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Malaysia’s deputy high commissioner warns that our visa-free status in the UK is under threat – and likely will dissappear by 2011. In lieu, Malaysians wanting to snap a few pictures of the Big Ben will have to “RM1,200 in processing fees – which is non-refundable even if the visa application is unsuccessful”, because 12,000 Malaysians who go there choose to stay there without Whitehall’s permission.

Nevertheless, any such move is quite stupid. The only reason why Malaysians overstay is because of strict (and increasingly stricter) immigration law, fueled by xenophobia. Requiring visas won’t change that – after all, a large number of overstayers previously held valid visas (usually student visas). While marginal cases will be prevented from reaching the UK, short of banning a large number of legitimate visitors to the UK, requiring visitor visas only bumps up the costs slightly.

Onerous visa requirements, alas, will cause more harm to the tourism sector than the supposed harm of illegal immigration mitigated. The only long-haul low-cost airline route between Asia and Europe is the Kuala Lumpur-London one, lowering the cost of travelling. With AirAsia X planning routes to the Schengen area, where our visa-free status isn’t under threat, trips that will otherwise go to London may find themselves in Paris or Stolkholm. Onerous visa requirements, after all, kept AirAsia X from Japanese airports. If visas are hard to come by, I don’t think AirAsia will keep sending seven planes of tourists a week. Only so that illegally migrating will become slightly harder, and slightly expensive.

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