British Home Office says it was meant to target only high-risk applicants

Despite Prime Minister David Cameron’s assurance to exempt India from the controversial visa bond scheme following a diplomatic row between New Delhi and London, the British government has reportedly decided to go ahead with it though the Home Office insisted that it was meant to target only “high-risk” applicants.

An official told The Hindu that the scheme would be “highly selective,” targeting only “suspicious” applicants.

Pilot scheme

Under a “pilot” scheme, to be introduced in November, first-time visitors from six non-white Commonwealth countries, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, will be required to deposit a cash bond of £3,000 for a British visa. It will apply only to those seeking a six-month visitors’ visa.

According to the government, these six countries pose the “most significant risk of abuse’’ of visas by their citizens. Sri Lanka, Ghana and Nigeria are the other countries.

“In the long run, we are interested in a system of bonds that deters overstaying and recovers costs if a foreign national has used our public services,” the Home Office said.

The move comes barely weeks after Mr. Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg were reported to have to refused to clear the scheme in its present form, fearing that the backlash in India threatened to damage bilateral relations at a time when Britain is desperately trying to woo Indian investors and tourists.

Mr. Cameron was reported as saying that he would “not sanction’’ any policy that was likely to undermine his push for Indian investment.

“The Prime Minister has not cleared this policy. He doesn’t want to do anything that cuts across the message he took to India,” an ally of Mr. Cameron had told The Financial Times at the time.

British traders’ ire

On Saturday, the paper said that the u-turn had provoked anger in Britain’s business circles, who described the plan as an “insulting deterrent” to wealthy tourists from countries like India and Nigeria.

“They are urging the government o drop the pilot, saying the restrictions will damage their business if Commonwealth tourists, particularly Nigerians, now the sixth biggest spenders on luxury goods in Britain, are put off,” it said.