UK Visa Bond Scheme not signed off amidst severe backlash

Theresa May’s controversial visa bond scheme, which would require visitors from six identified “high risk countries” to pay a £3,000 cash bond to prevent overstaying, appears to be headed back to the drawing board.

According to reports, both Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have refused to sign off on details of the pilot scheme, which is scheduled to run from November this year and targets visitors from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana.

Scheme faces severe criticism

All six countries have condemned the scheme, calling it unfair, unacceptable and discriminatory.

Nigeria has threatened to impose similar barriers to UK visitors entering Nigeria, should the proposed scheme be enforced.

Economy and Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, told the Financial Times that the proposals were in contradiction to the spirit of agreements aimed at boosting trade and investment between the two countries.

“Frankly we are baffled by the whole thing,” she said. “This is a very blunt instrument. It sends all the wrong signals about Britain’s openness for trade and tourism.”

Okonjo-Iweala added that she was sure every country on the UK Government’s high risk list had the “principles of reciprocity” in mind.

Olugbenga Ashiru, Nigeria’s foreign minister, was also quoted as saying: “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.”

The proposal has also been slammed by Indian business, which has termed the scheme “discriminatory and unfortunate”, particularly in light of the fact that David Cameron has been working very hard to boost bilateral trade and Indian investment in the UK since 2010. During his visit to India in February, Cameron promised a more relaxed visa regime between both countries for businessmen.

Ghana is the latest country to add its voice to the furore, with some Members of Parliament in Ghana reportedly “livid” over the new policy. MP for Tarkwa Nsuaem, Eugenia Kusi, has said that should the scheme go ahead as planned, UK residents “must be treated in the same way when they visited Ghana”.

Nothing decided yet

But the UK government says the backlash is premature, as nothing has been set in stone and the exact details are still to be discussed.

“The policy has not yet been signed off,” said a Liberal Democrat source. “We are in favour of the principle but the exact details of how it is to be piloted, including the size of the bond, is still being discussed in government.

South Africa considers reciprocal visa requirements

Meanwhile, frustrated by Britain’s apparent reluctance to lift its visa requirements for South Africans, the South African government is seriously considering imposing similar restrictions on UK visitors to South Africa.

Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor told MPs last week that the South African government was promised that there would be a focus on lifting certain requirements, but that there has been “no movement”.

“I think the time has come for us to consider reciprocity”, Pandor was quoted as saying. This comes against the backdrop of the UK government’s decision to halt development aid to South Africa worth £19m from 2015.