The names of countries whose nationals would be forced to pay a £3,000 cash bond for a British visa had not yet been finalised, the Home Office said on Tuesday, raising the tantalising possibility that India could yet escape the “bond scare.”
As the government scrambled to respond to the angry reaction in India, officials assured that the “vast majority” of Indian travellers would not be affected even if, eventually, India was put on the proposed list of “high-risk” countries.
“The names of these countries are still being finalised,” an official told The Hindu but declined to comment when asked whether India might be let off.
“All I’m saying is that we’re still finalising the names,” he said.
Currently, the countries being considered for the “pilot” scheme, claimed to be aimed at preventing abuse of immigration rules, include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana.
A Home Office spokesman clarified that the rule would apply only to first-time applicants, seeking a six-month visitors’ visa, and considered posing a “risk” of fraud. Local visa officials would have the discretion to take a decision on the basis of their assessment of individual applicants.
“Not everyone who applies for a six-month visa would be asked to pay the bond,” the spokesman said.
The clarification came as the office of London Mayor Boris Johnson attacked the decision saying it would harm the capital’s economy which benefited hugely from high-spending Indian visitors.
“Last year alone, we had 2,32,000 visitors from India and they spent something like £177 million,” said David Slater of London & Partners, official promotional organisation for London.
Mr. Slater urged Indians “not to be put off” by the bond issue.
“The view from City Hall is: don’t panic. London is open and we are here to welcome you,” he said, demanding more “clarity” on how the new rule would work.
Mr. Johnson has been openly critical of his fellow Tory Prime Minister David Cameron for pushing increasingly stringent visa rules to appease the party’s anti-immigrant activists. He has expressed his frustration saying that “I am only the mayor” and has no powers to decide on immigration.
Campaign groups called the move “discriminatory” for singling out only non-white countries.
“These countries may find the tag of ‘high risk’ very derogatory and may consider levying similar sort of counter-measures,” said Amit Kapadia of Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) Forum, pointing out that the government had not provided any evidence to justify targeting only Asian and African countries.
According to the Home Office, these countries have been chosen because of “the high volume of visitor visa applications and relatively high levels of fraud and abuse.”
Home Secretary Theresa May says the move is part of the government’s policy to make the immigration system “more selective.”