Visa bonds issue divides UK coalition

Britain`s plan to introduce a controversial scheme of demanding a whopping 3,000 pounds visa bond from visitors from certain countries, including India.

London: Britain`s plan to introduce a controversial scheme of demanding a whopping 3,000 pounds visa bond from visitors from certain countries, including India, has divided the country`s coalition government, with a senior minister terming the move as "very disappointing".

Business Secretary Vince Cable, a member of coalition partner Liberal Democrats, admitted the proposed scheme which has already triggered worldwide outrage would send out the "wrong message".

"It is very disappointing and it has not been agreed across the coalition and it seems to send the wrong message that Britain is closed for business," Cable told `The Financial Times`.

"The operation for the visa scheme, together with the bonds on these Commonwealth countries is simply having the effect of driving bona fide visitors who want to spend and to do business in the UK to France and Germany," he added.

Cable, known for his business-friendly stance, had also assured his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma during a visit here last month that such a scheme had not been given the go-ahead.

The Conservative-led government has been keen to cut immigration figures into the country and crack down on visa over-stayers.

Coalition partners Lib Dems had been in favour of a visa bond scheme as an extra route for people who have been rejected for visas. "It was never meant to apply to everyone," Cable explained.

The Home Office had been forced to re-look at its proposed pilot scheme to demand these hefty bonds with visitor visa applications from certain "high risk" countries, which are believed to include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana.

However, it emerged yesterday that the scheme is to go ahead despite widespread opposition for a 12-month pilot starting this November.

But the Home Office, which has claimed the pilot will be "tightly targeted`, remains deliberately vague on the actual list of countries where the scheme will be applied.

"We have not released or confirmed any countries. It is just media speculation. Our stand remains that we are 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," a Home Office spokesperson said here today.

Indian industry circles, which had registered their protest when the scheme was initially announced, reiterated their opposition to the plans.

"This scheme is not in accordance to the spirit of `special relationship` that India shares with the UK. It will shun the Indian tourist from visiting UK and also divert many others to more tourism friendly European countries," the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) said in a statement.

"CII strongly urges the UK government to take a relook and consider removing India from this pilot scheme," it added.