LONDON, UK — Visitors to Britain from six African and Asian countries will be required to pay $4,500 cash bonds upon entering on six-month tourist visas, the Home Office has confirmed.
The bonds — which would be returned to visitors who left before their visas expired and forfeited by those who didn’t — are part of a UK goal to reduce migration and combat visa abuse.
The scheme is set to take effect in November.
The cover charge will apply at first only to select visitors seeking six-month tourist visas from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana — countries whose applicants the UK has identified as “high risk” for visa fraud.
If the plan is successful, Home Secretary Theresa May said the government could extend it on an “intelligence-led basis” to any visitor from any country.
“In the long run, we’re interested in a system of bonds that deters overstaying and recovers costs if a foreign national has used our public services,” May said in the Financial Times.
Australia demands a similar security bond for foreign visitors. A comparable scheme was tried and rejected in Canada amid charges that it was discriminatory.
The move is part of a Conservative Party goal to bring annual net migration below 100,000 by 2015.
The Tories have faced a challenge from the UK Independence Party, a right-wing group that has gained attention and votes by pledging to cut down on immigration.
Net migration has fallen sharply since Conservatives began their push against immigration, from 242,000 per year in the year ending September 2011 to 153,000 a year later, the Guardian reported.
The rules could affect hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
In 2012, Britain issued 296,000 six-month visas to visitors from India, 101,000 to Nigerians, 53,000 to Pakistanis and 14,000 each to travelers from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, according to figures reported in the Sunday Times.
The Home Office would not comment on how many of those individuals were suspected of overstaying their visas or committing visa fraud, the paper reported.
The move made big headlines in Nigeria, India and other affected countries.
“Outrageous stereotyping!” tweeted Malini Parthasarathy, director of the Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy in Chennai, India.
“If England is doing this, I think it makes sense for Nigeria to do same to all British seeking visa to visit Nigeria as well,” a commenter named Olababatunde wrote on the website of The Punch, a Nigerian newspaper.
Some online commentators wryly suggested that the bond is retaliation for India’s defeat of England in cricket on Sunday. Others noted that the six named countries were all once under British colonial rule, suggesting the UK should use wealth accrued then as collateral for visitors today.
“Isn't The Kohinoor enough as bond?” tweeted Umang Jaipuria, an Indian expatriate in San Francisco, referring to the 105-carat diamond taken from India in 1850 and now on display in the Tower of London.