Special to the tribune
Meant for visitors from ‘high-risk’ India, Pakistan
Shyam Bhatia in London
The British Government has decided to abandon a controversial plan requiring visitors from India and some other countries to pay a £3,000 (Rs 2.9 lakh) bond before obtaining a visa to enter the UK.
The pilot project targeting visitors from India, Pakistan, Nigeria and other Commonwealth countries, due to be introduced later this month, would have demanded a returnable cash surety or bond as a pre-requisite for a visa.
The principle behind the scheme was to deter visitors from staying on in the UK after the expiry of their short-term visas.
This is the second time in recent memory that such a scheme has been proposed and then dropped.
Back in 2000, a similar scheme was under consideration by the then Labour government, but that too was dropped after angry reactions from anti-racist and immigration support groups.
At the time, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes commented, "The idea of bonds as a surety for visitors from some countries was clearly discriminatory.
"When will the government learn that what we need are sensible policies, not tough-sounding but half-baked ideas?"
Since then, the Liberal Democrats have become part of the government as coalition partners with the Conservative party. The same unease with the idea of visitor bonds has prevailed ever since it was first announced earlier this year by the Conservative Home Affairs Minister Theresa May who explained it would apply to visitors from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana.
The Liberal Democrats first supported the idea, then said they were against it, prompting the head of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz to comment, "The immigration bonds policy is in tatters. The indecision on this issue is extraordinary. It was first supported by the Lib Dems, then dropped, then supported again. The President of Ghana wrote to me and said that this policy would mean that in effect illegal immigrants would have paid for the privilege of staying.
“When this story first emerged, I warned that this policy was unworkable, discriminatory and impracticable. This confusion is very unhelpful. There is a high level of anxiety and uncertainty in India and other countries about the government's future plans for this issue. Despite an attempt to drop this policy, the damage has already been done.”
Commenting on the latest policy reversal, Vaz said, "The Home Secretary is right in shelving the bond proposals.
At the time she announced the pilot, I warned her that bonds would not work. "During this process, the Home Office has managed to upset a number of foreign governments and confuse millions of potential visitors.
"This is not the way to fashion a strong and effective immigration policy.” Labour’s shadow immigration minister David Hanson added, “It seems David Cameron's government can't get anything right when it comes to dealing with illegal immigration. Chasing headlines followed by confusion and U-turn is no way to manage an effective and robust immigration policy that works for all concerned.”
A spokesman for the Home Office commented, “The government has been considering whether we pilot a bond scheme that would deter people from overstaying the visa. We have decided not to proceed.”
Cheer among Punjab travellers
Jalandhar, November 4
Indian travel agents, largely from Punjab, have been opposing the move calling it "ill-conceived" that could harm the tourist outflow to the UK at a time when Europe was encouraging tourist inflow to boost economy.
Union Minister of State Anand Sharma had also taken up the matter with the UK Government saying the proposed Bill could affect a large number of NRI families living in the UK. "How could a common man afford to deposit Rs 2.5 lakh as security? The move, if implemented, would have not only impacted the ties with the UK, but also dented its image. It was not a viable move even if it was aimed at stopping inflow of unscrupulous people," said Dharampal Sondhi, former president of the Punjab Travel Agents' Association and the Travel Agents' Association of India.
Jasbir Singh Gill, president of the NRI Sabha, Punjab, said the decision to withdraw the proposed security fee was a major relief for the people of Punjab, particularly those hailing from the Doaba region.
"More than 80 per cent of the NRIs are settled in the UK and they have thousands of relatives or family members back here. The proposed law had made all of them apprehensive about their visit to the UK on occasions such as marriage.
"If five members of a family were to visit the UK under the new policy, they would need to deposit at least Rs 15 lakh as security," said Gill.
Dharampal Sondhi and Jasbir Gill said the withdrawal would boost travel trade.
"The travel trade would have been affected had the law been passed. It would have been a disaster for the UK," said Gill.