Home Secretary Priti Patel could soon be able to block visas for citizens from countries thought to be uncooperative in taking back asylum seekers.
The power is included in a clause in the proposed Nationality and Borders Bill published today.
It would grant home secretary Patel, and all future post holders, the ability to suspend or delay the processing of visa applications from countries that do not “cooperate with the UK government in relation to the removal from the United Kingdom of nationals of that country who require leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom but do not have it”
The home secretary would also be able to increase fees for such visa applications.
Patel called the bill the “biggest overhaul of the UK’s asylum system in decades”.
The new legislation also includes differentiating between those who arrived in the UK legally and illegally. The latter could only be granted temporary refugee status, even if their claim is successful, and have their access to benefits and family reunion rights restricted.
Critics have said this risks violates International law, as the UN’s Refugee Convention prohibits penalties on refugees’ manner of entry.
The bill would also make it criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission, with the maximum sentence for those entering the country unlawfully rising from six months’ imprisonment to four years.
Asylum seekers may also be removed from the UK before a decision is reached on their claim or appeal. This would allow the Home Office to house asylum seekers abroad.
“Scientific methods” could also be used in age assessments to stop people falsely claiming to be children, but also make sure minors are not wrongly taken into the adult asylum system.
Life sentences would also be introduced for convicted people smugglers, up from a maximum of 14 years.
Opponents to the bill claimed the “anti-refugee bill” will penalise the most vulnerable.
The Refugee Council said the changes could result in 9,000 less people being accepted as refugees, despite fleeing war or persecution.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, refugee and migrants rights programme director at Amnesty International UK, said the bill could “fatally undermine the right to asylum” and accused Patel of a “shameful dereliction of duty”.
He said: “This reckless and deeply unjust bill is set to bring shame on Britain’s international reputation.”
Daniel Sohege, director of human rights advocacy Stand for All, said on Twitter much of the bill “seems on the surface of it to directly contravene international law”.
He said a lot of the bill “is already covered by existing law, which makes it seem even more like a political stunt than a practical measure.”
Together with Refugees, a coalition of over 250 organisations, has called for a “more humane approach” from the government for people seeking protection in the UK.