Visa bonds: are "high risk" tourists being targeted?
On 1 November 2013 we were refused a freedom of information disclosure from the Home Office. We asked on what basis it considered visitors from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana as being at the most significant risk of abusing the visa system. We intend to take the case to internal review.
From later this year, many foreign tourists will find that a holiday in the UK becomes much more expensive.
As part of its commitment to reduce net migration, the Government plans to introduce a system of visa bonds. From November, adults issued with a 6 month tourist visa will be required to stump up £3,000 up front by way of a cash guarantee, money that they'll lose should they breach the conditions of their visa. People who visit the UK on one of these 'entry clearance' visas aren't allowed to work and can't claim state benefits.
The Sunday Times (£) states that the pilot programme will mainly target the Indian subcontinent, with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka on the Government's list of "high risk" countries, as well as Nigeria and Ghana. The scheme will gradually be extended to include other countries.
According to the Sunday Times (£), these countries have been singled out by the Home Office "because of the high volume of visitor visa applications and relatively high levels of fraud and abuse". However, while we have some idea of the number of visa applications, the Home Office doesn't publish statistics on visa fraud and 'abuse'. This means that we currently have very little evidence to suggest why these countries have been selected for the pilot programme.
Arriving in droves?
The Sunday Times claims that the UK receives a high number of visa applications from these countries.
As we can see from the graph below, last year over 250,000 visas were granted to Indian visitors. However, India is a clear outlier in the group of "high risk" nations. The same dataset shows that fewer than 50,000 visas were issued to those from Pakistan, Bangladesh or Nigeria. And while the UK signed off 186,603 visitor visas for Chinese citizens, China doesn't make it onto the "high risk" list.
Source: Immigration Statistics January-March 2013, Volume 2 Entry Clearance visas issued by category and country of nationality: Other
These numbers are slightly different to those quoted in the Sunday Times, but the figures vary depending on the timeframe selected.
More likely to deter abuse?
So is the Government discriminating against these countries, as some have alleged?
The Government claims in its defense that tourists from these countries present a particular risk of overstaying their welcome. According to the Sunday Times, "Officials insist the scheme will cut the abuse under which tens of thousands of visitors stay on after their visas expire."
The graph below reveals how many people from "high risk" countries have breached UK immigration laws and been subject to "enforced removal" by the UK Border Agency.
Source: Immigration Statistics January-March 2013, Volume 1 Removals and voluntary departures by country of nationality and type
However, this doesn't tell us much about the true scale of abuse, much of which might go undetected. Based on these figures, it would seem that only a relatively small number of visitors (of all types, not just those who arrive via entry clearance visas) abuse the system.
The Government hasn't provided evidence to show that people from these countries are at "high risk" of abusing the terms of a tourist visa. We'll be submitting a Freedom of Information request to the Home Office to ask for the data that's informed its decision. As it stands, it's unclear how the level of risk has been measured and why tourists from these countries will be first in line to pay up.
Update (4 November 2013)
A few days after the Home Office told us there was 'no public interest' in releasing evidence for visa bonds, the BBC has reported the government intends to scrap the scheme.