The British government has aborted plans to impose a £3,000 (N766,000) bond on first time visitors from Nigeria and five other countries, Home Office Secretary, Theresa May said.“[We] have been considering whether to pilot a bond scheme that would deter people from overstaying the visa and have decided not to proceed” she was quoted by AFP as saying.
In June, the Sunday Times of London had quoted Theresa May as saying that the UK government would place a visa bond on six “high risk” countries, namely Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, to prevent people from overstaying in the U.K when their visas expire.
In the plan, visitors would have paid a £3,000 cash bond before arrival in the UK – and forfeit it if they failed to make the return trip.
Media reports said the scheme was expected to take effect in November 2013 and would have targeted hundreds of visitors. Thus, it generated an outcry by nationals of affected countries.
According to the UK government, the strategy was aimed at discouraging those who enter UK on tourist visas and stay on illegally.
After months of speculations, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Dr. Andrew Pocock, has confirmed that no Nigerian would be asked to pay such sum.
Also confirming the turn of events, spokesman for Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Mr Ode Ogbole, said “It’s been rescinded,” without giving further details.
According to the British Government, the proposed visa bond was supposed to checkmate immigrants who fail to adhere to visa rules. However, it proved unpopular both internationally and on the homefront. The policy was strongly condemned by the countries, and even the UK’s Liberal Democrats.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, threatened to block the proposal if presented to parliament.
“I am absolutely not interested in a bond which becomes an indiscriminate way of clobbering people who want to come to this country, and in many respects bring great prosperity and benefits to this country, of course not,” Mr. Clegg told the BBC.
Nigeria’s former minister of Foreign Affairs, Olugbenga Ashiru, had threatened that the Nigerian Government will retaliate if the UK went ahead with the policy, describing it as capable of “undermining the spirit of the Commonwealth family.”
Indian business leaders also described the planned bond as “highly discriminatory.”
According to a Liberal Democrat source, even government departments including the Foreign Office, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the Department for Communities and Local Government were all against the proposal.
The Sunday Times reported that the scheme, backed by Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives, was also condemned by junior coalition partners.
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) denounced the plan as “highly discriminatory and very unfortunate”, warning that it could delay agreement on an EU-India trade deal.
Their complaints were echoed by the chairman of the Commons Home Affairs select committee, Labour MP Keith Vaz, who described it as “unfair and discriminatory.”
Data from the National Statistics of Nigeria suggests that the proposed bond would negatively impact on Nigerians who travel to the UK for several reasons including education, lifestyle, tourism, business and trade.
The report especially noted that it would have led to a plunge in “lifestyle spendings”.
Another data released by tax-free shopping specialist, Global Blue said Nigerians, who are the sixth largest spending nationality of luxury shoppers in the UK, snapping closely at the heels of tourists from Thailand and Russia, would reduce their shopping culture if policy was signed to law.
Africa’s most populous nation was the fourth-largest contributor to overseas tax-free shopping in the UK last year, according to the shopping expert.
“As a group, Nigerians spend more than Americans,” says Global Blue Vice President Richard Brown.
However, for an average Nigerian shopper, who ordinarily might not flinch at dropping £3,000 on a designer handbag, the prospect of splashing out the same amount on a cash bond to obtain a visa might prove too much, according to a retailing expert.
“Make no mistake, no one is interested in immigration hassle – if things got tougher, then Nigerians will definitely go elsewhere – over to Europe or perhaps to the US, where one can get more for their dollar,” she says.
With the bond proposal now terminated, that will not be necessary.
Dr Dalhatu Tafida, the Nigerian High Commissioner to the UK, commended the British Government for cancelling the bond scheme. According to him, it is a step in the right direction and will further boost bilateral ties between both countries.
Mr Bimbo Folayan, the Chairman of the Central Association of Nigerians in the UK (CANUK), also lauded the British government for jettisoning the policy.
“We are indeed very happy by the decision to stop the scheme. We made our position known during consultation.
“It is the best decision ever. On our part, we will continue to encourage Nigerians here to regularise their papers so that they can legitimise their stay”, he said.