Straw to abandon Tory asylum laws

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Tough immigration laws that effectively bar asylum-seekers from seven countries and legislation to force employers to vet all new workers are to be abandoned by the Government.

The Home Office is currently reviewing all asylum procedures and Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, is expected to announce shortly the decision to overturn the two new measures.

He will scrap the so-called "white list" of countries whose citizens are regarded as facing no serious risk of persecution and who are unlikely to deserve protection in Britain.

Under the Asylum and Immigration Act the applications from thousands of would-be refugees from the seven countries - India, Pakistan, Ghana, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland and Romania - are presumed to be unsound unless proved otherwise.

Their rights of appeal are also severely restricted with the introduction of a new fast-track system. The move, which came into force in October, was fiercely opposed by refugee groups who accused the Conservatives of "playing the race card".

The number of all cases refused asylum increased by 10,400 to 31,700 in 1996 compared with the previous year.

In a second development, the Government will not enforce new rules to compel employers to check passports or identity documents of people applying for jobs in an attempt to crack down on illegal immigrants obtaining work.

Under the provision in the new Act, which was passed in January, two million people a year were expected to be checked.

It is a criminal offence to employ an illegal immigrant, with employers facing a fine of up to pounds 5,000.

The burden of policing the system will cost industry an estimated pounds 25m to set up, with an annual bill of pounds 11.4m.

Labour believes that the system will deter many employers from giving jobs to ethnic minorities and could easily be side-stepped with the use of false ID papers. The Government is, however, examining the greater use of birth certificates when checks are needed.

A Home Office source said: "We are opposed to the use of the "white list".

"On the employment checks there were problems about how it would affect the employment of people from ethnic minorities."

He added: "We are adamant we want a system that is firm and fast and that deals with everyone fairly. This is why we are looking at the whole issue of asylum procedures."

These are the latest immigration laws brought in by the Tories to be repealed by the new Government. They follow the decision to end the "primary purpose" immigration rule under which a person who wanted to marry a British citizen was refused entry to this country if an immigration officer believed the main reason for their union was to settle in the UK. About 2,000 immigration cases were refused a year because of this rule.

Claude Moraes, director of Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, welcomed the scrapping of the provisions. He said: "These changes are of fundamental importance. The "white list" was dangerous and inflexible. The vetting of employees introduced for the first time internal immigration controls backed by criminal sanctions."

But Michael Howard, the former Home Secretary, condemned the change of policy on immigration.

He said: "One of the most important reasons for our good race relations in this country is that we have firm control of immigration. Firm control of immigration and good race relations go hand-in-hand."