Signing of MoU on return of illegal Indians in UK put off
It was billed as one of the highlights of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the United Kingdom, but both London and New Delhi had reasons to postpone the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the return of illegal Indians in the country.
British PM Theresa May has often linked the return of illegal immigrants to improving the visa offer for Indians, but there was less appetite to sign the MoU during Modi’s visit as her government was caught in a major immigration row over its treatment of Commonwealth citizens.
“The MoU would have added to the government’s problems, which was still grappling with the Commonwealth-Windrush immigration issue. It will happen later after the process, wording and conditions are conducive for both sides,” a senior official said.
During her November 2016 visit to India, May had said, “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 in the UK.”
The text of the MoU was finalised during minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju’s visit to London in January and initialled by the minister for immigration Caroline Nokes. It mentions a 70-day deadline for the process to verify and confirm the identity of suspected illegal Indians.
Officials said some states believe 70 days is too short to complete the complex verification process. British officials believe the verification process has been plagued by delays and the 70-day deadline was supposed to expedite the process.
An official of the external affairs ministry explained why the MoU had not been signed: “When you discuss an MoU or an agreement, there is a process which is involved. And sometimes the process takes a bit of time before it can be concluded. But unfortunately, on this occasion, the process could not be completed in time for it to be ready... this is not the end. I think there will be occasions where it can be done.”
The MoU text divides Indian citizens without a legal basis to be in the UK into two categories — those whose passport and other details are available from their applications for British visas, and those whose documents are not available but acknowledge being Indians.
The verification process for the first group — after Britain submits the documents to India — is to be completed within 15 days, while the identity of individuals in the second group — a more complicated process — will need to be confirmed within 70 days.
The text adds: “Where a person declines to cooperate with the nationality verification process by refusing to provide a signature and where the requesting party confirms the person’s non-compliance and provides additional information to enable the requested party to verify nationality, the requested party shall on a case to case basis take steps to verify the person’s nationality.”
No figures of suspected illegal Indians are released, but the Home Office assesses that Indian citizens are among the top nationalities Illegally remaining in the UK. A Home Office official said: “A major barrier for removal is the current process for obtaining travel documentation for those without a current passport.”
In the past, the verification process in India after documents were sent from London took months, but Indian officials were hoping the speedier timeline mentioned in the MoU would have enabled Britain to consider better visa conditions for Indians.
Since address verification for Indian passport purposes is usually completed in 21 days, officials believed the 70-day deadline would be sufficient for police to complete the process, but some states are reportedly unhappy with the deadline.