Foreigners seeking permission to visit relatives in Britain are costing taxpayers £1million a week in legal fees. The public is being saddled with the bill after Labour decided that applicants for family visas should not be expected to pay their own appeal costs. Each appeal after a rejected application costs £762.

According to a report by Migrationwatch, there are as many as 120 relatives – including first cousins, uncles, aunts, nephews, and nieces – who can claim the right to visit and then appeal if refused. The number of appeals now stands at almost 65,000 a year, an eightfold increase since 2001. Migrationwatch chairman Sir Andrew Green said: ‘The Government talk up their so-called tough points-based system for work permits but leave gaping holes elsewhere. They have ducked the issue of family visitors for years. ‘Obviously, family members should be able to visit relatives in Britain but such visits need to be properly regulated. There is a clear risk that, once here, some of these visitors will stay on illegally knowing that the chance of being removed is remote.’

The report claims that the definition of a family member is so wide that someone from a country where families often have four or five children could have between 80 and 120 relatives who could apply to visit. The 65,000 annual appeals at £762 mean the cost to the taxpayer in 2007/8 was £50million. The Home Office has suggested the figure could be as high as £60million.

Migrationwatch is calling for changes including a substantial tightening of the definition of a family visitor. It says excluding uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces and first cousins could cut the projected figure of 120 relatives who could claim the right to visit by up to 68. The group also says relatives should meet the cost of appeals, as was the case before 2002.

In the 1990s, there was no right of appeal for rejected applications. A UK Border Agency spokesman said: ‘The Government is committed to reducing the cost of the appeal system by cutting out unnecessary and inappropriate appeals and improving decision quality. ‘The overall cost of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal has been falling over the last three years. We are consulting on options for migrants to cover at least some of the cost of appeals.’

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