British Prime Minister David Cameron has halted the controversial plan by his country to demand a £3,000 bond from each visa applicant from ‘high risk countries’.
Under the proposal canvassed by Britain’s Home Secretary, Theresa May, as part of efforts to cut immigration and abuses of the system, first time visitors from Nigeria, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Pakistan and India from November will be required to pay the £3,000 visa bond before they would be allowed to enter Britain.
Any visitor from the targeted countries who overstays in Britain will forfeit the £3,000 bond.
A report in Tuesday’s edition of Financial Times said Cameron had reconsidered the proposal, which has provoked uproar in Delhi and threatened his attempt to boost trade links with India.
Besides Indian, the proposal has also attracted criticisms from Nigerians and the federal government, which on Tuesday summoned the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Dr. Andrew Pocock, over the policy.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, who met with Pocock in Abuja, demanded a reversal of the policy, saying that it is inconsistent with the age-long strong relationship between Nigeria and Britain.
He also said the policy could jeopardise the people-to-people relationship between the two nations.
In addition, the Senate also expressed displeasure at the policy, saying Nigeria might be forced to reciprocate.
On its part, the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday summoned officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to brief it on the policy and efforts being made to ensure its reversal.
Pocock, however, assured the minister that if the policy were to go ahead in Nigeria, it would affect only a small number of the high-risk visitors and most applicants would not need to pay the bond.
The Financial Times’ report quoted the prime minister’s allies as saying that Cameron had ‘not signed off’ details of the policy, while Lib Dem and Tory business ministers warned that the idea would be damaging to Britain’s economic interests.
It said Cameron had told May that he would not sanction any policy that undermines his growth agenda or the ‘open for business’ message he delivered on a recent trip to India.
‘The prime minister has not cleared this policy,’ said one ally. ‘He doesn’t want to do anything that cuts across the message he took to India.’
Although the Prime Minister’s Office said pilot studies involving the use of migrant bonds – or deposits – for some visitors would go ahead, neither Cameron nor Nick Clegg, his Lib Dem deputy, has agreed the scope of the scheme or the size of the bonds.
Cameron is especially keen that the pilot study targets ‘high risk’ individuals and is not seen as being aimed at any particular country.
Lib Dem Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has expressed concerns about the proposal and his anxiety is shared by Tory Science Minister, David Willetts.
Cable raised the issue in cabinet on Tuesday, saying he was concerned the Home Office was misrepresenting the pilots as a way of bringing down net migration.
The Home Office said on Tuesday the November pilot would be ‘highly selective’, focusing only on those visitors from India and other countries thought to present a ‘residual risk’ of overstaying.
‘Any pilot will not apply to all visitors from the selected countries and the vast majority of visitors will not need to pay a bond,’ a spokeswoman said.
It is understood those who have already visited the United Kingdom would not be subject to the levy.
‘It is certainly a stupid move, but it is also extremely bad public diplomacy. It will raise a hue and cry here,’ Brahma Chellaney, a strategic affairs analyst at New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research think tank, said.
‘It really just doesn’t make any sense. It will have detrimental effect on the UK-India relationship, and it will create a bad image for the UK in India, and also uproar elsewhere in the world.’
However, tour operators were dismayed at the introduction of any type of deposit system and complained they had not been consulted.
‘This doesn’t exactly garland the welcome message we are extending to India and other countries,’ said Tom Jenkins, chief executive of the European Tour Operators Association. ‘This really seems disproportionate to the threat. It feels the inbound market is being sacrificed to a domestic political agenda.’
The House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday summoned officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to brief lawmakers on the visa bond policy and efforts being made to ensure its reversal.
At the interaction between the lawmakers and the ministry officials, led by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Matin Uhumoibhi, the committee urged the ministry to be proactive in resolving the controversy over the visa bond policy.
The committee Chairman, Hon. Nnenna Elendu Ukeje, said after the meeting that Uhumoibhi had told the lawmakers that the ministry had in the wake of the policy summoned Pocock to demand explanations, adding that the ambassador said it was still a policy under consideration.
Meanwhile, the House Committee on Diaspora Affairs has condemned the murder of Mr. Godswill Udechukwu in a prison in Dublin, Ireland last year.
Kennedy Monye, a relative of the deceased, narrated how he (Godswill) was stabbed several times by inmates and subsequently rushed to the Saint James hospital in Dublin where he died.
He urged the Irish government to bring the perpetrators of this heinous act to book.
Udechukwu was sentenced to life imprisonment in July 2006 over the murder of his wife, Natasha. He was murdered in prison on April 6, 2013.
Chairperson, House Committee on Diaspora, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, condemned the murder of the Nigerian and urged the Irish government to investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to book.
‘We will not rush into judgment on this matter because this is not the first time such an issue has been brought to our notice. But as a people, we cannot sit and watch people being killed without seeking justice; we will see how the case can be re-visited,’ she said.