India is low-risk for UK visas, says chair of key panel
Given India’s growing capabilities of citizen identification, the UK should treat it as a ‘low-risk’ country for visas, which can be the first step to rekindle bilateral relations that have seen a catalogue of missed opportunities in the recent past, a senior Conservative figure said.Updated: Jun 24, 2019 18:55 IST
Given India’s growing capabilities of citizen identification, the UK should treat it as a ‘low-risk’ country for visas, which can be the first step to rekindle bilateral relations that have seen a catalogue of missed opportunities in the recent past, a senior Conservative figure said on Monday.
Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the 13-member Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, released a major report on India-UK ties and said he hoped the new prime minister who will take over in July would re-focus attention on India.
“India is a now most technologically advanced country. It is a low-risk country and we should issue visas to its citizens accordingly. I will be pressing the new prime minister on relations with India and on the issues we have raised in our report,” he said.
India was excluded in the Home Office’s list of countries whose students are allowed easier student visa norms in 2018 as well as in the latest list issued in March, sparking outrage in Indian quarters. The list of 26 countries includes Brazil, Kazakhastan, Mauritius and Tunisia.
The committee’s report titled ‘Building Bridges: Reawakening UK-India Ties’ says the United Kingdom is falling behind in the global race to engage with a rising India, and the story of its recent relationship is primarily one of missed opportunities.
Setting out a catalogue of drawbacks on behalf of successive UK governments, which have “failed to give this relationship the attention it deserves”, the report says London is failing to make the most of the country’s extensive ties with India.
Tugendhat said “it is never too late to apologise” for the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The apology issue reflects the complexity of the relationship, he said, as senior UK functionaries insisted that the issue is a “work in progress” and the apology well be tendered later this year by the new prime minister.
The report says: “The (UK) Government cannot afford to be complacent or rely on historical connections to deliver a modern partnership. The UK needs to adjust its strategy to India’s enhanced influence and power: we should do more to respond to India’s priorities, and should communicate our own objectives more clearly”.
Based on written and oral submissions by leading British and Indian individuals currently or in the past engaged in the relationship, the report focuses on the key issue of migration, stating that there is ‘tension’ between the promotion of a ‘Global Britain’ and steps to cut migration.
“While the Global Britain strategy is barely being communicated in India, the ‘hostile environment’ message is being heard loud and clear. It is short-sighted for the Government not to do more to open doors for Indian entrepreneurs, tech workers, tourists and students, who offer clear benefits to the UK and often plan only a short-term stay”, it says.
Calling for ‘urgent review’ of the government’s policies towards Indian students, the committee wants them to be able to stay in the UK after completing studies for two years, a facility that was stopped in 2012 and since then partly led to a major fall in their numbers coming to the UK.
In a strongly-worded passage, the report criticises the Theresa May government’s lack of an apology for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and calls for steps to ensure that the past does not act unduly as a constraint on present-day ties.
“There is little excuse for failing to issue an apology for atrocities such as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The lack of clarity around the decision is particularly unhelpful. The Government missed an important symbolic opportunity by failing to issue a full apology on the 100th anniversary of the crime, and should rectify this without delay”, the report says.
The committee report coincides with a UK-India Week from Monday that includes a series of seminars and sessions featuring individuals closely involved with the bilateral relationship.
Manoj Ladwa, organiser of the week, responded to the report: “These findings come at a crucial point in UK-India relations to warn against complacency and reliance on historic ties”.
“As a new UK Prime Minister gets ready to take on the Brexit challenge, this report raises probing questions and offers sensible advice to the UK Government for seizing the missed opportunities with an increasingly influential India on the world stage”.
“UK-India Week 2019 will no doubt deliberate upon many of the issues flagged by this comprehensive inquiry, not least the need for Britain to prioritise talks with India across sectors and issues and effectively press the reset button to unleash a truly winning partnership”.