London: Senior politicians across party lines and Indian industry Monday called "unfair and discriminatory" the UK government's plans to introduce a controversial new visa bond scheme that would force visitors from countries posing "high risk" to pay 3,000 pounds for a six-month visa.
The UK Home Office has announced a pilot scheme under which most visitors from six high-risk Afro-Asian countries, including India, Pakistan and Nigeria, will be required to furnish a 3,000 pounds bond for a six-month visit visa, which they will forfeit if they overstay in Britain.
Senior British Indian MP Keith Vaz pointed to a "number of holes" in the test scheme, which is set to run for 12 months starting this November.
"The Home Secretary's (Theresa May) plans for bonds for visitors from certain countries are unfair and discriminatory.
"This flies in the face of the Prime Minister's intention to attract the brightest and best to Britain and sends out the wrong message to the countries concerned.
"I am worried that the plans could potentially alienate already settled communities in the UK," Vaz said, adding that he would question the home secretary on the issue when she appears before the parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee, which he chairs.
Lord Navnit Dholakia, deputy leader of the Liberal Democracts - the coalition partner of the UK's Conservative-led government, also raised the issue in the House of Lords.
"How do we ensure that there is no bias in the way decisions are taken," he questioned.
India's leading industry body, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), added its strong opposition to the proposed scheme, which is set to be made permanent following the 12-month trial.
"The suggested changes are not only discriminatory they are also against the 'special relationship' publicised by the UK government.
"We share the UK's concern on illegal immigration but surely there are other more effective and non-discriminatory ways to put a check on it," the CII said in a statement here.
"CII strongly feels that such blanket rules for visas will negatively affect not only businesses, especially small businesses, it will also further bring down the number of students going to UK for higher studies and affect the tourism inflow from India to the UK.
"This will also not help the cause of early conclusion of EU-India FTA (free trade agreement), for which both the parties are committed," it added.
Anwar Hasan, the London-based director of Tata Limited and co-chair of CII's India Business Forum UK, added: "We urge the British government to act with great caution, and to ensure that no new measures affect the exchanges between our countries, particularly business and education, which are so strongly in our mutual interest.
"As in every other area of public policy, business needs fair rules of the game implemented with consistency."
To bring the scheme into force, the home secretary will lay a Commencement Order before British Parliament to activate the power in the Immigration and Nationality Act 1999.
"This is the next step in making sure our immigration system is more selective, bringing down net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands while still welcoming the brightest and the best to Britain," she said in reference to the new scheme, which also covers nationals from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Ghana.
"In the long run we're interested in a system of bonds that deters overstaying and recovers costs if a foreign national has used our public services.
We're planning a pilot that focuses on overstayers and examines a couple of different ways of applying bonds.
The pilot will apply to visitor visas, but if the scheme is successful we'd like to be able to apply it on an intelligence-led basis on any visa route and any country," she added.
The proposed bond payment will be returned if the visitor returns home after their visit visa has expired, and within the time period specified by their visa.
The Home Office has also highlighted the fact that Australia and New Zealand have similar schemes where financial bonds are applied to visitors in order to mitigate the risk of them overstaying their visa.
"We will retain some flexibility to raise or lower the fee depending on how the pilot works," the statement said.
First Published: Monday, June 24, 2013, 23:55