France attracting more Indians than UK
As President Emmanuel Macron pitches France as India’s gateway to Europe during his India visit, new research suggests that his country has emerged as a more popular destination for Indian visitors than the United Kingdom.
The Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) said that despite the UK’s historic cultural and economic links with India, France attracted 185,000 more Indian business visitors and tourists in 2016, while the overall number of visits to the UK by Indians fell by 1.73% that year.
RCS has been lobbying for easier visa terms for Indians, along the lines of those offered to visitors from China.
However, Prime Minster Theresa May has linked any improvement in the terms for Indians to the return of those in the UK who are not legally in the country.
RCS director Michael Lake said: “Given the strong historic ties between the UK and India in areas such as trade, culture and business, the fact that France continues to attract more Indian visitors than the UK is not only hugely surprising, but also enormously concerning.”
“It’s clear that more needs to be done to build stronger links between such important Commonwealth partners.”
RCS has been campaigning with representatives of the travel and tourism sector and MPs for a UK-India bilateral visa agreement to stop the decline of Indian visitors. The issue is likely to figure prominently during the April visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to London.
Senor Labour MP Virendra Sharma, who is supporting the RCS campaign, said: “A new UK-India bilateral visa agreement will enhance trade and tourism, as well as strengthen important business and cultural ties, enabling both the UK and India to capitalise on future global opportunities.”
A Memorandum of Understanding on the speedier return of illegal Indians in the UK is on the agenda of Modi’s visit. New Delhi has made it clear that it is willing to accept Indian citizens who may be in the UK illegally after their identity is established.
The issue was also flagged by May during her 2016 visit in New Delhi, when she told Modi: “(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”.
May had said before the 2017 election: “The Home Office is discussing various ways in which that process (of returns) can be improved.”
“It is something I have said internationally, that I think where there are people who are in a country illegally, they should be returned, but it is a question of getting a smoother process so that people aren’t spending quite so long waiting to be returned.”