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The UK's proposed Rs 2.7 lakh visa 'deposit' is all about politics

It cannot but be that these waves of anti-immigration measures that governments in Britain announce with compulsive regularity are aimed at people who never will migrate to Britain, because they don’t need to. British nationals, that is.

The new 3,000-pound bond scheme that Britain’s Home Office is considering is the newest in this round of measures. Newest chronologically only, because it has been proposed before, and then rejected before as both distressing and unworkable. But it does work ‘to give out a message’ that the government is being ‘tough on immigration’.

File photo of Britain's PM David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May looking at passports during a visit to UK Border Agency staff. Reuters

File photo of Britain's PM David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May looking at passports during a visit to UK Border Agency staff. Reuters

It’s a message the government needs to give out with some urgency. The latest polls show the UK Independence Party (UKIP) with about 20 percent support, on top of spectacular advances in recent by-elections and local elections. The ruling Conservatives stand around 29 percent, not that far ahead. And if there is one thing that defines UKIP, it’s a policy of stopping immigration, and steering UK away from Europe. It doesn’t like foreigners much.

So the message goes out, another message that is, that the Conservative Party is taking tough new steps, and so please vote Tory. And the message really is to wavering Tories: the compulsive Labour supporters and the natural Liberal Democrat backers would not vote Tory anyhow. And not, certainly, the growing army of UKIP supporters.

It could hardly be otherwise, given the realities of immigration that the government knows well. The rather simple reality is this: if a visitor turns up in Britain intending not to return, 3000 pounds will not stop him.

The 3,000 pounds is still a lot cheaper than the sums illegal migrants pay to traffickers and for ‘real’ expenses en route to Britain through Europe and the many countries that come before. Never mind the time it takes and the many risks along the way, including a high risk of imprisonment and even of death. So just 3,000 pounds and nine hours? That’s easy.

That kind of passage to England takes a determination to leave all behind for the dubious privilege of ‘living in England’ usually in slave-like conditions earning two pounds an hour with no health cover, and every policeman in sight a daily danger. In the face of such determination to cling on, a loss of 3,000 pounds is hardly likely to be a deterrent.

And if the fee is intended to fill the coffers of a debt-ridden country to some extent, that surely is not income that the UK government wants. It would be counting its losses, not its gains.

The one thing the fee would do is to create paper work for visitors who do intend to return. And when they do, they would only be drawing on money to transfer it to Her Majesty’s government for a few weeks. And that little gain will be nothing to the losses arising to the government from loss of revenue from tourism from India; Indians have been spending very substantial chunks of money visiting Britain every summer.

The government’s tourism agency, Visit Britain, spends a fair bit of money to attract visitors from India because Britain needs them. It isn’t now applauding the government for its new incentive, even if officials from Visit Britain are not as yet saying so openly. A family of four would rather visit France and Switzerland than lock up 12,000 pounds to watch the guards parade around Buckingham Palace.

Visa fees between India and Britain have maintained a more or less notorious balance. It’s hardly likely that the British government would do this without reciprocation from India. So that a family of four from Britain planning to visit India, likely to be of Indian origin, would hardly be encouraged to visit family back home, and to make connections with their original homeland. The knock-on effects of such a move would be silly to think of (Labour MP Keith Vaz called the proposal “bonkers”), but devastating to contemplate if actually implemented.

Most expect these measures not be implemented, as they weren’t the last time round. Somebody leaks a proposal, the government looks good to some, for some time, for thinking of this, and then it is withdrawn. This way the government gets its talking point, and without the mess this would mean. It’s called politics.