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How UK bowed to Nigeria, India

*We had the ‘principle of reciprocity’ in mind-Okonjo Iweala

By Uduma Kalu

Overseas anger and failure by the United Kingdom, UK, Border Agency staff to follow up leads in cases of migrants breaking the law have been given as reasons why the UK Prime Minister David Cameron aborted the proposed £3, 000 visa bond.

The UK, last week, proposed that visitors from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Ghana should pay the bond before they can get a visa, to be repaid after they leave UK within the limits of its term. These states were labelled “high-risk” for over-stayers.  The UK Labour had twice suggested similar schemes when it was in government, but they never came into being. But  Cameron, on Tuesday night, “slammed the brakes on the proposal”, on the basis that he didn’t want to undermine “his growth agenda or the ‘open for business’ message he delivered on a recent trip to India”. It is also reported that despite the push by the UK and its Labour Party, as they chase votes, the visa bond did not reflect the general view of the British public. The Green Party was said to be utterly opposed to the idea of the bonds – and more broadly to the government’s approach to immigration.
Also, UK border officials reportedly wrote off more than 35,000 potential leads from police records when trying to trace missing migrants, according to a watchdog report published last week.

“The UK Border Agency failed to take action to locate more than 3,000 migrants on whom there was a positive hit when checks were made against the police database. Nor did officials follow up a further 30,000 possible matches to names and addresses on the police national computer (PNC),” the inspection report said.

However, reports from the UK indicated  that anger from Nigeria, India and Ghana were behind the visa bond abortion. According to UK Trade and Investment, Nigeria is the UK’s second largest market for goods in Africa, and the 33rd largest overseas market. Exports of goods and services to Nigeria were worth about £2.5bn ($3.84bn) in 2009, the latest year for which figures are available. Exports from Nigeria
to the UK totalled $9.2bn last year, most of it oil, according to the National Bureau of Statistics in Nigeria.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, economy and finance minister, told British media the proposals were anathema to the spirit of agreements between the two countries aimed at boosting trade and investment and that every targeted country may retaliate.

“Frankly we are baffled by the whole thing. This is a very blunt instrument. It sends all the wrong signals about Britain’s openness for trade and tourism,” she told the Financial Times (FT), saying she was sure every country targeted had the “principle of reciprocity” in mind.

Nigeria’s fast-growing economy has drawn foreign investors, while wealthy Nigerians have become some of the highest spending consumers among visitors to the UK, FT said.

More than 180,000 Nigerians apply for UK visas every year and about 70 per cent of applications are successful, the British High Commission in Abuja said.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala said richer Nigerians would be able to factor in the cost of the bond, while the measures would hit tourists and other Nigerians who would simply go elsewhere. “Britain loses but would not gain,” she said.
Ghana has been slower to react officially to the proposals. But civil society organisations have been vocal.

“In an era where citizens and governments are forging various forms of partnerships. The implementation of this ridiculous scheme will not only have an adverse effect on our long standing trade relationship with Britain but will also place enormous burden on prospective visitors,” the Accra-based Alliance for Accountable Government said.

Indian media also called for matching retaliatory action against UK visitors, with many discussing how the British economy could be damaged, with India being the fifth-largest source of foreign investment into Britain, and its home firm Tata the largest private-sector employer. “It seems that Britain is no longer interested [in trade],” The Economic Times quoted an unidentified CEO as saying.


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