THE controversial , purported plan by the British Government to impose the payment of bond on Nigeria visa applicants is a wrong step that will not do the peoples as well as the two countries any good. In fact, if care is not taken, it is capable of causing severe, damaging and diplomatic row between the states.
According to reports, as from November, nationals of Nigeria,India, Ghana, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will have to post a bond of £3,000 as a surety that will ensure that they return back to the country whenever they travel to the United Kingdom “as a way of tackling abuse in the immigration system”.
The spokesman of the British High Commission in Nigeria said details of the policy were still being worked out and that if the plans were to go ahead in Nigeria, it would affect only a very small number of the “highest risk visitors”.
The Sunday Times of London had reported that visitors aged 18 and above issued a six-month visa would lose the £3,000 if they overstayed in Britain after the expiration of their visas. Initially, the scheme was to target hundreds of visitors, but the plan is now to extend it to several thousands, based on the broadsheet’s front-page report.
In other words, the intention of the British Government is to discourage immigrants from these countries from over-staying whenever they visited the country since the bond money will be at stake for forfeiture.
As expected, a cross section of Nigerians has condemned the new policy in view of the negative effects it is capable of bringing on the already battered image of the country.
The Federal Government had summoned the British High Commissioner, Dr. Andrew Pocock, over the policy which it said was capable of harming the existing cordial relationship and strong historical bonds between the peoples of the various countries as Commonwealth citizens.
No doubt, there could be justifications for the bond thing. Perhaps, the most likely targets are the many immigrants from developing countries who often end up not coming back to their countries due to the biting economic crunch at home.
Another factor could be the growing global terrorism and insecurity that has not even spared the developed nations. Hence, some of them have had to introduce some panicky and discriminatory measures to check the influx of immigrants, most especially from the developing countries.
Beyond this result that the British government intends to achieve, the demerits of the plans appear to be more than its usefulness.
To begin with, it negates 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 to encourage more travellers to come to the UK.
Secondly, it is coming on the heels of the resolution of the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers who unanimously recommended for adoption that by November – at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting – a proposal will remove visa requirements for holders of official and diplomatic passports from member states.
Thirdly, it portends retrogression in trade relations between the two nations as genuine business entrepreneurs are likely to be hampered, especially if the Nigerian Government decides to reciprocate the harsh measure on travellers into the country from Britain.
It is also widely speculated that there could be an economic tone to the new rule as not a few people believe that UK may be so broke that it does not mind generating cash to boost its economy from visitors who are ready to pay.
Also, the policy has been described as “political” – a calculated plan just to make the Conservative Party score a point that it is seriously committed to immigration matters – to win more voters into its fold ahead of the next general elections.
Over the years, many Nigerians were of the opinion that the UK visa services is nothing but a sheer rip-off. This impression is, perhaps, borne out of the exorbitant, non-refundable visa fees charged applicants, who in most cases, are denied visa by fiat irrespective of whether they are genuine travelers or not.
Despite the enormous foreign exchange deficit against the country to the advantage of Britain, the visa policy will affect thousands of Nigerian students in UK institutions of higher learning who yearn for stable, solid and sound education that is amiss in their dear country.
Yearly, the British authorities say about 2.2 million people are granted visas and in 2012 alone, 296,000 people from India were granted six-month visas, 101,000 were from Nigeria; 53,000 from Pakistan out of the latest blacklisted countries, while over 180,000 Nigerians apply out of which about 70 per cent or around 125,000 were successful.
A critical assessment shows that UK’s visa policy has actually been discriminatory against Nigerians. It would be recalled that this racial discrimination started in September 1986 when the administration of the ‘Iron Lady’, Margaret Thatcher suddenly decided that travellers from Nigeria, India, Ghana, Bangladesh and Pakistan will require entry visas from their own countries before travelling, a decision the British opposition Labour Party had tagged as ‘racist’.
Before that decision was taken, citizens of all Commonwealth nations, except Sri Lanka, did not need visas to travel prior to1987 when the policy became effective and in 2008, the British Government introduced what could be best described as £1,000 “fine” on travellers.
The latest embarrassment meted out to Nigeria is nothing but shameful which the government should be ready to reverse using all diplomatic apparati at its disposal.
Already, another more severe scheme is said to be in the offing that is targeted at countries regarded as ‘low risk’, which may sting further to cover work permits and student visas.
In the first place, why do we rush to the UK? Hordes of travellers are either going for official reasons, greener pasture, education,tourism, medical reasons, among others.
Mr. ADEWALE KUPOLUYI wrote from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State.