This morning I am torn between writing about Google Now, a predictive search tool for mobile devices, the “lungi dance” from Shah Rukh Khan’s upcoming ‘Chennai Express’ and Britain’s controversial decision to impose a 3000-pound bond ($4,630) on visitor visas for “high-risk” travelers. I can always write about all three but that would be greedy. So let me go with the British visa bonds.
Every time I write about Britain’s visa policies affecting visitors from India and the subcontinent, I make it a point to remind every one that the entire British Raj was built on the East India Company officers and their families overstaying their welcome by over 200 years. I seriously doubt if when Major-General Robert Clive, KB MP FRS, arrived at Fort St. George in June 1744 near what is now Chennai, he was asked for his visitor visa by anyone. (There, my one tangential connection to ‘Chennai Express’ is taken care of). Incidentally, Clive (25 September 1725 to 19 November 1774) is widely credited with having “delivered” India for the British Crown. Like Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, “delivered of a son”, Clive “delivered of India.”
I have frequently said half in jest and fully in seriousness that one of the ways Britain can compensate India for two centuries of exploitation (1744-1947) or at least nearly one century of British Raj from 1858–1947 is by freely issuing visas to travelers from the country until at least 2047 if not longer. I had once said that to a visa officer at the British High Commission in New Delhi. He had the good sense to see humor in it and laugh.
Britain’s refundable visa bond is meant for visitors from six countries, Nigeria, Ghana, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. That is mainly because citizens of these countries accounted for half a million visa applications last year. There is a racial element to this type of bond but I am not entirely certain whether it meets the standard of being called fully racist. Four of the six countries on the bond list , India, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana, were once British colonies. I am not including Pakistan and Bangladesh because they did not exist as separate countries but were part of India. Now they are all members of the British Commonwealth.
The way it works is that Britain will demand a 3000-pound bond from “high-risk” visitors. It is not clear to me but I suspect that money will be refunded once the visitor in question has left Britain in accordance with the duration of the visa. Those who choose to illegally immigrate will obviously lose the bond money and face the prospect of being pursued by immigration authorities.
The bond policy has enraged people in these countries and some of them may consider reciprocal action. India being the biggest economy among these six countries should lead the charge in matching a retaliatory response to Britain. An official statement by the British government was quoted as saying “The pilot will apply to visitor visas, but if the scheme is successful we’d like to be able to apply it on an intelligence-led basis on any visa route and any country.”
The Associated Press quoted Britain’s Home Office as saying that the visa bond “is the next step in making sure our immigration system is more selective, bringing down net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands while still welcoming the brightest and the best to Britain.” It is pretty clear what the bond wants to accomplish—It wants keep the dregs out.
Here is one idea how India should respond. Let India create a floating visa fee structure which will impose visa fees on the basis of the worth of the visitor. This is, of course, apart from the standard fees for everyone. So if Kate and William want to vacation in India along with George, they will have to pay an enormously high visitor fee. It could be as high as returning the Kohinoor.