When the news of Britain’s new visa bond scheme of depositing £3,000 for the citizens of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya went out, the thought of a Shakespearian character’s dialogue in The Merchant of Venice popped up in my mind: “Three thousand ducats for three months and Antonio bound?” (Act I, Scene III)
The character is Shylock. A Venetian, Bassanio, needed 3,000 ducats. To get the necessary funds, he entreated his friend Antonio, a merchant. Antonio’s money, unfortunately, was invested in merchant ships that were then at sea. However, to help Bassanio, Antonio arranged for a short-term loan of the money from Shylock. Shylock hated Antonio because he had insulted him in the past. He struck a terrible bargain: the 3,000 ducats must be repaid in three months, or Shylock will exact a pound of flesh from Antonio. Bassanio couldn’t repay the loan; Shylock wanted Antonio’s flesh, but in the end he couldn’t do it.
The reason to cite Shylock’s example is to say that, in a way, many may find similarities between Shylock’s actions and London’s plans. This decision has raised a lot of questions: Is the UK in so much financial crunch that it has to raise money in the form of visa bond? Does the UK really want to prevent the flow of migration from these countries or does it just want to pressure them through this decision?
Critics have termed this extreme measure discriminatory and warned it could potentially fracture the well worn relationships between the UK and its former colonies. Almost all the countries have protested against this scheme. Many Indian critics have suggested that they should also impose something like a Rs300,000 bond on British visitors wanting to come to India.
Nigerian politicians have vowed not to just bark but “bite back” after the UK announced it will require its citizens to pay a £3,000 security deposit to enter. Abike Dabiri Erewa, the chair of Nigeria’s House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs, has urged the Nigerian government to respond with “more stringent conditions,” reflecting a growing animosity between the two nations. It is even planning to impose a £5,000 visa bond on prospective British citizens visiting Nigeria. Kenya is also consider-ing imposing similar bonds for UK diplomats.
This is not the first time Britain has tried to prevent migration there. A few decades ago London introduced “virginity tests” on women from South Asia travelling to Britain to marry. It, however, couldn’t stem the flow of migration.
In the 1980s, migrants used the “political asylum” loophole and stayed in the UK. Now, Britain has come up with this idea of restricting visitors through a visa bond scheme.
However, a day after the announcement, the British High Commissioner in Dhaka, Robert Gibson, said Britain was open for business. He said the new visa scheme was meant for the “highest risk visitors.” He, however, didn’t elaborate on these “high risk visitors.” Muslims? Radicals? Illegal migrants?
On the other hand, the UK envoy in New Delhi said: “No decisions have been taken on the details of how such a scheme would work. Any such scheme would be tightly targeted on a small number of visa applicants assessed as high risk, and designed in a way that does not cut across the UK’s wish to remain open for business, students and tourists.”
Now if you look at it from a British point of view, the island’s economy has been in shambles in recent years - unemployment has risen to a dangerous level, banks have shown severe liquidity crisis, racially white English have started to migrate either to Canada or to Australia, the South-Asianisation of the UK is tremendously visible and a huge number of people have also flowed in from Africa.
This obviously doesn’t present a nice picture, as far as the future of Britain is concerned. All these loopholes need to be fixed, and this new visa bond scheme, according to UK policymakers, is likely to help them to a great extent.
However, on the other hand, it would also risk deterioration of ties with these former colonies. The UK has huge Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan diasporas actively contributing to the British economy. These countries also have huge trades and businesses with London, which would suffer.
The new visa scheme has certainly angered the South Asian countries, but they may not show too much discourtesy towards the UK. However, the African countries may not be as polite with Britain when it implements the scheme. They would certainly keep the Shylock of Venice in mind when dealing with the UK in the future.