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

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn