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NEWS ANALYSIS: UK’s new visa policy is multi-edged sword

By Adekunle Adekoya, General Editor

THE news broke, Monday, that the UK government plans imposing a visa bond on nationals of some countries intending to travel to the UK. According to the report, from November, nationals of Nigeria, India, Ghana, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will have to post a bond of N723,000 or £3,000 ($4,600 or 3,500 euros at current exchange rates).

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, made the proposal which targeted nationals of the countries tagged as “high-risk.”

Expectedly, there has been an uproar as various individuals and groups reacted to the development which not a few see as discriminatory. But the UK’s visa policy has in reality been discriminatory against Nigerians and if you like, nationals of other countries included. It started in September 1986 when the Margaret Thatcher administration decided, at the end of a cabinet meeting that in future, travelers from Nigeria, India, Ghana, Bangladesh and Pakistan will need to obtain visas in their own countries before travelling.

Before the 1986 decision, nationals of all Commonwealth nations, except Sri Lanka did not need visas to travel to the UK. Justifying the decision, Home Secretary at the time, Douglas Hurd said: “We have to have immigration checks, and I think it is more sensible that these checks are carried out before someone sets off on a journey.”

Reacting, the opposition Labour Party described the Thatcher government decision on visa requirements for the five countries as racist. Then shadow home secretary in the Labour Party, Gerald Kaufman said: “It is typical of this government that in future white visitors from racialist South Africa will be able to come here without a visa while a visa will be required for parents and other family members of British citizens living and working in this country.”

Beyond these, however, many Nigerians who see UK’s visa policy towards Nigeria over the years find it difficult to wish away discrimination. “Why are visa restrictions not slammed on nationals of countries who are known havens of terrorists? Why target innocent blacks who are merely seeking greener pastures?” asked a Lagos banker who opted not to named.

And so has it been, since 1987 when the policy took effect. The new initiative merely added Sri Lanka, whose nationals had needed visas to travel to the UK before 1986.

In perspective, the policy, if implemented, will have repercussions on both sides. If dealing with illegal immigration is the sole object of the policy, then Nigerians who see the UK as an escape destination will be affected. On the contrary, Nigeria is a business destination for many UK nationals, including those of Nigerian descent. If Nigeria reciprocates, as government may be required to, businesses on both sides will suffer irreparably.

On the face of it, the UK government is set to earn a lot of money from bonds posted by illegal immigrants, who, at the same time will be hunted down and repatriated. At the personal level, it is a loss situation for those who see UK as escape destination. Again, the visa policy will affect thousands of Nigerian students in UK institutions of higher learning. Though full details are yet unknown, parents of students in UK schools may have to cough out millions for a child (or chidren) that will be in school for about four, five years, or more. That will have grave implications for resources needed at home.

Whichever way one looks at it, it is hard blaming the UK government for trying to protect its “lebensraum,” to use a German word. The onus is on the government of Nigeria to make the country liveable in all ramifications; then Nigerians would stop seeing the UK as an escape destination in a bid to avoid the problems of bad roads, epileptic power supply, insecurity, lack of water, and every other undesirable that index Nigeria at the moment. It can be done.

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