LEADING MP Keith Vaz has branded new government policy to centralise visa hubs in India and Bangladesh to New Delhi as “ludicrous” and “a slap in the face” for the community.
Vaz, who is the chair of the Home Office Select Committee, was officially told by the government last week about the downsizing of a crucial visa hub in Mumbai and how visa applications made in Dhaka will now be decided-upon in New Delhi.
Pakistanis who want a visa application will now have all their decisions made in Abu Dhabi instead of in Islamabad.
The Leicester East MP, who opened up a visa centre for India in his constituency, says the UK government was doing the opposite of its Indian counterpart, who were decentralising the system.
“It sends out a very negative message, because visitors to this country bring in money,” Vaz told Eastern Eye.
“It’s a big slap in the face for the community.” He added: “To remove all visa decision making powers from Dhaka is insulting to the people of Bangladesh, and the importance the UK places on our historical relationship.
“Removing these powers from Mumbai is completely impractical considering the strong links the British Indian community have
In 2013, 360,000 visa applications were submitted in India and 320,575 were issued – equal to the entire city of Cardiff in Wales.
“Mumbai receives between 70,000-80,000 applications a year roughly the same as Delhi.
“This government has rightly pledged to strengthen our relationship with India, but the symbolic and practical implications of these decisions are deeply harmful to this commitment,” he said.
Vaz, recently tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament, calling for a review to these decisions.
“I put this issue to the home secretary Theresa May and she says she’s going to look into it. No country has the number of applications we have coming from India.
“The new reduction of services mean fewer students will come and frankly fewer visitors will come. Centralising it in a capital in a country of a billion people and putting pressure of a already pressurised service is ludicrous.”
There are 300,000 people of Bangladeshi origin in the UK, and Vaz believes that at some stage “at least one of them is going to have a visit from a relative.”
He said: “I opened up the Visa centre in Sylhet, because so many people from there want to come to the UK. Now what they’ve done is put the decision making process in a different country.
“The risk of visa’s going missing, the risk of fraud, only increase when you create these hubs. Also, if there is a problem and you need to be interviewed you need to travel all the way there, which is wrong. The general election is coming, and this should not be happening.”