Opinion: Clegg’s rethink on immigration visa bonds needs a rethink

Plans to impose a blanket £3,000 ‘bail’ bond on all visitors from Nigeria, Ghana, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are on hold after Clegg refused to “sign them off”, according to the Guardian .

However speaking on the Andrew Marr show this this morning Clegg confirmed that a pilot scheme would go ahead. He suggested the bail bond becomes a general tool for border officials rather than a blanket policy covering all visitors irrespective of how genuine they appear.

The danger is that border staff could now have a new weapon in their armoury to disproportionately exercise against citizens of colour from across the globe rather than the five countries. This will make a bad situation much worse.

Sarah Teather cited the visa bonds as a major reason for standing down in Brent Central. This is an issue that has only occasionally hit the national media but has become a long-running sore in Britain’s multicultural communities since it was first mooted.

Reaction has included two front pages in The Voice newspaper; suggestions that Nigeria – one of the world’s fastest growing economies – is considering retaliating when it comes to British visitors; and highly critical coverage in several of the UK’s Asian newspapers.

The impact of this policy announcement has reverberated in Black and Asian communities and may have caused lasting damage to the standing of both coalition partners.

Theresa May’s bail bond followed a plan was first mooted by Clegg himself in March, who in turn resurrected it from Labour who twice considered it in government before dropping the idea as unworkable.

As Labour’s Keith Vaz has noted the very premise of the bonds are “unfair and discriminatory” and would penalise many thousands of innocent would-be visitors to family weddings and funerals. To say nothing of the financial penalty taxpaying British voters would have to stump up to ensure their loved-ones join them for special occasions.

Speaking on Andrew Marr this morning, Clegg called for a fair but firm approach to immigration adding that the British economy must be welcoming visitors, which slightly confuses family visits with students and entrepreneurs.

He said: “I am absolutely not interested in a bond which becomes an indiscriminate way of clobbering people who come to this country in many respects bring great prosperity and benefits to this country, of course not. It could, but you’d have to pilot it that’s the point, it could act as an extra discretionary tool for customs officers so that where they have doubts about whether people are going to return to their home country when their visa has expired they provide extra assurance they will do so.”

Clearly Britain’s immigration system needs to deal with visa overstayers wherever they come from. However, just as the original bail bond scheme rests on an assumption that all visitors from those five countries should be treated with more suspicion than visitors from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA, so too we must guard against the bonds being used in a discriminatory manner by officials.

So while I welcome Clegg’s rethink, the whole concept of visa bonds should be scrapped until we devise a way of reducing overstayers that does not use nationality and colour as grounds for ‘reasonable suspicion.’

* Lester Holloway is a former councillor and member of the Equalities Policy Working Group, and a member of the Race Equality Taskforce

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12 Comments

  • completely agree

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 15th Sep '13 - 7:42pm

    Lester highlights many valuable points that our Party needs to hear and respond to.

    Hopefully Nick’s comments on the Andrew Marr Show are a sign that our Party is withdrawing its support for the odious Tory immigration policies that are clearly discriminatory and have previously been aimed at specific countries.

    Our Leader’s words are not enough yet, but a change of direct is in sight with any luck. I would commend everyone to keep the pressure up and to remind our Party of its liberal principles of Fairness and Equality and not to pander to the Daily Mail and other tabloid readership that are being wound up by UKIP and the Tories.

  • Richard Dean 16th Sep '13 - 12:46am

    Sponsors, credit cards, return tickets, and fingerprints?

    A sponsor might act as a guarantor, provided we had accurate information about who came and who left. Hard luck for the friendless though. Many counties require people to demonstrate they have enough funds for their planned stay, which might be done by a credit card check. Bad if you haven’t got one though. Many countries also require visitors to have valid return tickets. The US seems to take everyone’s fingerprints, which is presumably both a way of checking for re-named undesirables at entry, and a way of checking whether people picked up later by the police have overstayed their visa.

