London: Britain’s Home Office confirmed on Monday it will demand a £3,000 (Dh16,935) refundable bond for visas for “high-risk” visitors from six former colonies in Africa and Asia — a pilot scheme that has brought warnings at home and abroad that it will damage trade.
Britain said in a statement on Monday that it will go ahead with the pilot scheme despite the outrage, charges of discrimination and warnings of retaliation.
The statement sent by email did not say when the pilot would start. But it said it could apply the scheme in the future for all visas and any country.
“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,” it said.
For now, the targeted countries are Nigeria, Ghana, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Government data shows citizens of those countries applied for more than half a million visa applications last year.
Nigeria’s government made a formal demand last month that Britain renounce the proposal as it was being discussed. Foreign Affairs Minister Olugbenga Ashiru called in the British high commissioner to express “the strong displeasure of the government and people of Nigeria” over the “discriminatory” policy.
Ashiru warned the move would “definitely negate” the two country’s commitment to double trade by 2014. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and a huge market with its more than 160 million people. British government figures indicate 101,000 Nigerians were issued visas in 2012.
There were protests in India last month when British Prime Minister David Cameron visited, causing him to declare that a final decision had not been taken on the policy.
The Home Office said it hopes the bond system deters overstaying of visas and recovers costs of foreign nationals using public services like hospitals and schools.
Immigration was a key issue in Cameron’s election campaign for his Conservative Party. Cameron has pledged to cut net immigration from 252,000 a year in 2010 to 100,000 a year by 2015.
One move that has come under heavy criticism recently has been a government campaign targeting people who overstay their visas. Billboards were put on two vans for a week in six of London’s boroughs. Their message said: “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest.” Leaflets with the same message will be distributed for a month.
The Home Office statement said the visa bond “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.”