If Britain wants trade and money, it must make visa process easier for Indians
The perception that Britain is no longer a welcoming destination has driven thousands of Indian students elsewhere; the realisation that this is Britain’s loss rather than India’s is increasingly reflected in official interactionUpdated: May 31, 2017 18:16 IST
The resonance of ‘UK visa’ is rooted in our history, but scratch the surface of contemporary discourse and the reality is that its connect is increasingly limited to a certain generation with memory of colonialism. The outlook is now more global and mobile Indians have a wider choice. The perception that Britain is no longer a welcoming destination has driven thousands of Indian students elsewhere; the realisation that this is Britain’s loss rather than India’s is increasingly reflected in official interaction. Britain itself is undergoing major changes, with immigration at the heart of the Brexit conundrum. The Leave vote was mainly driven by large-scale immigration from within the European Union in the last decade, but the ruling Conservatives have promised in its manifesto to “bear down” on non-EU immigration as well, notwithstanding promises made by leading lights of the Theresa May government that it will be possible to ease visa curbs for Indians and Commonwealth citizens after Brexit is complete. Ms May is expected to win the June 8 election, and has already indicated to this newspaper that no relaxation of visa terms is likely.
Recent statistics paint a more complex picture: In 2016, the largest number of voluntary returns of those without right to be in Britain were Indians; the highest number of work visas issued were to Indians; the biggest drop in international students coming to Britain for higher studies was from India; some of the highest number of foreign nationals caught abusing the British visa system are Indians; and the highest number of British visas granted during 2016 was to Indians (and Chinese). In terms of the principle of reciprocity that guides relations between countries, India has considerably eased the process and lowered costs through the e-visa system for British nationals – more e-visas were issued in 2016 than in-person visas – but without similar gestures for Indians seeking UK visas. A demand from stakeholders in Britain to extend a two-year pilot in China, offering cheaper and longer-term visas, to Indians has been ignored.
The quality and nature of migration from India to Britain has changed: From semi-skilled workers who went to work in factories and cloth mills after independence, to IT and other professionals working in Indian, British and multinational companies based in Britain in recent decades. Indications are that in the dark world of human smuggling too there is a realisation that the streets of London are no longer paved with gold. But the key challenge for Theresa May will be reconciling the mobility issue (visa) for professionals during talks for a free trade agreement with India after Brexit, for which she has shown much enthusiasm. It cannot be the case that you want our trade and money, but make it difficult for professionals to move and work.
First Published: May 31, 2017 18:16 IST