The UK is imposing visa requirements for all visitors from five nations, with Suella Braverman citing “abuse” of the migration system as a reason.
The home secretary said the changes were being made “solely for migration and border security reasons” and insisted it is “not a sign of poor relations” with Dominica, Honduras, Namibia, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu.
In a written statement to MPs on Wednesday, she said Dominica and Vanuatu’s “operation of a citizenship by investment scheme has shown clear and evident abuse”. The two Commonwealth allies have been granting “citizenship to individuals known to pose a risk to the UK”, she said.
Ms Braverman said there had been a “sustained and significant increase” in nationals from Namibia and Honduras who had “abused” their right to visit the UK for a limited period without a visa in order to claim asylum.
“As such, Namibians and Hondurans rank first amongst non-visa nationals for asylum claims,” she wrote. “These high numbers are unsustainable, contributing significantly to operational pressures which have resulted in frontline resource being diverted from other operational priorities.”
Namibia is another member of the Commonwealth of 56 mainly former British colonies.
As for Timor-Leste, Ms Braverman said there had been a “sustained increase” in its nationals arriving at the border as “non-genuine visitors”. She said they often had “the intention to fraudulently claim EU Settlement Scheme status as dependants or to work illegally in the UK”.
Ms Braverman was allowing a four-week transition period for those who hold confirmed bookings to the UK to travel without visas before the new requirements come into force.
It comes as the government cracks down on migrants attempting to claim asylum in the UK by crossing the Channel, with the Illegal Migration Bill now poised to become law. It passed its controversial plans to tackle the small boats crisis this week after defeating a final series of Commons challenges by Tory moderates.
The provisional number of migrant crossings for 2023 so far is 13,774, which is still lower than the more than 15,000 arrivals recorded this time last year. Overall, 45,755 people made the journey in 2022.
The reforms will prevent people from claiming asylum in the UK if they arrive through unauthorised means. The government also hopes the changes will ensure detained people are promptly removed, either to their home country or a third country such as Rwanda, which is currently the subject of a legal challenge.
UN human rights chief Volker Turk and UN high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi led outrage at the plans. In an unusually critical joint statement, they warned the Bill “will have profound consequences for people in need of international protection” and breaks the UK’s obligations under international law.
Downing Street defended the Bill, with the prime minister’s official spokesman saying: “We are confident we are acting within international law.”