U.S. SEEKS CLOSING OF VISA LOOPHOLE FOR BRITONS
Omar Khyam, the ringleader of the thwarted London bomb plot who was sentenced to life imprisonment on Monday, showed the potential for disaffected young men to be lured as terrorists, a threat that British officials said they would have to contend with for a generation.
But the 25-year-old Mr. Khyam, a Briton of Pakistani descent, also personifies a larger and more immediate concern: as a British citizen, he could have entered the United States without a visa, like many of an estimated 800,000 other Britons of Pakistani origin.
American officials, citing the number of terror plots in Britain involving Britons with ties to Pakistan, expressed concern over the visa loophole. In recent months, the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, has opened talks with the government here on how to curb the access of British citizens of Pakistani origin to the United States.
At the moment, the British are resistant, fearing that restrictions on the group of Britons would incur a backlash from a population that has always sided with the Labor Party. The Americans say they are hesitant to push too hard and embarrass their staunch ally in the Iraq war, Prime Minister Tony Blair, as he prepares to step down from office.
Among the options that have been put on the table, according to British officials, was the most onerous option to Britain, that of canceling the entire visa waiver program that allows all Britons entry to the United States without a visa. Another option, politically fraught as it is, would be to single out Britons of Pakistani origin, requiring them to make visa applications for the United States.
Rather than impose any visa restrictions, the British government has told Washington it would prefer if the Americans simply deported Britons who failed screening once they arrived at an airport in the United States, British officials said. The British also screen at their end, and share intelligence with the Americans.