Opinion: Proposed UK visa bond – Achieving a ‘more selective’ immigration system

by Katrina Cooper

Lagos-Airport

The bond system is not a new global concept and in fact has been used in various other jurisdictions in a similar way: to grant access to high-risk individuals who may otherwise be denied or refused a visa.

In a press release issued on June 24, 2013, by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, the United Kingdom announced a pilot scheme requiring a payment of a bond in certain instances for visit visa applications from six test countries. The aim? Achieving a “more selective” immigration system.

The press release stated: “This pilot scheme will run for 12 months starting in November. The purpose of this pilot is to test the effectiveness of bonds as a deterrent against visa abuse, such as overstaying. This pilot scheme will operate in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana. The pilot will be highly selective and focused on the highest risk applicants — we will not require all visitors from the selected pilot countries to pay a bond. The number of bonds issued during the pilot will be limited.”

The media frenzy and backlash that followed have seen numerous statements, debate and comments, all of which are derived out of speculation. Outside of the press release, the full details of the pilot have not been released. What is clear from the press release is that the payment of the bond was at no time intended to be a blanket payment which would impact all visitors to the UK from Nigeria.

The press release was drafted (and note that we have added emphasis to the relevant section) to ensure that the public and relevant government officials understood that the payment of a bond would only apply to the highest risk applicants. Whilst the devil will be in the detail as to who would fall into this category based on previous experience, it would most likely apply to individuals who have previously been refused a visa for the UK or any other country; individuals who have previously breached their UK immigration conditions; and individuals who have little or no ties to Nigeria.

Even for these individuals, they would make their application as per the usual requirement. However, if it is refused, then it is likely a payment of a bond may be provided as an option. Again, the finer details of the end process and the criteria that an individual would or would not need to demonstrate have not been released.

The payment of the bond is unlikely to apply to individuals who have previously obtained a UK visa and not breached any immigration conditions; individuals who have a good travel/immigration history to countries other than the UK; and individuals going to the UK for a genuine business visit.

Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Olugbenga Ashiru, has highlighted the discriminatory nature of the new policy and expressed fears that it will damage relationships between Nigeria and the UK. This anxiety appears to be widespread amongst Nigerians, around 180,000 of whom applied for a UK visa in 2012. It has even been suggested by Abike Dabiri-Erewa, a member of the House of Representatives, that the government should retaliate by requiring the UK visitors to the country to pay more.

In response, the British government has sought to clarify the policy as merely a pilot scheme, with the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Dr. Andrew Pocock, stating that it will apply to a small number of “high-risk” individuals.

However, the coalition is not by any means in agreement about the details. Nick Clegg, Deputy PM and leader of the Liberal Democrats, is ill at ease with the new policy and has called for a rethink. Having been the person who initially raised the idea in March 2013, he has since stated that he would rather a value of £1,000 be placed on the bonds instead of £3,000.

The bond system is not a new global concept and in fact has been used in various other jurisdictions in a similar way: to grant access to high-risk individuals who may otherwise be denied or refused a visa. A bond for Sponsored Family Visit Visas was introduced into Australia almost two decades ago, and the value of the bond varies between AUD5,000 and AUD15,000. The money is refunded, provided the individual complies with the terms of his immigration and does not become an overstayer. Similar schemes in both New Zealand and Canada also operate but with varying bond sums.

It is therefore clear that this new move needs to be finetuned before it can make its way through Parliament. If it is a success, the government intends to extend it to work and student visas as well, with the long-term goal being its application to migrants from all over the world.

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Read this article in the Punch Newspapers

 

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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