Letters: Struggling to enter 'fortress Britain'

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Sir: Following Dr Anne Haour's letter (5 September), I should like to add a further example of the problems encountered by nationals of Third World countries in obtaining visas to enter the UK.

I am a white native Briton and my wife is a naturalised British citizen, born in Indonesia. My wife's twin sister, who has just retired, wishes to spend a short holiday with us in the UK, and we have provided her with an invitation letter as stipulated on the UK visa website, to enable her to apply for a visa from the British Embassy in Jakarta. In Jakarta it is no longer possible to apply direct to the Embassy, and she has submitted her application, as now required, through a travel agency.

Additional documentation insisted on by the Embassy has included copies of the passports of myself and my wife, copies of our marriage certificate and my wife's Indonesian birth certificate, and a letter from my sister-in-law's husband saying he has no objection to her travelling to stay with us; all this requested on a piecemeal basis, in that on each visit to the travel agency, a further hurdle is raised. My sister-in-law is naturally becoming increasingly frustrated by these delays and wondering whether it is worth trying to come here.

Perhaps the objective of UK visa policy is to discourage applicants by these means. I have no statistics on this, but I cannot believe Indonesia is a country which gives the UK a problem with illegal immigration. Meanwhile, we read in the right-wing press about Britain's so-called "open-door" immigration policy. Our own impression is one of "fortress Britain".



Racial inequality laid bare by hurricane

Sir: I wonder how Bruce Anderson would respond to waking up one morning and finding that he had become black overnight ("New Orleans was responsible for its own fate", 5 September). But a mere change in skin colour wouldn't be enough; to be truly black he'd need a "historic past" as well. This, his article rather condescendingly admits, would have been "painful" during the years of "involuntary immigration"(!). As a black man he would be aware that well into 20th century black children had to face fire hoses and police dogs in their fight for a decent education, and that adults were murdered for trying to register to vote.

The fact that black people were brought over to America as an involuntary work force, and were either brutally victimised or totally abandoned thereafter remains the rotting corpse in the closet dramatically uncovered when Katrina ripped off the rooftops of New Orleans. As the diaries of many slaveowners of the time admit, the country could not have got started without black labour. Slavery was successfully abolished only when it was considered unfair competition (being unpaid) to white labour, which was waged. The conflict between black and white workers has corroded American economics ever since.

The Kerner Commission, convened by Lyndon Johnson, conducted a thorough investigation into these matters and concluded that "the US is moving towards two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal". There are many who think that these problems have now been largely solved. They haven't. And Mr Anderson is resorting to the laziest tactic of all: blaming the victims.



Sir: I don't know why Independent readers should be taken aback by Bruce Anderson's "heartless"response to the desperate circumstances of those hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina (letters, 6 September). A few weeks ago he was claiming that Jean Charles de Menezes was the author of his own misfortune for allowing himself to be shot eight times by armed police on the Tube, on the grounds that he had not been keeping up with current affairs!

Claiming that the victims are the authors of their own misfortune is a basic tenet of the right-wing ideology Anderson espouses. It offers a simple-minded justification for the appalling levels of inequality that the hurricane has laid bare.



Sir: How refreshing it was to read Bruce Anderson's comment on the causes of the New Orleans disaster. In one column he dismisses the vast body of peer-reviewed research supporting global warming, whilst claiming as valid his entirely groundless suspicions that 90 per cent of the looters came from one-parent families. In this way he undermines his argument and reveals the prejudice at its heart more effectively than I could ever have done.



Sir: I usually dislike Anderson's pieces but sometimes he does get part of it right. Earlier this year (8 March) you ran a report about motivational classes being offered to Caribbean boys at an inner London school which was designed to help them reject the notion that it is "uncool" to enjoy school.

To have prestige among your fellows requires you to be "cool" and you cannot be "cool" if you are seen to take school seriously and work at your studies. It may be that Anderson is right and that there is in certain cultures some serious antipathy to work. This needs detached investigation, not the yah-boo reaction that Anderson's piece has had.



Sir: In the past I have supported appeals for the victims of the Twin Towers outrage and the more recent London bombings, but the appeal for funds for the victims of Hurricane Katrina is an appeal too far. This request for funds to do the job that the bellicose President Bush has patently refused to do is completely out of order.

Money that had been earmarked for the much-needed strengthening of the New Orleans flood protection was diverted by this battle-hungry politician to help pay for his misguided war in Iraq. The result: he tries to call a much-heralded natural disaster an act of God so that the insurance companies that have supported his political aspirations won't have to pay up and be forced to protect their funds by taking the administration to court.

I applaud the British Red Cross for its humane efforts, but I for one will not be adding to its funds on this occasion. To do so would, in my view, only help diminish the responsibilities of a President who has shown himself to be not only lacking in morals, but unfit to be leader of the richest country in the world.



Sir: The situation in New Orleans shows what can happen when obsessive and paranoid leaders ignore warnings and waste billions on reckless projects instead of looking after ordinary people. With this in mind, will Tony Blair reconsider his plans to introduce a compulsory identity card scheme?



