Calcutta, India - Being an attendant in Britain’s royal household does not appear to impress the country’s immigration authorities, Badar Azim has learned to his dismay.
He may have risen from a Calcutta slum to being the Buckingham Palace footman who helped announce the birth of Prince George to the world, but Azim has had to return to India after they did not renew his visa.
The crestfallen 25-year-old graduate may now fall foul of new British rules that demand a hefty £3,000 ($4,500) deposit for a six-month UK visa from Indian visitors in a case that is reviving feelings of colonial resentment against the UK.
His father Mohammed Rahim has now appealed to the British Queen to give Azim “one more chance” to serve - but other Indians are less keen about the UK despite historical ties that survived the end of the British Empire and persist through the Commonwealth.
Indian businessman Brajesh Aggrawal summed up the sense of anger: “I will never go to London again. I loved that city but I will rather travel in Asia now rather than pay £3,000 as a bond.
“I can pay - but I won’t because the scheme makes me feel like a criminal going out of a police lock-up on a bond.”
Azim gained global celebrity in July when pictures of him helping the Queen’s press secretary, Ailsa Anderson, place the formal notice of the prince’s birth on an ornate easel in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace were published across the world.
The footman had been working in the royal household since early 2012 on a student visa, after having graduated from Napier University in Edinburgh in 2011.
He had been able to study in the UK thanks to financial help from the St Mary’s Orphanage and Day School in Calcutta that he had attended.
His brothers and parents were stunned to see him in the news following the royal birth.
It is true that UK is a destination of choice for many of our education-seekers or migrants, but why should Britain impose such a costly bond? This is very unjust because many deserving students and others would back off now.
“My parents knew nothing about the British royal family before Badar got the job. They were really surprised,” said Badar Azim’s brother Mazhar. “They think Badar is blessed.”
But days after his starring role in the royal drama, Azim was forced to leave his job and grace-and-favour flat in the Royal Mews to fly back to India after authorities’ refused to renew his visa.
The decision has now thrown the spotlight on thousands of Indians and other South Asians who are facing strict new rules that effectively bar many from entering the UK.
Under a a pilot project, Britain will force visitors from countries whose citizens are deemed to pose a “high risk” of immigration abuse to provide the hefty deposit to secure a six-month visa.
If they remain in the country after it has expired, they will forfeit the money – a small fortune by South Asian standards.
Azim will now have to apply quickly for a UK visa before the cash bond becomes applicable for Indians - and three other South Asian and two African countries - in November.
“I have to apply and get my UK visa before that because paying £3,000 may be tough,” Azim said, insisting he is keen to go back, although there might be job offers in India for him.
“I will stay back in India only if I get a job at the Rastrapati Bhavan [the president’s residence] in Delhi,” he said in the two-room apartment he shares with nine family members.
The tough new visa conditions imposed by Home Secretary Theresa May aim to show that Prime Minister David Cameron’s ruling Conservative Party is serious about tightening borders - in a bid to claw back support from the populist UK Independence Party, which has lured many of his supporters with anti-immigrant rhetoric.
“This is the next step in making sure our immigration system is more selective, bringing down net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands while still welcoming the brightest and the best to Britain,” May told journalists.
Cameron has said he wants to cut annual net migration to below 100,000 by 2015.
In 2012, 296,000 Indians were granted six-month UK visas along with 101,000 people from Nigeria, 53,000 from Pakistan and 14,000 each from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. In the same year British visa seekers to India numbered nearly 800,000.
But many Indians say Azim’s plight highlights a persisting colonial attitude that continues to shape Britain’s approach to countries such as India that were once part of its empire.
“It is true that UK is a destination of choice for many of our education-seekers or migrants, but why should Britain impose such a costly bond?” said Shyamal Datta, who says he wanted his daughter to study in UK.
“This is very unjust because many deserving students and others would back off now.”
Moreover, many people believe the planned bond will not cut down on illegal migration – but might deter bona fide visitors.
“The illegal migrants who are determined don’t mind putting in the money. They know authorities will not chase them once they have £3,000 pounds in deposit,” said Alindo Chatterji of Calcutta-based Global Travelshop, who helps Indians apply for UK visas.
“They will treat it as an investment.”
Britain’s Home Office and Buckingham Palace have both refused to comment on Azim’s failure to have his student visa extended.
A Home Office spokesman only told reporters in the country: “Each application is looked at and judged on its own merits.”
But many of Azim’s countrymen feel the British authorities have not considered his case on its merits - and the former footman may have to pay an unfairly high price that ignores his role in history.