In the wake of the furore over the mass arrest and deportation of Jamaicans arriving at Gatwick airport for a Christmas holiday, Charles Wardle, the Home Office minister, said there were no plans to treat Jamaicans like Nigerians, Bosnians and people from the Indian sub-continent and force them to apply for visas in their own countries before travelling.
The introduction of visa restrictions has in all cases been followed by a huge increase in the number of people refused permission to enter Britain. Black leaders have warned that there would be 'dismay and anger' in Britain if Jamaican visitors faced new and tighter immigration controls.
Despite the Home Office assurances, a spokesman for Hans van den Broek, the European Union's director for external relations, said manoeuvres were underway to put Jamaica on a list of largely third world countries whose citizens will need visas before entering Britain or any other European Union (EU) country.
The new controls will come into force in 1996 as a response to the removal of internal barriers within the union. All member states will by then have agreed a common list of visa countries from which there 'is pressure to emigrate' so that a visitor cannot enter one country in 'Fortress Europe' without a visa and move to another which would have wanted him to meet stricter entry criteria.
The spokesman said there was mounting pressure from several member states to put Jamaica on a draft visa list. The issue will be decided by a majority vote, so Britain could not veto the proposal even if it wanted to.
Claude Moraes, director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: 'Of course the Home Office is not going to stand up for Jamaicans - the disgraceful scenes at Gatwick proved that.'
About 350,000 Jamaicans visit Britain each year. Under the stringent 1993 Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act, a Jamaican detained by immigration officers may no longer take his or her case to a tribunal. The only appeal possible is to seek a judicial review.
Introducing visas, campaigners believe, would stop hundreds of these appeals to the courts. Would-be visitors refused a visa abroad have no right to seek a judicial review.
'We simply don't believe Mr Wardle when he says there won't be visas,' said Mr Moraes. 'In the 1980s they promised that visas would not be imposed for the Indian sub-continent and then imposed them.'
The experience of what has happened in the five countries put on the British visa list in 1985 - India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana - has fuelled the fears of Jamaicans and relatives in Britain.
In the early 1980s about 8 per cent of visitors from those five countries were turned back at airports. Now, under the visa system, one in four Bangladeshis and Ghanaians have their applications for visas refused by British high commissions. By contrast, just one in 65 Jamaicans and one in 3,012 Americans are refused admission at airports.
Visas are refused in Africa and the Indian sub-continent when Home Office officials based in high commissions suspect that the visitors could become illegal immigrants or use health and social services. The system is not in force in any white Commonwealth country.
Mr Moraes said: 'The danger is that when you look at the kind of people who are turned down - the old, the young, and the poor - you realise that the Home Office could fit most of the population of Jamaica into these categories.'
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