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E.g., 06/19/2024
'Donkey Flights:' Illegal Immigration from the Punjab to the United Kingdom
February 2014

'Donkey Flights:' Illegal Immigration from the Punjab to the United Kingdom

This report, written by journalist Nicola Smith, sketches one immigration loophole into Europe: so-called “donkey flights” by which Indian migrants obtain a tourist visa for a Schengen-zone country in order to enter the United Kingdom through the back door. The report is based on an undercover exposé of Punjabi visa agencies by The Sunday Times, and from interviews conducted with migrants, law enforcement officers, and senior officials in India and Europe. 

The report identifies several trends. First, thousands of visa agencies operate in the Punjab region alone, with varying degrees of legality. Some agencies, while breaking no rules, charge disproportionate fees for visas that could be obtained directly from the relevant embassy. Some operate in legally grey areas, such as by advising migrants on how to bend the rules. More underground operations have links to criminal smuggling networks across Europe.

Second, the scale of this migration challenge facing the UK government is considerable. Push factors such as low wages and high unemployment combine with the lure of vast earnings overseas. Many are desperate to migrate, whether legally or illegally, and are attracted by word of mouth “success stories.” Even migrants who have been deported look for alternative ways to return.

Third, developing effective policies is difficult. The illegal immigration industry is flexible and adaptable, responding quickly to legislative changes. By contrast, government bureaucracy can only slowly change its rules and practices. Closing one loophole can mean another is opened elsewhere.

Table of Contents 

I.  Introduction

II.  The Business Model of Visa Agents

III.  The Migrant’s Perspective

A.  The Schengen Route

B.  Exploiting Legal Routes

C.  Student Visas

IV.  Policy Responses

A.  UK Government Responses

B.  Indian Government Responses

V.  Conclusion