Leading article: Dancing to the wrong tune

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The Independent Online

According to the Government's spin, it will be "the biggest shake-up of the immigration system in its history". But the Home Office's latest initiative sounds like more of the same headline-grabbing nonsense. Proposals to cut the amount of time that tourists from outside the EU can stay in Britain are expected to be announced by ministers today, along with plans to force families to pay a 1,000 deposit if they want relatives to visit them in Britain. In addition, it is hinted that the existing rights of appeal against visa refusals are to be curtailed.

We are told such measures will help prevent people overstaying their visas. But if people are intent on disappearing into the black economy, is cutting the visa period from six month to three likely to make any difference? No these proposals are really designed to keep people out of Britain in the first place.

The 1,000 bond proposal is particularly vindictive. How many African and Bangladeshi families in Britain, for instance, will be able to afford this? And removing visa appeal rights sends a pretty clear signal to British consular officials abroad of what is expected of them.

A trend can be discerned here. Consider the policy announcements from the Government on immigration in recent years: a points-based system to keep out unskilled workers from outside the EU is due to come into operation; ministers are proposing English tests for spouses applying to enter the UK; the age at which a person can be sponsored to come to Britain for marriage will be raised from 18 to 21; tighter restrictions on the issuing of overseas student visas are in place; foreign nationals will soon be required to carry identity cards. All this is designed to discriminate against migrants from non-European countries.

No doubt the Government would be just as happy to curtail European immigration were it were not illegal under the terms of our EU membership. But, for now, it is aiming for the softest target: non-Europeans.

The bitter irony is that these proposals are unlikely to have a significant effect on illegal immigration into Britain. So long as our economy is growing and there is a domestic labour shortage, Britain will continue to suck in workers from abroad. But these measures will impact on Britain's image abroad, with a detrimental effect on domestic industries ranging from tourism to the arts. Tightened restrictions and more expensive visas are already hampering musicians and performers from the developing world who wish to tour Britain. Despite the popularity of British universities, there is evidence that international students are being driven to countries in which they are made more welcome. The Government, for ever dancing to the tune of a xenophobic right-wing press, looks increasingly out of step with the needs of a globalised world.