Britain can show more flexibility in offering visas to Indians if it becomes possible to send back those who have outstayed their welcome, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday, underlining continuing discontent over access to UK visas.
On a visit to boost trade and investment with India after Brexit, May held open to wealthy Indians the door to her country but not wide enough for more students to access British universities or professionals to find jobs there.
“The UK will consider further improvements to our visa offer if at the same time we can step up the speed and volume of returns of Indians with no right to remain,” May told reporters in New Delhi, referring to the launch of a separate strategic dialogue on home affairs.
Earlier, May unveiled what her office called a “bespoke” fast-track visa service for rich Indians and their families and promised smoother border checks for all business travellers from India.
She made the pledge after talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who pushed for “greater mobility and participation of young people in education and research”. The two also agreed to set up a working group to explore deeper trade and investment.
But her reluctance to offer a more liberal visa system for students and professionals seeking work in Britain could wreck a trade deal with the European Union which has stalled because of failure to agree on freer movement of Indians abroad and other issues.
Indian officials said the tightening of visa rules was responsible for a sharp decline in the number of Indian students enrolling in British universities.
“We will continue to raise our concerns regarding mobility with the UK,” said Vikas Swarup, spokesman of ministry of external affairs. “Mobility of people is closely linked to free flow of finance, goods and services.”
Earlier on Monday, Modi and May inaugurated a technology summit to boost trade in advanced scientific and technology businesses.
The talks between the two leaders focused on bringing down trade barriers and preparing the ground for a free-trade deal after Britain leaves the EU.
“Britain is open for business,” May told delegates at the India-UK Tech Summit, billed as South Asia’s biggest technology conference.
Modi told the technology summit that greater mobility for young Indians was important for India.
“Education is vital for our students and will define our engagement in a shared future,” Modi said. “We must therefore encourage greater mobility and participation of young people in education and research opportunities.”
With concerns over economic stagnation and uncertainty as Britain exits the EU, May said her government wanted to “ensure that the UK remains one of the most attractive countries in the world to do business and invest.”
She said the UK and India were “natural partners.”
“As the UK leaves the EU and India continues its rise in the world, we should seize the opportunities ahead,” May said in a statement at the end of her talks with Modi.
The two leaders discussed defense cooperation and cyber security and agreed to work together to safeguard their countries from emerging security threats, she said.
At the end of the talks, officials from the two countries signed agreements on the ease of doing business and protecting intellectual property rights. They also set up a joint panel to promote trade.
In recent years, India has emerged as the third-biggest investor in Britain.
According to Britain’s trade office, India is the second-largest international job creator in the country, with Indian companies currently employing more than 100,000 people.
(with inputs from agencies)