The home secretary has scrapped plans to make visitors from “high risk” countries pay a £3,000 bond for a tourist visa, amid complaints from Whitehall and business that the policy would damage Britain’s economic interests.
The home office confirmed on Sunday that the controversial scheme to discourage visitors from overstaying – due to be piloted this month – would not proceed.
Theresa May’s U-turn comes after Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister, warned he would block the scheme.
But the plan to impose a £3,000 cash bond on visitors from India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh had attracted widespread opposition.
The Foreign Office expressed alarm after it provoked an angry reaction from Delhi, while David Cameron told the home secretary he would not sanction any policy that undermined his “growth agenda”.
The retail and tourism sectors also warned the scheme would have a detrimental impact.
The government said on Sunday that it had been considering whether to pilot a bond scheme to deter people from overstaying. “We have decided not to proceed,” it said.
The decision is a further blow to Ms May, who in recent weeks has been forced into other U-turns.
She relaxed visa rules for Chinese visitors last month after pressure from George Osborne, the chancellor, and then scrapped controversial “Go home” immigration vans targeting illegal immigrants, admitting they were a blunt instrument that had failed.
One government official said the reversals reflected the myopic nature of the home office. “They concentrate on departmental responsibilities and that is the borders, they don’t think of bonds or visas in terms of bilateral relations with China or India or the business message, they just don’t see that wider picture.”
Mr Clegg said in March that the migrant bond idea was his and he had asked the home office to look at setting up a pilot.
However, the Liberal Democrat leader later distanced himself from the policy, saying he wanted the bonds to help people who would otherwise be refused a UK visa, rather than to put up an extra hurdle to stop visitors entering the country.
The scheme was part of the government’s drive to cut net migration into the UK to the “tens of thousands” by the general election in 2015, but it provoked an international outcry with governments in Delhi and Abuja expressing “strong displeasure”.
Retail and tourism feared the impact on sales, particularly ahead of Christmas given that it would have covered Nigerians – the sixth biggest spenders on luxury goods in the UK.
Source: Financial Times