The Liberal Democrats are claiming credit for torpedoing a Home Office plan to make foreign travellers from some countries pay £3,000 bonds before entering Britain.
Theresa May, the home secretary, planned to make visitors from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ghana, and Nigeria pay deposits before getting six-month visas. However, she has abruptly dropped the scheme in the face of objections from the Liberal Democrats and an outcry from some of the countries targeted.
Senior Lib Dem sources said there was no way Nick Clegg would have let the scheme go ahead in the form proposed by the home secretary, although some Tory-led departments also raised objections over fears it would harm relations with important trading partners. “The writing has been on the wall for some time,” one said.
However, Tory sources said the scheme was abandoned because the new immigration bill would help to reduce the number of foreigners entering the UK in other ways. They pointed out that Clegg originally helped announce the scheme earlier this year.
Clegg was in fact the first to float the idea of visa bonds in March, saying there would be “zero tolerance” of abuses by over-stayers, but he later threatened to block it if it was applied in an “indiscriminate way”. He indicated he would support it as a way to allow extra visitors to come to Britain, but not if it would impose a burden on people who would currently get approval to enter the country.
Clegg told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show earlier this year: “Of course in a coalition I can stop things. I am absolutely not interested in a bond which becomes an indiscriminate way of clobbering people who want to come to this country, and in many respects bring great prosperity and benefits to this country, of course not.”
The end of the scheme will be a blow to May, as it is the second pilot scheme from the department to be abandoned in recent weeks following opposition from the Lib Dems. Ministers have said they will not proceed with plans for vans urging illegal immigrants to “go home or face arrest”. May also lost a battle with other departments who wanted to loosen restrictions on visas for Chinese tourists.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The government has been considering whether we pilot a bond scheme that would deter people from overstaying the visa. We have decided not to proceed.”
The idea proved unpopular in India in particular and was condemned as “highly discriminatory” by business leaders. Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, described it as unfair and discriminatory.
Some countries threatened to retaliate by demanding high-value deposits from British tourists. However, the scheme was a major plank of the government’s promise to cut migration from the hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands by the next election.
David Hanson, Labour’s shadow immigration minister, said May was “all over the place and presiding over an immigration policy in chaos”.
“Within a week of the Home Office briefing that they would be introducing £3,000 bonds for family visitors to the UK from ‘high risk’ countries, the policy was briefed against by No 10 and now it is officially dead and an ex-policy,” he said. “Chasing headlines followed by confusion and U-turns is no way to manage an effective and robust immigration policy that works for all concerned.”
source: Guardian UK