Recalling the historic contribution of India and other Commonwealth countries , 45 ruling Conservative MPs have called for fast-track visa services to their citizens as Brexit drives Britain to look for newer trade relationships outside Europe.
In a letter to Home secretary Amber Rudd on Sunday, the MPs urged her to “extend the hand of friendship to our Commonwealth partners”, and recalled that the Commonwealth countries stood with Britain “as we faced existential threats from abroad but as we pivoted to Europe, increasingly, our Commonwealth allies were left in the cold”.
The letter published in The Sunday Telegraph does not seek easier visa terms, but easier conditions for Indian and Commonwealth citizens once they land at Heathrow and other ports of entry. It mentions a scenario faced by many Indians, who wait in long queues at immigration.
“The lack of consideration for Commonwealth citizens is at its starkest at our border…(While) EU citizens are collecting their luggage or exchanging greetings with loved ones, our Commonwealth friends wait tirelessly in the ‘All other passports’ queue”, it said.
The MPs, including Indian-origin Shailesh Vara, noted that in 2015, Britain welcomed 2.2 million visitors from Australia, Canada and India alone, who spent over 2 billion pounds. These three Commonwealth states are consistently found among the top five non-EEA nationalities arriving for both business and pleasure.
As a signal, the MPs called for signs at border control that class every non-EU national as ‘All other passports’ should be changed to ‘The Commonwealth and all other passports’. This is a small step but one that can be enacted quickly, they said.
“Secondly, the government must commit to examine ways to reduce wait times for Commonwealth citizens entering the UK, perhaps through the use of dedicated Commonwealth border control gates”.
The MPs also called for the extension of the Registered Traveller Scheme (RTS) to include additional Commonwealth countries. The facility, aimed mostly at the business traveller, allows some foreign nationals who meet specific requirements to register and use the UK/EU lanes and e-passport gates, dramatically reducing the time spent waiting in line.
Prime Minister Theresa May announced during her November visit to New Delhi that India would be the first visa country to be offered the RTS for business travellers. It was also included in the joint statement issued at the end of the visit, but has not been rolled out for India yet.
The MPs’ letter added: “In March of this year we will hold the Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting. The focus of this meeting is renewed trade and friendship between the UK and the Commonwealth. Home Secretary, you are in a position to effect real, positive change in our relations with our Commonwealth partners.”
“It would be a shame to let this opportunity pass us by.”