LAGOS —The proposed new United Kingdom visa policy requesting visitors from Nigeria and five other countries to deposit a 3,000 pounds bond before entering the UK will commence in November, despite British Prime Minister, David Cameron’s assurance that he would not sanction the controversial policy.

The policy is to restrict some visitors from India, Nigeria, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. They will have to pay the refundable cash in return for visitor visas that allow them to stay in the UK for up to six months.

At the height of the controversy, Mr David Cameron had assured that he would not sanction the policy.
Dancers perform with the British national flag in front of the Buckingham Palace in London as the Olympic Flame is to arrive on July 26, 2012 for a torch relay on the eve of the 2012 London Olympic Games opening ceremony. AFP PHOTO

Dancers perform with the Briti. AFP PHOTO

But last weekend, Financial Times said: “Britain is pressing ahead with its trial of a scheme to make visitors from six countries pay a £3,000 bond, despite an international backlash and complaints from businesses. The government said it would begin a trial of the scheme in November to impose visa restrictions on six Commonwealth nations, including India and Nigeria, even though David Cameron poured cold water on the scheme in June after it provoked uproar in Delhi.”

Targets “high risk” applicants

The British government has reportedly decided to go ahead with it though the Home Office insisted that it was meant to target only “high-risk” applicants.

An official told the media that the scheme would be “highly selective,” targeting only “suspicious” applicants.

Under a “pilot” scheme to be introduced in November, first-time visitors from six non-white Commonwealth countries, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, will be required to deposit a cash bond of £3,000 for a British visa. According to the government, these six countries pose the “most significant risk of abuse” of visas by their citizens.

“In the long run, we are interested in a system of bonds that deters overstaying and recovers costs if a foreign national has used our public services,” the Home Office said.

The move comes barely weeks after Mr. Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg were reported to have refused to clear the scheme in its present form, fearing that the backlash in India and Nigeria threatened to damage bilateral relations at a time Britain is desperately trying to woo Indian investors and tourists.

Cameron was reported as saying that he would “not sanction” any policy that was likely to undermine his push for investment.

The Financial Times said that the u-turn had provoked anger in Britain’s business circles, who described the plan as an “insulting deterrent” to wealthy tourists from countries like India and Nigeria.

“They are urging the government to drop the pilot, saying the restrictions will damage their business if Commonwealth tourists, particularly Nigerians, now the sixth biggest spenders on luxury goods in Britain, are put off,” it said.

How FG reacted

When the story of the visa bond broke last month, the Federal Government in its reaction described it as discriminatory and capable of undermining the spirit of the Commonwealth. The Jonathan administration therefore asked the British Government to reconsider the proposed policy saying it has a responsibility to take appropriate measures to protect the interest of Nigerians who might be affected by the proposed policy if finally introduced.

Following public outcry against the visa policy, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru summoned the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Dr Andrew Pocok to express Nigeria’s displeasure over the proposed visa policy.

At the end of the closed-door meeting, which lasted several hours in the ministry, the British envoy clarified that the policy had not reached the stage of implementation.

Policy’ll negate joint commitment

A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, signed by its spokesman, Ogbole Ode said: “The minister recalled with nostalgia, the times when nationals of the Commonwealth travelled freely to the UK and to other member states. This, no doubt, deepened the strong historical bonds among the peoples of the various countries who were all regarded at that time as Commonwealth citizens. He further recalled that this time-honoured practice was unilaterally jettisoned by the UK government in 1986, thereby weakening the bonds of the Commonwealth family.

“The minister further noted that the proposed policy would definitely negate the joint commitment by Prime Minister David Cameron and President Goodluck Jonathan to double the volume of bilateral trade between the two countries by 2014, just as it would hinder people-to-people contact, which is one of the cardinal principles of the Commonwealth.

“Ambassador Ashiru said the decision of the UK Government is coming at a time the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers have unanimously recommended for adoption at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, CHOGM, holding in Colombo, Sri Lanka in November, a proposal to remove visa requirements for holders of official and diplomatic passports from member states.

“The minister, therefore, called on the UK Government to reconsider the proposed policy, which is incompatible with the strong and cordial relations built over the years between the UK and Nigeria.”

“He, however, informed the British High Commissioner that the Federal Government has a responsibility to take appropriate measures to protect the interest of Nigerians who may be affected by the proposed policy, if finally introduced.”

No decision yet —British High Commissioner

Clarifying the visa policy, the British High Commissioner in a statement signed by Head of Press and Public Affairs Section, Rob Fitzpatrick, explained the position of his government.

According to him, “the details of the pilot scheme are still being worked out. No final decision has been made. If the pilot were to go ahead in Nigeria it would affect only a very small number of the highest risk visitors. The vast majority would not be required to pay for a bond. Those paying bonds would receive the bond back, if they abided by the terms of their visa.

“Let me put this in perspective. Over 180,000 Nigerians apply to visit the UK each year. About 70 per cent or around 125,000 of those applicants are successful. Travel between our two countries is a key part of our strong cultural and business relationships. Financial bonds would be focused on only a tiny minority of potential abusers. It would not be a ‘£3,000 visa charge’ as some media reporting has alleged.

“As soon as more details of the policy have been decided, we will inform the Nigerian government and public fully and officially.”