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Ivory tower

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Aiming, so it seems, to repel foreign tourists from our shores, the UK Home Office today announced a new pilot bond scheme for ‘high-risk’ visitors. Tourists and businesspeople from six countries: India, Pakistan, Ghana, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, will be affected. The scheme requires visitors from these countries to pay a £3,000 refundable visa fee before they can be issued a UK visa.

This is an extortionate charge. It will mean that many lower-income nationals of the six targeted countries will be totally unable to visit Britain. The fee is meant to deter people from coming to the UK and overstaying illegally, as well as deterring foreigners from using public services without paying taxes. The Home Office has judged these six former colonies to be the highest risk.

Of course, many have spoken up in an attempt to make Britain see sense. The Nigerian government, reportedly outraged by the idea, called in the British ambassador to express ‘strong displeasure’ at the decision. The bond scheme has also been described as ‘racist’, and ‘painful and unbearable’ for travellers. It makes little sense that citizens of these former colonies, many with family residing legally in the UK, cannot now visit them without paying a lot of money, on top of the substantial visa fees they already have to contend with.

Britain already suffers from a perception of having draconian visa regulations. The country is still not part of the Schengen agreement, meaning that even though non-EU travellers can visit the whole Eurozone on a single visa, they must still apply separately for the right to visit the UK. This added hassle and expense has already discouraged many visitors from emerging markets such as China from coming to the UK when they would otherwise be very enthusiastic about doing so. It’s very poor PR.

If our economy is suffering as much as we hear about every single day, why don’t we encourage foreign tourists from large affluent markets to visit Britain and spend their money here? India and China, two of the world’s most populous nations, both with growing middle classes with money to spend and reason to visit the UK as tourists, students, and businesspeople. It makes NO sense to discourage them with petty visa policies. We should be welcoming them with open arms. Not just tourists, but foreign businesspeople too. This new policy is sure to damage Britain’s trade relations at least to a certain extent.

Britain is already developing a reputation among the emerging economies as an inaccessible ‘ivory tower’ as far as visas are concerned. The Home Office’s decision to impose this new visa fee on six specially selected ‘risk’ nations, is likely not only to strengthen Britain’s negative reputation among these potential tourist markets, but also to stoke active resentment from those abroad who will now struggle to visit their families, do business, and study in the UK.

In this author’s opinion the decision, if brought to fruition, will do nothing but damage Britain’s international reputation.

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