Classical music's image problem

Sir: Philip Hensher is right in his assertion (Opinion, 5 September) that classical musicians seem "embarrassed" at what they do; there is the feeling that being passionate about classical music is "elitist" and that it is only one of the many "musics" in the world.

Perhaps it is time for a new 1930s-style "Music Appreciation Movement", like that which developed alongside the growth of the gramophone record industry. Percy Scholes and others pioneered this in schools, where children were introduced to such sure-fire hits as Danse Macabre, Scheherezade, Vltava, Fantasy Overture: Romeo and Juliet, and many other immortal orchestral masterpieces. J B Priestley also recommended exposure to children of great music "as early as possible".



Poor maintenance and plane crashes

Sir: In an article on aviation safety ("Out of a clear blue sky", 6 September), David Learmount of Flight International magazine is quoted expressing his confidence in the "major" airlines. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that maintenance outsourcing is the order of the day and most of the six recent crashes detailed appear likely to have been caused by maintenance problems.

As usual for white-collar crime, the punishment will likely be decreased bonuses. This is unfortunate, because if airline executives who closed their eyes to poor maintenance were pursued with the same vigour as suspect terrorists (who have killed far fewer innocents in the last six weeks) we would be likely to see better maintenance.



IT workers face inflexible employers

Sir: Employer Robert Chapman (letter, 30 August) urges young people to study IT and languages as a route into well-paid work. As a qualified translator and experienced software developer, I would respectfully question this advice.

Throughout the 18 years that I have been working in IT, British employers have complained constantly about the "skills crisis" in IT. Yet in recent years thousands of experienced IT staff, myself included, have often been unable to find work, either because many IT roles are being shifted to countries where salaries are far lower than in the UK, or because their skills and experience do not precisely match the latest fashions in commercial IT.

The problem with regard to employability is not in the education system, but in the inflexible attitudes of many British employers to recruitment, and their historic refusal to invest in training new or existing staff to develop the skills they claim to need, or to support and reward staff who invest in their own training.

This is in stark contrast to my experience of working in Germany in the 1990s, where employers invested heavily in training to keep their staff's skills up to date. At the same time, there was far less outsourcing of work to low-cost countries, perhaps because many employers appreciated the value of their trained and experienced workers.

But I would agree with Mr Chapman in that if you do plan to study IT, you should learn a language as well, so you can get a job outside the UK and have a reasonable prospect of staying in work past your 40th birthday.



The penurious plight of research fellows

Sir: One small point in Sir Joseph Rotblat's Obituary (2 September) caught my eye. When Rotblat went to the University of Liverpool, he had to leave his wife behind as he could not afford to support her. This still holds true today; we still attract top young researchers from abroad who soon discover that they have to send their families back as they cannot support them, despite performing a highly skilled job (at least six years training) in one of the world's largest economies.

I still recall with shame the case of a brilliant young Russian scientist who became a research fellow a couple of years ago at a university in the South East of England; he was forced to send his family home, as they could not possibly afford to live in the area. Young British scientists, of course, are better informed, and know not to have children while they are research fellows.



Austen's small world

Sir: I, like Catherine Prowse (letter, 6 September), admire the writings of Jane Austen. However, it is absurd to suggest that she addresses the social problems of the day. The only problem she deals with is how to arrange honest marriages within a limited social class. If you read all her six novels, one after the other, you emerge with great respect for Jane Austen as a writer but also with a feeling of claustrophobia. It is such a relief to get out into the larger, more robust world of Charles Dickens.



Estate agents' duties

Sir: Since the High Court has decided, in the case of Knatchbull vs John D Wood in 2003, that estate agents owe a continuing duty to advise sellers to review their asking price in accordance with new market information, not just until a property goes "under offer", but until the exchange of contracts, we can hardly blame them for encouraging gazumping. They are only doing their work conscientiously so as not

to be sued later by their clients.



Boil the bunnies, too

Sir: "The Silent Killer" (5 September) about the threat to Britain's woodlands from the muntjac deer suggests muntjac pie might be a solution. Why not also eat rabbit stew to make an even bigger pest marketable? We ate rabbits during the war; they were delicious.



Sore loser Down Under

Sir: Kevin Rugg (letter, 5 September) apologises on behalf of fellow Australians for comments made by Ricky Ponting criticising the English team's tactics and goes on to suggest that they should have been made in a blunter fashion. Not necessary, Kev; whingeing is whingeing no matter how it's done.



Turkey's entry to the EU

Sir: Europe needs Turkey as much as Turkey needs Europe (letter, 5 September). Last week's EU talks in Wales were disappointing; it seems that the opening of Turkish accession negotiations planned for 3 October may be at risk. It is important to remember that the Turkish accession is a reciprocal process. Now more than ever the Western world needs to build positive relations with Muslim nations. Turkey must become a full member rather than being offered a limited partnership with the EU.



Man eats tiger

Sir: I'm sure I cannot be alone in being intrigued by your reference to Princess Michael of Kent e-mailing "photographs of herself feeding white tiger cubs to the reporter" ("The fake sheikh and his greatest hits", 6 September). Surely this has huge implications for animal conservation?