  • Jonathan Brown 16th Sep '13 - 12:49am

    Hear hear. They’re a terrible idea. If you really thought someone was going to disappear once they were in, a £3000 bond wouldn’t change anything. It’ll pretty much only affect innocent people.

  • Excellent piece. One of the most remarkable things about a proposed “trial” is that it would be very hard to judge its success as, without exit checks, the Government has no way of knowing how big a problem overstaying is. So if 90% of those who pay the bond during a trial leave on time, does that mean the bond has reduced overstaying and is a success? There is no way to tell. So instead of wasting money and time on a policy that was dropped twice by Labour while we criticised it, let’s use those resources to reintroduce exit checks because currently the timetable for doing so keeps getting longer and longer.

    I also think that if anyone, including Nick, thinks that the option to use a bond will be used only as a discretionary tool, they need to look again at how overworked border officials are. My fear is that would quickly become the norm, with officials willing to grant entry for anyone willing to pay the bond. The losers would be anyone who wants to legitimately visit the country – and think of the cost to those who want relatives to come to the UK for a family wedding – while the scheme would do little to put of would-be abusers of the immigration system, including human traffickers.

  • We shouldn’t be having this discussion about a ridiculous and offensive plan. Any LibDem policy on this subject which isn’t ‘join Schengen immediately’ is the wrong policy.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 16th Sep '13 - 9:53am

    I was full of hope yesterday, then today I read in the Guardian “Jeremy Browne says government should consider legislation to prevent young Muslim women being forced to wear niqab” http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/sep/16/debate-muslim-veil-lib-dem-minister

    Why is Jeremy Browne doing this, for it appears that he is merely seeking populist tabloid support and is trying to ‘Out Right the Right’.

    The State has no right to mandate what people wear, and naturally people should not feel or be forced by cultural interpretations of a faith/religion to adhere to a dress code either. Legislating against the latter will merely heighten tension towards differing faith groups and potentially cause entrenchment within them.

    As a advisor in these matter, I would suggest that our Leaders seek appropriate advice before they espouse what are naive thoughts that may further add to fuel to those who overtly espouse Racial and Religious Hatred.

  • Picking up on Jon’s point about overworked border officials simply taking the money, by what criteria might they decide to require the bond? What are the chances of demonstrating tranparency and consistency in the application of such criteria? Would inconsistencies be open to challenge? This will be a disaster, with our fingerprints all over it.

    Robin Lynn
    Cardiff & Vale of Glamorgan

  • For me, as an equality activist, I see supporting any “price” placed on bonds as totally unacceptable. How can bonds ever be explained to show Britain as an equality-observing state? If bonds also become dependent on the whim of immigration officials they will also lead to a huge number of negative stories in the press, which in turn will lead to UK being seen as the home of no principles – just guesswork – because it cannot sort out what it should do about over-staying. Can it be right that a government which cannot control immigration makes the visitors pay for the indecision about what really needs to be done? Colleagues, I believe it is time that everyone had ID in a form which can be easily checked and acted upon – without discrimination.

  • Of course immigrants have ID in the form of a passport – until they throw it away and become criminal. We have other laws which deal with criminal behaviour. There is a section of our own population which doesn’t have ID in the form of passport and/or driving license. Is the government capable of providing a new form of ID for those citizens? It is not necessary to provide new ID for the majority of the adult population.

    As Lib Dems we need to re-think our earlier objections to having any form of ID – it is a dangerous policy in my view.

  • “Of course immigrants have ID in the form of a passport – until they throw it away and become criminal. ”

    Couldn’t be more wrong. ID cards always were and still are the policy desperately looking for a reason. There’s no need to be able to pick out people at random and demand they produce a license from the state to exist and that doesn’t change whether they are living in their country of original nationality or not. There’s no need for ID cards and immigrants who cannot immidiately identify themselves are not criminals.

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