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UK visa bond for Indians

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By AMIT ROY
  • Published 24.06.13
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London, June 23: Indian and Pakistani visitors to Britain who are deemed “high risk” will have to pay a £3,000 cash bond before being issued a visa, with the warning that they will lose the money if they overstay.

A would-be visitor will be declared “high risk” if thought to be so by a visa official. He or she can then be refused a visa or asked to pay the Rs 2.75-lakh bond.

There were fears in London tonight that New Delhi will not stand idly by but will retaliate.

The policy, which covers seven “high-risk” Asian and African countries, is being introduced at a time the troubled UK economy is being propped up by high investment from India plus cash-rich Indian tourists.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the select committee on home affairs, called the policy “bonkers” while another Labour MP, Virendra Sharma, dubbed it “reactionary” and “a money-making exercise”.

When it comes to overstaying and illegal immigration, Indians are indeed among the worst culprits. But to keep matters in perspective, Britain cannot do anything to bar migrants from East European countries who are members of the European Union, so it is taking the soft option by targeting Indians.

The problem for Prime Minister David Cameron is that without the support of Indian-origin voters in some 20 marginal constituencies, he will be a doomed man at the 2015 general election.

But home secretary Theresa May, who clearly hopes to replace Cameron as Tory leader after the next election, wants to be seen as tough on immigration.

She therefore hopes the visa bond will be seen as a suitable response to the challenge posed by the Right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party with its pledge to pull Britain out of the European Union and drastically cut the number of immigrants.

The government seemed to be speaking with a forked tongue with Cameron offering a liberal visa regime for Indians — same-day visas for businessmen and “no cap, no limit” for students. He knows that the number of Indian students at British universities plummeted by 25 per cent two years ago.

In discussions in London last week, Indian foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai had taken up the issue of visas though it is not clear whether the bond came up in the talks.

Vaz said the bond scheme “flies in the face of the good work being done by David Cameron to strengthen relations between India and Britain. If India now retaliates, we will have a sort of ‘arms race’ on visas”.

“This puts too much power in the hands of visa officials,” he said. “It also sends the wrong message to people in India. The scheme was discussed twice before and rejected.”

May said the bond, which applies to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana as well, was a “pilot” scheme that, if successful, would be applied “on an intelligence-led basis on any visa route and any country”.