'UK visa bond proposal not considered by British govt'
London/New Delhi: India Tuesday said it has been conveyed by the UK that the proposal to collect hefty visa cash bonds from Indians has not been considered by the British government.
This was conveyed to Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma by Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills during a meeting in London.
According to an official release in New Delhi, "Cable informed the Indian minister that he had discussed the issue with the British Home Secretary who had assured that there was proposal mooted for a pilot which has not been considered by the British government".
This came after Sharma expressed serious concerns during his meetings with Cable as well as Oliver Letwin, Minister for Government policy in Cabinet office over the news reports referring to a proposal to categorise India as high risk country entailing cash bonds from visa applicants.
Sharma also suggested that given the strategic India-UK partnership a formal clarification to this effect would be in order to dispel any apprehension and avoid confusion.
According to a 'Sunday Times' report, the British government is planning to pilot a scheme from November targeted at visitors from at least six countries, including India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Ghana.
Tourists aged 18 and over would be forced to hand over 3,000 pounds for a six-month visit visa, which they will forfeit if they overstay in Britain.
Meanwhile, the Indian High Commission has been asked to seek more official details on the proposed scheme to assess its implications.
"The ministry has asked our mission in London to find out official details on reports about a possible new scheme that the UK is trying to introduce that may have implications on Indians visiting that country," spokesperson in the External Affairs Ministry Syed Akbaruddin said here.
Expressing concerns over the UK's proposal, industry body Ficci in a statement said "it would be a dampener to an otherwise flourishing relationship between India and the UK".
The External Affairs Ministry spokesperson also said once the ministry receives the details, it will assess the information and its implications.
He also said the Indo-UK consular dialogue was the right forum to take it up. The dialogue is scheduled to take place next month in London.
UK's senior politicians across party lines and Indian industry have called the scheme as "unfair and discriminatory".
Ficci said that a high risk status for visas for Indian visitors to the UK is 180 degrees opposite to Prime Minister David Cameron's emphasis on a special relationship with India.
"If true, this move will adversely impact students, tourists and business alike," Ficci President Naina Lal Kidwai said in a statement.
The official release said India and the UK also discussed steps for early conclusion of India-EU free trade agreement. India and the EU are negotiating Broad based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) since June 2007.
"The Indian Minister emphasised the need for pragmatism in harvesting the agreements made till now on various issues and realising the benefits of adopting incremental approach for conclusion of the agreement," it said.
Differences between the two sides on the level of opening of the market came in the way of the conclusion of the pact.
"He explained that the Indian offer is robust, balanced and fair and that the BTIA would be the most ambitious trade deal for both India and EU," it added.
Sharma also reviewed progress on feasibility study of Bengaluru Mumbai Economic Corridor (BMEC), as envisaged in the joint statement of India-UK summit meeting in February, and exchanged the Terms of Reference of study.
"Both sides agreed to establish Joint working group on the BMEC project for carrying out the co-financed feasibility study and to explore the modalities technology and equity participation by UK," it said.
The Minister also sought investments from the UK in the National Investment and Manufacturing Zones (NIMZs).
The UK side has expressed interest in studying the financial structures of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project and the governance structures for the NIMZs.
Further, Sharma emphasised that both the sides should review the progress of work of joint working groups under Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO).
The bilateral JETCO meeting is expected during the second half of this year.
Besides, Sharma addressed a gathering of 200 British and Indian CEOs in Belfast and explained the steps taken by India to further improve the investment attractiveness.
The bilateral trade between the two countries stood at USD 15.16 billion in 2012-13 compared to USD 16.25 billion in the previous fiscal. On the other hand, India has received FDI worth USD 17.54 billion from Britain during April 2000 and March 2013.