US 'wants British Pakistanis to have entry visas'Matt Weaver
Wednesday May 2, 2007
In talks with the British government, the US homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, called for British Pakistanis to apply for a visa before travelling to the US, according to the New York Times.
The newspaper claimed that US officials were concerned about the number of terrorist plots in Britain involving citizens with ties to Pakistan.
But today the Foreign Office made it clear would resist the idea. It said it would oppose any attempt to exclude particular ethnic groups from the US visa waiver scheme that allows citizens from 27 countries, including the UK, to travel to the US without a visa for up to 90 days.
A spokesman said: "We are in close touch with the US about entry clearance, and they are aware of our view that changes to the visa waiver programme could cause economic damage to both our countries without materially enhancing the security controls over immigration."
He added: "The Muslim community in the UK, including those of Pakistani origin, are an important part of our society and we would oppose strongly any proposal to single them out in response to the actions of terrorists. Furthermore, we will oppose any measure based on broad categories of religious, ethnic or other criteria, and will continue to emphasise the importance of the current risk-based approach."
Mohammad Sarwar, the Labour MP for Glasgow Central, described the proposal as "unbelievable and shocking. Every British citizen must have the same rights. I don't think America has any right to interfere in this way."
Mr Sarwar, who was born in Pakistan and became Britain's first Muslim MP in 1997, urged ministers to reject the idea.
Ahmed Versi, the editor of Muslim News, agreed. He said: "They [the Americans] are trying to paint the whole Muslim community with the same brush. It's racist. There would be a huge outcry from all Muslims whether they are Pakistani or not."
He pointed out that many British Muslims were already put off from the travelling to the US for fear of the unwelcome reception they would receive.
The report of America's concerns follows the conviction earlier this week of five British men for planning a series of attacks across the UK. Four of them were of Pakistani origin. But according to the New York Times, talks on travel restrictions for British Pakistanis have been taking place for some "months".
Last month, Mr Chertoff held talks with the home secretary, John Reid. It is believed they discussed the visa waiver scheme that allows citizens from 27 countries, including the UK, to travel to the US without a visa for up to 90 days.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph on the eve of the talks, Mr Chertoff said: "We need to build layers of protection, and I don't think we totally want to rely upon the fact that a foreign government is going to know that one of their citizens is suspicious and is going to be coming here."
At the time he did not mentioned restrictions on British Pakistani, but he expressed concern that the terrorist such as the July 7 bombers, three of whom were of Pakistani origin, could have used the visa waiver scheme to enter America.