Page last updated at 12:17 GMT, Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Tourist visa times 'to be halved'

Heathrow airport
The government is consulting on new visa restrictions

Visitors to the UK would have to leave after three months instead of the current six under new visa proposals being considered by the government.

Families might also have to pay a financial deposit to ensure relatives from outside the EU whose visit they were sponsoring left the UK on time.

The government said the bond, put out to consultation, was "not for everyone, but where we think there's a risk".

But immigration groups said it would be "unfair" on poorer families.

The proposals are aimed at those who deliberately overstay or work illegally in the UK.

The government has not revealed how much families would be asked to pay to sponsor an overseas visitor, but press reports suggest it could be a 1,000 bond.

'Risky people'

In addition to shortening standard tourist visas, the government might also introduce special occasion visas for events such as the London Olympics in 2012.

Cash deposit for visiting family members
Visa stay cut from six to three months
Creating specific business and specialist visas
Creating one-off visa for 2012 Olympics

The consultation was launched as the government announced that over a million fingerprints had now been collected from overseas foreign nationals applying to come to the UK, under a new scheme to "export" Britain's borders.

Immigration minister Liam Byrne said: "Tougher checks abroad mean we keep risky people out.

"By next spring we'll check everyone's fingerprints when they apply for a visa; now we're proposing a financial guarantee as well - not for everyone, but where we think there's a risk.

"Our aim is to make the system both more secure, but also to ensure that we maintain the UK's position as a destination of choice for tourists."

Cultural events

Visitors to the EU may be offered a cut price and time-limited visa to visit the UK to encourage group travel, the consultation document says.

The government is trying to deter people to come for family visits - this is unfair
Habib Rahman, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

It also asks whether sporting fixtures or cultural events, such as regional folk festivals or the Edinburgh festival fringe, should be included in the special one-off visa category.

It says that although 5,750,000 visitors entered the UK for purposes other than business in 2006, the "vast majority" stayed for less than three months.

According to the Office for National Statistics' 2005 International Passenger Survey, only 1.1% of overseas residents visiting the UK as tourists stayed for three months or more.

The visa consultation will run for 12 weeks, until 10 March 2008, on the Home Office website.


The Conservatives dismissed the government's proposals as a "headline grabbing gimmick" and repeated their call for an annual limit on immigration.

Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the new measures would discriminate against poorer families.

Sounds entirely reasonable and no worse than the requirements any other country imposes
Peter Symonds, UK

"The government is trying to deter people to come for family visits. This is unfair."

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

Under a new scheme, visa applicants in more than 120 countries are now required to provide fingerprints if they want to visit the UK.

Global checks

So far checks have identified over 10,000 applicants who have previously been fingerprinted in the UK in connection with immigration cases or asylum applications, the government said.

Those refused entry include an Iraqi citizen who had earlier been refused asylum in the UK under a different identity and a Nigerian citizen who had been jailed for shoplifting under a different identity and deported from the UK.

From spring 2008 the aim is for the biometric checks to be extended to all visa applicants globally.

The government has already announced other changes to the visa system which Mr Byrne described as the "biggest shake-up of the immigration system in history".

They included a points-based system for economic migrants and the tightening of procedures for people bringing spouses into the country.

video and audio news
One family's reaction to the visa system changes

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific