Britain has scrapped a plan to force people from Nigeria, Ghana, and certain Asian countries to pay a cash bond in return for a visitor’s visa after it caused an outcry at home and abroad and exposed a rift in the governing coalition.
In a move that political rivals said showed
Prime Minister David Cameron’s flagship
immigration policy was in disarray, a
government spokesman said a pilot scheme which had been due to start this month had been canceled.
“We have decided not to proceed,” the
spokesman said on Sunday, declining to explain why.
Under the plan, visitors from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana seeking a six-month British visa would have been obliged to pay a refundable 3,000-pound ($4,800) cash bond to deter them from overstaying.
The government chose those countries because they were “high risk” sources of illegal immigration, it said.
Polls show that immigration is one of the most important issues for voters in Britain, where Cameron’s Conservative party faces the threat of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) siphoning
off support ahead of a parliamentary election in 2015.
Concerns have been fuelled recently by
warnings in the right-leaning media about
“hordes” of Romanians and Bulgarians moving to Britain next year, when European Union freedom of movement restrictions lapse at a time when Britons face rising competition for jobs.
UKIP, which campaigns for Britain to leave the EU and for a halt to “open door” immigration, made sweeping gains in local elections in May, winning almost one in four votes, mostly at the expense of the Conservatives.
Most opinion polls regularly give it a support base of around 10 percent of the electorate.
The U-turn on the visa bonds underlines deep policy rifts in the alliance between the
Conservatives and their junior partner, the
center-left Liberal Democrats.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg initially said the bond plan was an idea worth exploring, but changed his mind after some in his party called it discriminatory.
Two weeks ago, the government said it was abandoning an idea for a nationwide
advertising campaign urging illegal immigrants to “go home or face arrest”. A pilot scheme in London had sparked accusations of racism from some politicians.