Students and guardians reject new British visa bond
The measure has already sown confusion among British admission agencies in Nigeria, who have worked hard to convince wealthy Nigerians to send their children to universities in the UK, and has thrown students interested in studying in the UK into a quandary.
The new visa scheme will impose £3,000 (US$4,740) in charges on unspecified visa applicants thought to be ‘high risk visitors’ from Nigeria, Ghana, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.
The Nigerian government has threatened retaliatory measures if London goes ahead with the ‘refundable’ but unpopular visa bond.
According to diplomatic sources in Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital, the visa pilot scheme was proposed by the British intelligence service MI6 and British police headquarters at Scotland Yard.
Both are reportedly worried that some foreign students who apply for visas to study in British universities have developed, in their home countries, ideas and determination to commit terrorism on British soil.
In Nigeria, the visa bond is believed to be a subtle way of ensuring that students who are labelled as ‘high risk’ know that they will be targets of intelligence surveillance while they are studying at British universities.
A diplomat, who did not want to be named, explained that Ghana had been included on the ‘high risk’ country list because its airport and seaports were thought to be avenues for Latin American drug cartels who use some Ghanian students as drug couriers.
The same diplomat said that some students from Nigeria, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh had been involved in terrorism in Britain.
He cited the examples of Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, a Nigerian and former student of University College London, who tried to blow up an American plane in December 2009, and student Michael Adebolajo, a Nigerian-born Briton, who recently hacked a British soldier to death.
“The British government is convinced that the use of visa bond may go a long way to make Britain safe,” the diplomat said.
The diplomat also revealed that the visa bonds would be extended to some non-students thought to be high risk, and hinted that British embassies might collaborate with local intelligence services in collecting evidence on some visa applicants.
Justifications for the special bond have not been made public by the British Council or the British Embassy in Nigeria. Efforts by the Nigerian media and civil society organisations to get these agencies to comment on the scheme failed. It has been reported that the British government informed embassies to be silent on the issue.
Nigerian parents have approached officials to find out if children who have been admitted to UK universities through reputable agencies will be affected by the new visa regulation, but the officials have not been forthcoming.
As a precautionary measure, many parents have instructed Nigerian banks to suspend, for now, sending tuition and accommodation fees to British universities.
Parents have advanced three reasons for their action.
First, payment of the special visa bond is an additional financial burden on them in difficult economic times: “How will I sustain my three children admitted to study in British universities? It means that I have to pay an additional US$15,000 for my three children outside tuition and other expenses,” said Akin Olusola, an accountant who studied in the UK.
Second, some parents are now contemplating sending their children to other countries if Britain does not rescind the bond.
Third, parents have said they are concerned that being declared a ‘high risk’ visitor will affect their children for life. “This special bond may be a permanent stigma for my child in this world of computerised intelligence data,” said Edith Mustapha, an oil company engineer.
“How will my child explain to her future employers that she was placed on a high risk visitor’s visa when she was a student in Britain?”
Professor Tunde Ikotun, vice-chancellor of South Western University in Okun Owa, in Ogun State, is vehemently opposed to the visa scheme. A former postgraduate Ford Foundation scholar in plant pathology at Imperial College in London, he is of the opinion that the British government should not classify students as high risk.
“One of the outstanding achievements of Britain is giving foreign students access to her excellent tertiary education. Yes, few students may be denied the visa. But this new visa scheme should be discarded. It places a moral and financial burden on parents,” he said.
Femi Shaka, a professor of film studies at the University of Port Harcourt and former postgraduate students at the University of Warwick in the UK, is of the view that the visa bond will be counterproductive.
“This discriminatory visa may scare away students from British universities where about 20,000 Nigerians are students; the largest foreign student group after China and India”, he said.
Olugbenga Ashiru, Nigeria’s foreign minister, has described the visa bond as selective and discriminatory and has warned that Nigeria will retaliate if it is implemented. Sources said the government might impose visa bonds of £5,000 on Britons visiting Nigeria.
The whole UK system of education is a joke. Too many barriers and too much red tape, with too many useless people not knowing how to do their jobs.
Christopher Weir on the University World News Facebook page