UK scraps visa bond for ‘high risk’ Nigerian students
Nigeria had advised the British government not to develop policies that might scare away Nigerian students, who constitute the third largest foreign student population after China and India. Students also constitute the lion’s share of visa applicants.
Last year there were some 17,600 Nigerian students in the UK – against 39,000 from India and 67,000 from China – and their numbers have been forecast to rise to 30,000 by 2015.
The Nigerian government had also threatened retaliatory measures if the ‘refundable’ but unpopular visa bond went ahead.
Nigerian students in the UK told their parents last month that Prime Minister David Cameron’s administration had decided to dump the security visa bond for foreign visitors entering Britain.
Organisations that facilitate study abroad for Nigerian students in the UK tried but failed to verify the information, saying that officials at the British Embassy and the British Council had been disappointingly non-committal in response.
Interestingly, Nigerian students in India, Pakistan and Ghana – three other countries affected by the bond – flooded Facebook and Twitter with news of London’s rejection of the bond in early November, and this was later confirmed in media reports.
Since the visa bond proposal by Theresa May, the British Home Secretary, was leaked to the press last May, academics in Nigeria have been vigorously debating the issue on Facebook and Twitter. The response was overwhelmingly one of concern.
Dr Adebowale Adeyemi, who teaches international relations at Lagos State University, was deeply unhappy about the bond, which he also said had been shrouded in mystery.
He questioned the criteria used to select and ‘test’ specifically citizens of Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Ghana – labelled as ‘high security risks’.
“We should not forget that there was once a time when a proposal was mooted by some developed countries that foreigners applying for visas should undergo HIV tests before they could be considered fit for visas,” said Adeyemi. The bond project was a similar case.
He praised Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat party leader and the UK’s deputy prime minister, who opposed the bond’s introduction.
“I completely agree with Nick Clegg when he described the bond as an indiscriminate way of clubbing people who want to come to Britain. We should watch out and we should embark on campaigns to prevent its reintroduction,” Adeyemi advised.
Mike Orieso, a history lecturer at the University of Benin, believes the “timely” rejection of the bond by the British authorities was pragmatic, as it would have seriously affected the issuance of visas to large numbers of foreign students.
British MP Iain Stewart had pointed out that international students in Britain contributed around £10 billion a year to the British economy, in the form of fees and other expenses. The visa bond would have hurt the UK, said Orieso, because international students would have simply gone elsewhere with their financial resources.
Professor Chris Abanga, a political scientist at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, argued that even though the project had been jettisoned, Nigeria should reappraise its relationship with Britain. “This scheme contravenes all known international norms. It should be resisted.”
Some academics are concerned that the visa bond scheme, or a version of it, could be reintroduced in the near future. They called for joint efforts by all the countries affected who, incidentally, are members of the Commonwealth.
Segun Akinsanya, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Calabar – who has published several articles on Nigeria-UK relations – agreed on the need for collaboration as the way to stop resurrection of the visa bond.
“The countries singled out for this rejected bond need a concerted policy,” he said.
The only recent official statement from the Nigerian government on the issue came from Doyin Okupe, a spokesperson in the presidency. “This visa bond project is something that has always been unpopular with Nigerians,” he pointed out.