£3,000 visa bond: Nigeria may introduce similar policy - Ashiru tells UK envoy

By The Citizen

Minister of Foreign Affairs Olugbenga Ashiru yesterday told the United Kingdom High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Andrew Pocock, that Nigeria might be forced to take appropriate measures to protect the interest of Nigerians if the UK does not reconsider the proposed visa policy.

According to the minister the 'Federal Government of Nigeria has a responsibility to take appropriate measures to protect the interest of Nigerians who may be affected by the proposed policy, if finally introduced.'

He said the UK policy would undermine the spirit of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Besides, he claimed that the policy will hinder Nigeria and the UK plans to double the volume of bilateral trade.

Ashiru met with the High Commissioner, who said the policy, if eventually implemented, would affect a small number of honest risk visitors in Abuja.

A statement on what transpired by the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ogbole Amedu Ode, reads: 'The Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga A. Ashiru, MFR, summoned the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Andrew Pocock, to his office on Tuesday, 25th June 2013, over the proposal by the UK Government to impose a £3,000 'cash bond' on first-time visa applicants from Nigeria, and other selected countries of the Commonwealth, which are regarded as 'High Risk' countries.

'At the meeting, which was held at the Tafawa Balewa House, the Honourable Minister expressed the strong displeasure of the government and people of Nigeria over the policy, which he described as not only discriminatory but also capable of undermining the spirit of the Commonwealth family.

'The Honourable 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 between 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 1985, thereby weakening the bonds of the Commonwealth family.

'The Honourable Minister further opined 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 contacts, which is one of the cardinal principles of the Commonwealth.

'Ambassador Ashiru pointed out that the decision of the UK Government is coming at the 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 2013, a proposal to remove visa requirements for holders of Official and Diplomatic Passports from member states.

'The Honourable 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.

The Sunday Times reported that from November, a pilot scheme would target visitors from Nigeria, Bangladesh, Sri-Lanka, Ghana, Pakistan and India. Visitors aged 18 and over, according to the new planned policy, which is aimed at cutting immigration and abuses of the system, would be forced to hand over £3,000 from November for a six month visit visa.

A statement by Dr Pocock after the meeting with Amb. Ashiru said:

' The British Government has announced that it intends to undertake a very small scale trial of the use of financial bonds as a way of tackling abuse in the immigration system (which occurs when some people overstay their visa terms).

'The details of a 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 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% or around 125,000, of those applicants are successful. Travel between our two countries is a key part of our strong cultural and business relationship. Financial bonds would be focussed on only a tiny minority of potential abusers. It would NOT be a '£3000 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, in the spirit of our long standing friendship, and our wish to help bona fide Nigerian visitors to work, study or do business in the United Kingdom.'