tuesday, 5 march of 2013

UK set to tighten Brazilian visa rules


UK set to tighten Brazilian visa rules

Theresa May, the British home secretary, faces a row with cabinet colleagues over proposals to impose visa restrictions on Brazilians, underlining the tensions between the search for economic growth and the need to recognise public concern over immigration.

Ms May’s plans to tighten rules for Brazilians is a serious test for the coalition, as it tries to balance conflicting priorities. Ministers fear the restrictions will cast a shadow over British relations with Brazil, a fast-growing economy that David Cameron has targeted as a key trading partner for Britain.

The Home Office is already fighting criticism from tour groups and UK luxury retailers that the complex process of obtaining a tourist visa in China is preventing high-spending Chinese nationals from entering the UK.

Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister, have both visited Brazil since the election and have tried to bolster trade links. But Ms May believes the country is also the source of much illegal immigration to Britain.

The home secretary will propose ending the current agreement, which allows Brazilians to visit Britain for up to six months without a visa, but she can expect strong opposition when she raises the issue on Tuesday at the National Security Council. Her suggestion comes as countries such as the US and Australia are taking the opposite course by easing visa restrictions with Brazil, to encourage tourism and business ties.

William Hague, foreign secretary and George Osborne, chancellor, are among those who have clashed with Ms May over her operation of Britain’s visa regime.

"The Home Office is in favour of new visa restrictions but everyone else in the cabinet is basically against," said a person involved in the discussions. Another suggested that Ms May’s "heavy-handedness" with the visa regime showed "no understanding" of the repercussions for trade with Bric nations.

Lord Mandelson, the former Labour minister and EU trade commissioner, said the idea was "certifiably mad". 

Only last summer, Mr Cameron visited São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro accompanied by a 58-strong business delegation, to develop better trade ties with the $2.3tn-a-year economy.

"This visit is about British jobs, British growth and the British economy, because I want Britain to be tied up to the fastest-growing economies on the planet," the prime minister said during the trip. According to UK Trade & Industry, 14 government ministers have visited Brazil over the past 18 months.

Lord Sebastian Coe, chair of the organising committee for the London 2012 games, is about to embark on a mission that will focus on Olympics-related trade before the next games, which is to be hosted by Rio.

But while several government departments are working to bolster UK exports in the hope of fostering an economic recovery, Ms May’s focus is on cutting immigration in line with the Conservatives’ target to reach the “tens of thousands” by 2015.

Home Office figures for 2011 show that Brazil is fifth in the top 10 of illegal immigrant nationalities in the UK, with more than 2,000 forcibly removed that year. It is the only country in this list for which short-term visitors do not need a visa.

But any move to change this will antagonise Britain’s business community. Simon Walker, director-general of the London-based Institute of Directors, criticised Ms May’s decision on Brazil as “crazy”.

"It’s no good the prime minister touring the world saying 'The UK is open for business, you are welcome here', if his ministers are undercutting him by their every action and making it more difficult for business travellers to come here,” Mr Walker said. “This seems to me to be a huge backwards step".

Robert Halfon, Tory chairman of the all-party Commons Brazil group, urged the UK against causing antagonism with a country that was rapidly becoming “one of the most important nations in the world".

"It’s absolutely vital we keep open the door to Brazil and not do anything to disincentivise business between the two countries," Mr Halfon said.

(Published by Financial Times – March 4, 2013)

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