The introduction of bonds for visitors appears to be a policy supported by the leaders of both parties in the coalition government – back in March, Nick Clegg proposed that a bond for short-term migrants from certain countries would be supported by the Lib Dem leadership. We should expect, however, backbench debate about the way in which today’s bond system appears to have been designed.
More detail about this scheme is expected from the Home Office in due course, but based on the information gleaned from media coverage, here are some key areas of concern:
The trial visitor bond sceme appears to be inherently discriminatory. The trial bond scheme is aimed at the nationals of just six Commonwealth countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Ghana. Apparently, home secretary Theresa May aims to use this pilot scheme as a way of increasing the selectivity of the immigration system, and has identified these countries based on high visitor visa application rates as well as high rates of overstaying. As yet, no evidence has been provided to evidence why these six countries have been selected but the home office should expect close scrutiny of anything released in support of this trial policy. Until then, it looks like the selectivity that Ms May is referring to is an explicit attempt to prevent citizens of certain new Commonwealth countries from coming to the UK for short visits. Click here for an MRN statement on the issue.
The level of the bond which will be introduced for visitors is high – significantly higher than the £1000 proposed by Nick Clegg in March. It is not yetclear who will be able to put up the bond, how the money will be managed and on what basis any levy would be made on the bond when the visitor leaves. However, at £3000 the bond will certainly prove to be prohibitive for many visitors and their UK-based sponsors. This could result in only those with means or access to means from being able to visit the UK, potentially providing a market for moneylenders (either in the UK or overseas) seeking to exploit those who need to quickly secure adequate cash in order to post the bond on behalf of a visitor.
Finally, contrary to the seeming political perception that bonds are a panacaea for public concern on immigration, MRN would caution against the extensive use of bonds. Apparently, we are to expect that, if the visitor bond trial is considered successful by the Government, it will also be rolled out for migrant workers and students in the future. However, as was successfully argued when the prospect of bonds for longer-term migrants was put forward by politicians in the past, they would be likely to have a disproportionate impact on talented individuals from Asian and African countries seeking to come to the UK. In terms of applying a new bond system to students and migrant workers, the Government could well find a major battle on its hands from political voices viewing this as a self-defeating attempt to ‘look tough’ at the expense of valuable international migrant flows.
In the meantime, the Government can expect growing opposition from those communities affected by the trial visitor bond scheme – in particular British Asian communities. Those communities with family networks overseas will also be affected by the removal of the right of appeal for refusal of family visit visas, which comes into force tomorrow. Keep an eye out for more as all these policies take effect.