Visitors from “high-risk” regions, including the Indian subcontinent — or their British sponsors — would be required to put up “security bonds” worth thousands of pounds as a guarantee that they would return home when their visas expire, it was announced on Friday.
The money would be refunded when they leave Britain.
The bonds will cost at least £1,000 depending on the perceived “risk” factor. Visitors deemed to pose the highest risk are likely to end up paying several thousand pounds. The government is reported to be studying the Australian system, where bonds cost between 5,000 to 15,000 Australian dollars.
There were fears that people from India and Pakistan could be the hardest-hit as they accounted for the largest number of visitors coming to Britain to attend weddings or visit relatives.
Immigration groups called the move “discriminatory,” while the Labour Party, which first floated the idea several years ago, described it as “impractical.” Keith Vaz, Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, described it as “unworkable, impractical and also discriminatory.” “This idea is likely to end in tears… we have tried it before” he told the BBC.
The controversial measure was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as part of the Tory-led government’s crackdown on immigrants. In the past, his Liberal Democratic party has opposed the move, but on Friday Mr. Clegg justified it, arguing that it was meant to check “abuses” of visa rules.
“The challenge isn’t just stopping people coming into Britain illegally, it’s about dealing with individuals who come over legitimately but then become illegal once they’re already here,” he said adding that the bonds would need to be “well-targeted so that they don’t unfairly discriminate against particular groups”.
Mr. Clegg denied that he was trying to “outflank” his Tory coalition partners on immigration, which is likely to be a major issue at the next general election. Insisting that there should not be an “arms race of rhetoric” and calling for “low populism” on the issue, he said: “I’m determined we lay the foundations for an immigration system that embodies this nation’s instincts and its values: our openness and tolerance on one hand; our sense of fair play, on the other.”
His remarks came as his colleague, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, attacked the Tories’ target of cutting down immigration, saying it would do “enormous damage” to the British economy.