Visa bonds a blow to ‘special relationship’ with India

Cameron should think carefully before he progresses with this scheme, which has been greeted with anger and disbelief by the very people the PM has tried to woo

Share
Related Topics

There’s been an angry backlash to plans announced by the British government to introduce £3,000 bonds for visitors from six countries which are deemed to be “high-risk”.

And rightly so. The plan is offensive, counter-productive and unlikely to achieve its aim. The Government says it is still working out the details of a pilot scheme to be introduced but they should simply bury the idea and move on.

In the summer of 2010, on what was his first major foreign trip, David Cameron came to India with a six-strong team of ministers looking to boost bilateral trade and hoping for Indian investment in the UK. Britain and India, he has repeatedly said, are a natural fit to work together.

Cameron returned in February with a delegation of more than 100 British business representatives and educationalists, again calling for a special partnership and insisting to his rather unimpressed hosts that the “future of our two countries should be inextricably linked”.

It remains unclear how much business was actually done on the trip, but it did result in a commitment from the UK to providing same day business visas for Indians (which had been long demanded) and a promise that access for students would continue and even increase.

All of which made last week’s announcement by the government that India was to be included along with Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ghana and Sri Lanka as countries whose citizens could be asked to pay a £3,000 cash bond, all the more remarkable and clumsy.

All week, Indian friends and acquaintances have been asking me: “What sort of message is he trying to send?” Or, in the (paraphrased) words of one forthright Indian television news anchor, it seems that Britain wants India’s money “but it doesn’t want the Indians”. India’s commerce minister Anand Sharma lodged a complaint when he met Vince Cable in London.

Firstly, what the scheme is not: it is not a plan to make everyone from these six countries pay a bond. Rather, I am told by a British official, the only "high risk" citizens from these six countries will be asked to pay.

The official said that in 2012, 88 per cent of the total 370,000 Indians who applied for a UK visa received one. (Of this total figure, the number for business visas was even higher, closer to 97 per cent, while student visas were a little lower, around 80 per cent.) The official said they did not expect this to change.

But as with so much else, the small print of the details can get lost if the larger “optics” are wrong. Indians I spoke to said they felt insulted by the message the UK appeared to be giving. They especially did not like being placed in the same category as Pakistanis, their historic foe, and Nigerians, towards whom a number of Indians perhaps hold racist attitudes.

(Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ghana and Sri Lanka have also condemned the scheme.)

Yet perhaps the point that was made most often was that nobody believes the bond scheme will work. Rather, “high-risk” individuals will simply factor in the additional £3,000 and see the bond as an open invitation from Theresa May, the home secretary. “Do you think that’s going to put them off?” said one friend. “That’s like giving people a green light.”

The coalition government’s Liberal partners have insisted that the proposed pilot scheme is just that, and that nothing has been fixed in stone. It is also very hard to determine to what extent the government is acting to deal with a genuine problem and to what extent the announcement is been driven by domestic politics and the threat it feels from parties such as UKIP.

I say, do away the bond, but if the government is adamant about having it, here’s one possible solution to defusing the row – scrap the six high-risk country category and extend the scheme to all nations. That is, if a visitor to the UK is deemed to be high risk, than ask for a bond, regardless of whether they are from Canada, the US, Russia or indeed India or Nigeria. That way, everyone is treated the same and no-one is put in a special category

Whether it will deal with over-stay is unclear. But perhaps it would at least stop insulting hundreds of millions of people with whom you claim to be trying build a special relationship.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album