UK Visa bond: Britain denies NOV date as Nigeria threatens retaliation

By The Rainbow

The plan by the British government to charge a refundable deposit for visas is facing huge criticisms even before a date has been set for a trial run of the scheme in six former colonies.

Reactions both without and within the country forced the Home Office to issue a denial that a final decision had been made to push ahead with the bond scheme, under which visitors from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Kenya will reportedly have to pay a deposit £3,000 for a visa.

Reports suggest the government will pilot the scheme in November and a Home Office official on Monday characterised the initiative as the “next step in making sure our immigration system is more selective”.

The scheme has drawn criticism from the countries targeted for the pilot phase as well as politicians and businessmen in Britian.

The official suggested it was still in the process of being finalised, but could be applied to more countries if it was successful.

“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.”

The bonds would essentially act as a financial guarantee that visitors abide by the terms of their visa or use British public resources.

But the money involved would seem to limit all but the very wealthiest of visitors and the scheme has been deeply controversial in the countries linked to it.

Nigeria has already made a formal demand that the scheme be scrapped, while protests in India during the visit of David Cameron, the British prime minister, in June elicited a British government statement that no final decision had been made.

Olugbenga Ashiru, the Nigerian foreign affairs minister, summoned the British high commissioner in June to express the “strong displeasure” of the Nigerian government over the “discriminatory” policy.

Ashiru on Tuesday issued a statement  insisting on retaliatory action against British citizens if their government went ahead with its plan to impose a £3, 000 visa bond on visitors from Nigeria and five other Commonwealth countries.

The minister expressed displeasure that Downing Street, which had already set November as the discriminatory policy's commencement time, had not deemed it neccessary to formally communicate to it on the next step of action.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, had at a meeting with the British High Commissioner, Andrew Pocock, conveyed the desire of Nigeria to retaliate the policy.

The spokesperson for the ministry , Ogbole Ode, said in the  statement he issued on behalf of the minister in in Abuja, that the British authorities were already aware of the Federal Government's position on the matter.

The statement reads, 'Media reports in Nigeria on Monday, July 29, 2013, indicated that the United Kingdom Government will begin to implement from November, 2013, the £3,000 cash bond for first-time visa applicants from Nigeria, and five other Commonwealth countries. The other countries are India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. These media reports themselves were quoting the Financial Times of London.

'The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to receive any official communication on the final decision of the UK government on this matter. The Federal Government has already conveyed its objection to the bond payment to the UK government. This was done when the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Ashiru, summoned the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Andrew Pocock, to the Tafawa Balewa House, on June 25, 2013.

'If and when a communication to that effect is received, the Federal Government will take appropriate steps to reflect its national interest. '

When contacted, the spokesman for the British High Commission in Abuja, Rob Fitzpatrick, said, 'No final decision has been made' on the controversial policy.

He said, 'As British Prime Minister David Cameron has said, we want the brightest and the best to help create the jobs and growth that will enable Britain to compete in the global race. So, for example, if you are an overseas businessman seeking to invest and trade with world class businesses, one of the thousands of legitimate students keen to study at our first-class universities or a tourist visiting our world class attractions, be in no doubt: Britain is open for business.'

On Monday the British government defended a campaign advising illegal immigrants to 'go home or face arrest.'

Two trucks, each displaying a large poster with a number for migrants to send text messages if they desired to return to their countries , were seen in six London boroughs for a week.

It was learnt that posters, leaflets and advertisements in newspapers would run for a month to further promote the campaign, a pilot scheme by the interior ministry.

Nigeria is an increasingly important trading partner to Britain. Bilateral trade grew nearly five-fold from US$2.35 billion (Dh8.63bn) in 2010 to $11.57bn last year.

In Britain, retailers have also voiced their disquiet over a plan that might discourage people from visiting the country.

Michael Ward, the managing director of luxury store Harrods, told the Financial Times that the measure was “embarrassing”.

“There seems to be a deeply frustrating attitude in Westminster that they should do whatever they can to actively prevent people coming to the UK,” he said.

The scheme was also criticised from within the governing coalition with Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat business secretary, saying it sent out the “wrong message”.

“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,” Mr Cable said yesterday.

Debate about the scheme comes at a time of increasing focus on immigration in Britain. The success in local elections last year of the United Kingdom Independence Party, UKIP, and its Eurosceptic, hard-on-immigration platform, helped push the issue to the forefront of the public agenda.

Limiting immigration from non-EU countries was also a key plank of Mr Cameron’s Conservative Party campaign even during the 2010 general elections.

The British government has since pledged to cut net immigration – the difference between immigration and emigration (which in the year to June 2012 was 162,000) – to under 100,000 for non-EU countries by 2015 and the country’s next general election.

The government’s increasingly bullish tone on immigration has led to criticism at home.

Even UKIP protested against a government initiative launched this week targeting immigrants who have overstayed their visas or entered the country illegally, in which two lorries drive around London with billboards proclaiming: “In the country illegally? Go home or face arrest.”

The UKIP leader Nigel Farrage called it a “nasty, Big Brother” campaign, while Mr Cable, in his second intervention over government policy on immigration in two days, called it “stupid and offensive”.