Immigration bonds: ineffective and discriminatory
Every so often, politicians propose that people visiting the UK should pay a deposit that would be refundable when they leave – a security bond, in the jargon – on top of the fee they pay for their visa. It’s designed to prevent people overstaying on their visas, and thus deter one element of ‘illegal immigration’ (although since over-stayers are by their nature people who actually entered the country entirely legally, they demonstrate how inappropriate or imprecise that description often is.)
This week was Home Secretary Theresa May’s turn, although there’s no mention of it on the Home Office web pages: just reports or comments (some of them rather tart) on the idea that a pilot scheme covering Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sri Lanka would commence in November, with visitors having to post a bond of £3,000.
It’s a perfect example of how the incessant underlying drive to reduce migrant numbers produces policies which would have the opposite effect of their ostensible objective, while being unworkable and discriminatory at the same time. That’s probably why it has not yet happened, and why the policy began unravelling as soon as it was in the public domain, with the Prime Minister said to have blocked the plan.
It’s not a new idea. Even the sum quoted – £3,000 – is exactly what was floated when Labour was in Government (Yvette Cooper re-floated it for family members in a speech at the IPPR in March). It was floated again by Nick Clegg later that month. The uniformity of the sum is a sure sign that this is a Home Office policy parroted when opportune, regardless of party.
Several commentators have attacked the proposal on the grounds that it would annoy emerging countries with which we are seeking to curry favour (eg India – a Financial Times editorial said “with one clumsy announcement, Ms May has undone the goodwill that Mr Cameron’s trade-focused visit to India created in February” – or Nigeria.) Others have focused on whether it is actually feasible.
It is also, of course, unlikely to have the effect claimed for it. If you are intent on abusing the system by entering legally and then over-staying to work, in any moderately paid job, the lost deposit could be recouped fairly swiftly. The people most likely to be deterred would be people whose earnings would be likely to make the loss of £3,000 catastrophic, ie people who intend to return to a developing country to work.
Of course that begins to draw attention to the really abhorrent elements of the scheme. It would further bias the immigration system towards the rich (last week the Home Office did announce formally that they have opened another office in India for people wanting to spend a further £600 on top of the standard visa fee for a ‘Super Priority Visa Service’.)
And you may have noticed that the six countries targeted for this crackdown on over-stayers are all in Africa or Asia. There are plenty of over-stayers from Australia, New Zealand and the USA too, but potential over-stayers from those countries don’t seem to be worth targeting. As Ali G didn’t used to say, “is it ‘cos they is white?”