming here for genuine reasons, to visit family and so on, to establish back in Jamaica that they can enter the UK.
"And this will cut down what at the moment are quite long delays."
Maxine Roberts, the Jamaican High Commissioner in London, voiced the dismay felt by many in her country, saying she was "disappointed" by the development.
However, she conceded the change was inevitable.
Speaking on BBC Radio Five Live, Ms Roberts said: "We have to recognise the sovereign right of the British government to make their arrangements where they consider it is necessary.
"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 Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade in Jamaica is also disappointed with the initiative.
Senior figures believe that a visa requirement will mean "additional cost and inconvenience" to prospective Jamaican visitors to the UK.
However they think it should lead to a reduction in the number of Jamaicans being denied entry to the country.
Read a selection of your comments on this subject.
I am not at surprised at the changes. With the increase of Yardie crime here, I have often wondered how long it would take the UK Government to restrict the entry of certain Jamaicans (Yardies) into the UK. The government's reason for the new changes - that they want to reduce the time spent at immigration - is a downright lie. Tell it like it is!!!
This would be a very good way of keeping a tighter control on the amount of Jamaicans trying to enter illegally but to access a visa in Jamaica can prove to be very, very expensive. Surely this would need to be looked at?
How about when we visit to Jamaica? Do we need a visa like they to us? It is very unfair where we live in the same globe and not another planet!
Gregory Edwards, UK
I recently had a young relative come to England, as he was recently orphaned and has no other relatives in Jamaica. My relative is only 15 years old and was held at immigration in the UK for six hours being questioned!!! This was a harrowing experience for such a young person to have to face on their own, especially considering they had recently lost both parents. I think anything which helps cut such delays for genuine visitors to the country is a good thing.
I often have visitors from Jamaica, staying for up to six months at a time. I don't think this will make things more difficult but neither do I think it will have any effect on drug and gun smuggling or whatever other reasons the government may choose to excuse it. Most Jamaicans will, rightly, see it as an insult.
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