Britain probes 'scam' where Indian nationals are brought in as religious ministers

LONDON (AFP) - Nineteen people were arrested in raids on Tuesday targeting a suspected immigration scam where people are brought from India to Britain as religious ministers and then disappear.

The Home Office, or Interior Ministry, said the raids were "part of an ongoing criminal investigation into the Khalsa Missionary Society", a Sikh religious and cultural centre based in Manchester, north-west England.

Officers visited and searched 15 addresses across England in Southall and Hounslow in west London, Slough, Birmingham, Southampton, Luton and Leicester.

"The investigation is focused on the sponsoring of Indian nationals to work at the society as ministers of religion, under the Tier 2 and Tier 5 migrant workers system," the Home Office said.

Tier 2 deals with foreign nationals with a job offer that cannot be filled by a settled worker, while Tier 5 has provisions for temporary religious workers.

Separate to the criminal investigation, a further nine people encountered during the raids were arrested on suspicion of immigration offences, including overstaying their visas.

The Home Office said steps would be taken to remove any offenders from Britain.

"This is a complex operation linked to suspected immigration crime that targeted several locations across the UK," said Mr Nick Wood from the Home Office criminal investigations team.

"Our investigation will continue with the evidence we have seized."

Several people were apprehended in September in a first wave of arrests.

On its website, the Khalsa Missionary Society says it works "to facilitate religious preachers, providing (a) platform to Sikh religious workers from around the world to register them as religious professionals".