Today my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband) and I are announcing the final stage of the UK’s first global review of visa regimes in relation to the seven countries of the Eastern Caribbean – Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
A visa regime is a very effective immigration, crime and security control measure. As part of our overseas defences our Visa Waiver Test helps us determine whether our visa regimes are in the right places. Travellers from every country beyond the European Economic Area and Switzerland were measured against a range of criteria including illegal immigration, crime and security concerns. The Test has been taken forward in close collaboration with other Departments across Whitehall. New full visa regimes were introduced on Bolivia, Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland, along with a partial regime on Venezuela, in 2009.
Having initially considered the Eastern Caribbean states on a regional basis, we decided to examine them individually to ensure any potential regimes would be aligned correctly. Our evaluation highlighted a number of concerns with two countries, Dominica and St Lucia.
We recognise that we have close historic, economic and political ties with Dominica and St Lucia and are aware that the introduction of a visa regime would be a significant step. It is a decision we do not take lightly. As a result we will now enter a six month period of detailed dialogue with the Governments concerned to examine what actions will be taken to address our concerns and mitigate the need for a visa regime to be introduced. During this period, Dominica and St Lucia will need to demonstrate a genuine commitment to put into effect credible and realistic plans, with clear timetables, to reduce the risks to the UK, and begin implementing these plans by the end of the dialogue period.
Additionally we have written to the Governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines to advise that, while they will maintain their visa free status for the time being, the decision will be subject to a further review.
The UK Government remains committed to operating a firm but fair immigration policy. It gives a high priority to treating all foreign nationals coming to or present in the UK with dignity and respect, and the highest legal standards. However, it expects all visitors to the UK to play by the rules. The UK will always welcome genuine visitors, whether business, tourist, student or family, but will continue to take all steps necessary to protect the security of the UK.