Working visa restrictions labelled racist

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Indy Politics

Black and anti-racist groups have reacted furiously to the revelation that thousands of people from Africa and Asian countries are to be barred from entering Britain.

Quotas are to be introduced on the numbers of visitors under the working holiday scheme from countries such as Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kenya after Home Office officials detected abuse of the system, which was set up to allow young people from Commonwealth countries to taste life in Britain. The Home Office said it was being used as a back-door route to permanent settlement.

Popular with Australian, South African and Canadian backpackers, the system allows people aged under 30 from Commonwealth countries to spend up to two years in Britain, subsidising their holiday with casual work. It was extended two years ago to include more countries, predominantly in Africa and Asia.

Black groups in the UK accused the Government of racism in its plans to restrict the scheme and questioned why predominantly white countries would not face similar controls. Simon Woolley, of Operation Black Vote, said the policy would play into the hands of far-right groups such as the British National Party. "It is hard not to reach the conclusion that this is aimed at black people," he said. "This demonises black people and fuels right-wing bigotry."

Karen Chouhan, of the 1990 Trust, a UK race relations charity, said the policy was "blatant racism". She said: "It is a continuation of the downright rudeness shown to black comm- unities who have made a huge contribution to Britain. The Government has a 'managed migration' policy. This suggests they are managing according to the colour of a person's skin."

An internal Downing Street memo warned that the policy might be controversial and could lead to accusations of racism. Minutes of a meeting held in Downing Street on 12 May said the policy could be "presentationally difficult". The memo said: "Quotas would require careful handling to avoid discrimination, while closing down the scope of abuse."

It confirms plans to introduce restrictions on African and Asian migrants applying for the working holiday visas. Home Office officials plan to tighten the system to ensure that visitors have enough money to support themselves and return home.

A spokesman for the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, said although the abuse was not widespread, quotas would be announced for certain countries. He said: "There are people who see the scheme as a way of staying here for longer."

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