UK yet to finalise controversial visa bond scheme

Last Updated: Sunday, July 28, 2013 - 15:57

London: Britain`s controversial 3,000 pounds visa bond scheme proposed for visitors from certain "high risk" countries, including India, could take weeks to finalise after a high-level meeting here last week, officials said on Sunday.

The UK Home Office has proposed a pilot scheme to tackle visa dodgers by issuing the hefty refundable financial bonds to "tightly targeted" tourists.

The six countries initially shortlisted for the pilot included India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana.

"The details of this scheme are still being worked out and the list of countries has not been finalised yet. The meeting in London addressed the visa bond and officials from the Indian side made their stand very clear.

"All these concerns will be taken on board before the details are worked out," a spokesperson for the British High Commission in New Delhi said.

The scheme, due to begin with tourist visas this November and expected to run for a year before being extended to other visa types, is part of a series of measures being used by the Conservative-led British government to cut illegal immigration into the country.

However, the idea of demanding such bonds from Indian visitors, who bring in huge financial benefits to the British economy, had triggered widespread outrage among ministerial circles in Delhi when it was announced last month.

Indian minister for commerce and industry Anand Sharma had raised his concerns with his counterpart, UK business minister Vince Cable, during a visit to London at the time and was assured that no such decision had received British government approval.

"We are seriously concerned. How can a country that is a strategic partner be categorised as a high-risk country, in the bracket with some of the others. If that were to be true, that would be taken as an affront...," Sharma had said.

"Any such scheme will be designed in a way that does not cut across the UK`s wish to be open for business, students and tourists," the UK government had clarified soon after.

British officials have been holding discussions with their Indian counterparts on the matter, with the meeting on July 25 here the most recent one to look into the issue. It is now expected to take a few weeks before further details on the scheme are released.

Financial Times newspaper yesterday reported that India`s anger at the proposals spurred David Cameron into action, with the British prime minister insisting he would not sanction a policy that undermined efforts to boost trade links with India.

His aides said Cameron "had not signed off" details, and his office appeared to put the scheme into the deep freeze.

Indian industry bodies such as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) had also voiced uproar on such visa bonds, given the UK`s enhanced business relationship with India.
Nigeria had gone as far as to term such a proposal as racial discrimination. The Nigerian Ambassador to Britain had written to British Indian MP and chair of the parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, saying his country is "not favourably disposed to the proposal as it will affect a good number of Nigerians visiting the UK, even in spite of assurances to the contrary".
"We view it as discriminatory and targeted at only non-white members of the Commonwealth," ambassador Dalhatu Sarki Tafida wrote.

PTI



First Published: Sunday, July 28, 2013 - 15:57

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