OUTCRY against its £3,000 tourists visa bond notwithstanding, Britain will commence the scheme in the six listed Commonwealth countries in November,Financial Times report quoted the Home Office as saying.
The Commonwealth countries to be affected by the policy which was announced in June are Nigeria, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The affected countries are considered to be source of “high risk” tourists to the UK.
Some visitors from the six countries, under the scheme, will be asked to pay a £3,000 cash bond in return for visitor visas that allow them to stay in the UK for up to six months.
According to official data, these six countries accounted for more than half a million visa applications in 2012.
There have been outpours of anger by governments of the affected countries, especially Nigeria and India against the policy.
A protest in India last month forced the British Prime Minister David Cameron to declare that final decision had not been taken on the policy, while the Nigerian government asked Britain to renounce the scheme.
The Federal Government, through the Foreign Affairs minister, Olugbenga Ashiru, had in June expressed “the strong displeasure of the government and people of Nigeria” over the “discriminatory” policy.
Ashiru warned British High Commissioner Andrew Pocock at a meeting in the minister’s office in Abuja, barely 24 hours after the policy was announced, that the move would “definitely negate” the two country’s commitment to double trade by 2014.
The minister told the British diplomat that Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, had “a responsibility to take appropriate measures to protect the interest of Nigerians who may be affected by the proposed policy, if finally introduced.”
The British High Commission in Nigeria after the meeting issued a statement quoting Pocock as saying that his government planned to undertake “a very small scale trial of the use of financial bonds as a way of tackling abuse in the immigration system (which occurs when some people overstay their visa terms).”
He said that the details of the pilot scheme were still being worked out and if it goes ahead in Nigeria, it would affect only a very small number of the “highest risk” visitors.
“The vast majority would not be required to pay a bond. Those paying bonds would receive the bond back, if they abided by the terms of their visa,” he said.
More than 180, 000 Nigerians apply to visit Britain each year and about 70 percent or around 125, 000 of these applicants are successful, he said.
A Home Office official said the six countries highlighted were those with “the most significant risk of abuse”
The Home Office said on Friday that only individuals deemed “high-risk” would be asked to pay the bond. But some officials admits that the mere mention of a bond would be enough to deter visitors.
“In the long run, we are interested in a system of bonds that deters overstaying and recovers costs if a foreign national has used our public services,” an unnamed Home Office official said.
Ashiru said on Sunday that the UK embassy had not communicated to his office the plan to commence the bond scheme.
““They have not communicated with me,” the minister said when The PUNCH sought his reaction to the latest development.
In the UK, luxury goods retailers have denounced the plan as an “insulting deterrent” to wealthy tourists, which will hit sales and damage London’s reputation.
They are urging the government to drop the pilot, saying the restrictions will damage their business if Commonwealth tourists – particularly Nigerians, now the sixth biggest spenders on luxury goods in the UK – are put off.
“It’s embarrassing that our country would consider these measures against visitors who spend so much in our stores,” Managing Director of Harrods, Michael Ward, said .
“There seems to be a deeply frustrating attitude in Westminster that they should do whatever they can to actively prevent people coming to the UK,” Ward added.
Harrods is reputed to be the biggest department store in Europe, occupying a five-acre site in the royal precinct in London.