The Tory party plans to impose health checks on would-be immigrants before they enter the UK.
The compulsory health-checks would cover tuberculosis and HIV.
File picture of Michael Howard
File picture of Michael Howard
A positive TB test would automatically mean visa applications being turned down, under a new Tory policy unveiled by the party's leader Michael Howard.
Other conditions, including HIV, would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but all immigrants wanting to stay permanently in the UK would have to show that they will not be a drain on NHS resources.
Asylum-seekers would be excluded from the scheme, as people genuinely fleeing persecution should not be denied refuge simply because of ill-health, said Mr Howard.
"The British people deserve the best standards of public health,'' he said.
"We need to control who is coming to Britain to ensure that they are not a public health risk and to protect access to the NHS."
He said similar schemes are run in New Zealand, Canada and Australia.
Under the Tory plan, people coming to the UK for less than six months would not be required to undergo a medical examination unless they plan to work in healthcare, childcare or teaching.
Anyone coming from a country outside the EU with a high incidence of TB for up to a year would have to undergo a chest X-ray, followed by further tests if necessary.
And all those intending to stay for longer than a year would be required to have a full medical examination, usually including an overall health check-up and X-rays to test for TB, as well as tests for hepatitis and HIV for over-16s. Children and pregnant women would be excluded from the chest X-ray.
People coming to settle permanently in the UK from outside the EU would have to "demonstrate that they have an acceptable standard of health'', do not pose a public health risk and are unlikely to make significant demands on the NHS.
Applicants will have to pay for their own health checks, and fees for permits and visas will be increased to cover any additional processing costs, so there will be no extra cost to British taxpayers, said Conservative aides.
Health checks will only be acceptable if conducted by medical practitioners approved by the British Government.
Official figures show that there were four TB notifications for every 100,000 people born in the UK in 2002, compared to 73 for every 100,000 of those born abroad.
About 80 per cent f people diagnosed with heterosexually-acquired HIV in the UK in 2003 are thought to have been infected in Africa.
Des Browne, Labour's immigration minister, said: "We are implementing our existing powers by targeted health screening for TB in high-risk areas at the entry clearance stage.
"The Tory policy is little more than a desperate attempt to catch up with Labour's five-year plan."
Mark Oaten, Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary, said: "This is another worrying step in the war of words over asylum and immigration between Labour and the Conservatives."
Lisa Power, head of policy at the HIV/Aids charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "This is a prejudice-based policy not an evidence-based one.''