A British government proposal to introduce a visa bond of £3,000 (S$5,800) for Indian visitors to curb illegal immigration has been criticised by the Indian government and business community.
The proposed bond, intended to be refundable, is seen as a huge burden on Indians who normally pay visa fees of £80 for a six-month British visa and £278 for a long-term visit of up to two years.
Britain has the largest visa operation in India, attracting almost 400,000 applications every year.
While London has yet to announce when it will introduce the pilot scheme or even which visitors will have to pay the bond, India's Commerce Minister Anand Sharma called the proposed bond a "retrograde" move and a "negative step" that should not be taken.
Britain is looking at introducing the bond as a pilot scheme for "high-risk" individuals from an initial group of six countries that also includes Ghana, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nigeria.
"The British government remains committed to tackling immigration abuse and is looking at a range of options.
"One of those options is a financial bond. The government intends to run a pilot scheme for such bonds, tightly targeted at a small number of visa applicants assessed to pose a high risk of overstaying," said a British High Commission spokesman on June 26.
The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), an industry body, warned that the bond scheme could "certainly impact" Indian companies' investment plans for Britain while the Confederation of Indian Industry said the visa bond would divert Britain-bound tourists to "more tourism-friendly European countries".
FICCI said it is a "matter of concern" that India had been grouped with Ghana, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Indian companies fear that the visa bond would push up costs and affect cash flow, particularly for smaller companies that do business in Britain and have to send employees there.
"It runs the risk of alienating small Indian businesses from working with Britain, as these businesses will require to put up security for travel of their staff members to Britain which in turn will affect their cash flow," said Mr Sarosh Zaiwalla, senior partner of Zaiwalla & Co Solicitors in London.
"Many of the staff members (in India) travel to Britain on visitors' visas where the security will now be required."
Britain has been trying to strengthen its ties with India, with British Prime Minister David Cameron pushing for a "special relationship" during his visit to India in February this year.
India and Britain are on their way to doubling bilateral trade from £11.5 billion in 2010 to an estimated £23 billion in 2015.
Senior Indian officials had expressed their opposition to the visa bond proposal during a meeting with their British counterparts as part of a comprehensive dialogue on visa-related issues held in London on July 25.
"We did take it up... it is not in keeping with the strategic partnership and close relations," said Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.
"We urged them that we would prefer that senior-level consultations take place on this."
According to British foreign investment figures, India is the fourth-largest investor in Britain, creating 7,255 jobs with 89 projects last year and this year.
Foreign policy experts believe that the bond, if implemented, could affect ties and even invite reciprocal action.
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