[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]heresa May’s visit to India made some good headlines but did it contain the substance that was needed? Mrs May arrived into a thick smog? It was noted how she was not met by a senior Indian cabinet Minister but by the British High Commissioner and a handful of other Indian protocol officers. Mrs May had good intentions to kick start a post Brexit trade relationship with India but her visit may have been premature as the Indian sentiment on Britain’s aggressive immigration rules eclipsed at least the first 24 hours of her visit.
India needs easier visas for not only qualified Indian professionals but for students, as PM Modi made quite clear.
May offered India a new ‘Registered Traveller Scheme’ allowing Indian nationals and businessmen travelling frequently to UK to fill in fewer forms and access to EU-EEA (European Economic Area) passport control therefore quicker transit through British airports. Tacked onto this was an expensive new “Bespoke” immigration service, called something like “The Great Club” only for high-net-worth individuals to be nominated by New Delhi, a favour in return for investment in UK. It is possible PM Modi found Mrs May a tad intransigent when he tried to negotiate further improvements, she suggested repatriating Indians with no right to remain, termed “overstayers”. How this is practical nobody knows as UK immigration checks people in but not out. (Also proving who is and who is not an Indian citizen is vital for an “overstayer” to be taken back by India).
But this was not what India was hoping for, the education sector is India’s primary concern. India needs easier visas for not only qualified Indian professionals but for students, as PM Modi made quite clear. This could not have been a surprise to Mrs May as the Asian Business Society and the London Chamber of Commerce (LCCI) have been lobbying similarly to the Home Office for some time. Last year the LCCI proposed removing international students from the net migration calculation and restoring a one year post-study work route for non-EEA students after graduation.
Amandeep Bhogal, a British Conservative candidate, took this one step further and proposed students from India be welcomed in Britain for the length of their course, without recourse to public funds and without the right to bring over family, he suggested removing students from the migration figures and only to include them if they are successful in gaining a post-study settlement visa once a suitable job offer is confirmed. Jo Johnson Minister of State for Universities and Science did a fine job insisting more Indian students in the UK and more British students in Indian universities were essential for a stronger collaboration in science and research.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]I[/dropcap]n July this year Tim Hewish, Director of Policy and Research at the Royal Commonwealth Society recommended an extension of a new cheaper and lengthier visitor visa to Indian nationals; proposing to extend the existing UK – China £87 visa pilot scheme to include India nationals, offering Indian tourists a two year multiple entry visa for the same price as the existing 6 month visa; putting India on an equal footing to China, immigration-wise. It seems the Home Office is not short of improvement submissions but is yet unresponsive.
Both countries reiterated their call for Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai to justice”.
Positive elements of May’s visit were the £1.2Billion GBP ($1.2 billion) business deals signed and Indian plans to list £600Million more “Masala Bonds” in London by the end of January.
Whether UK realises that a bilateral relationship is dependent on reciprocity is questionable, such a relationship cannot only be about trade for UK, it must also be about investment in India which so far has been so hard to secure. It may be that nothing can be secured until visa difficulties can be resolved.
PM’s Modi and May discussed the terrorism threat, they will continue to work together to disrupt all financial and tactical support for terrorist networks including ISIL, Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, the Haqqanis and associated groups. Both countries reiterated their call for Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai to justice”. Regarding fugitives from justice for the record India gave UK the names of 57 suspects they wanted extradited and UK gave India 17 names. On defence co-operation the two PM’s agreed to support ‘Make in India’ indigenous defence projects, UK will probably fall in line now that India has signed 1 of 3 defence co-operation agreements with USA; a UK-India defence group will have an initial consultation towards a deeper partnership to better combat global threats on 15/16 November.
Social media was awash with tweets with a running commentary from PM Modi himself and the British High Commission, the N10 tweets were fewer.
Culturally Mrs May made a very successful effort at outreach, first by paying her respects to Indian soldiers, who lost their lives fighting for the British Army in WW1, at India Gate then by visiting a computer-building & code class at the Stonehill School, Bengaluru and finally by participating in a ritual at the Sri Someshwara Temple wearing a saree and walking barefoot – all the time accompanied by her Sikh close protection officer provided by New Delhi.
With UK’s approximately 1.5 million people of Indian origin punching above their weight and the diaspora’s vital role in our cultural and political life, it is hoped that ties between the two countries have enormous potential to grow and to meet the common evolving threats and challenges that face both democracies in the 21st century.
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