The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Vince Cable, today (20) blamed British prime minister Theresa May’s rigidity for India’s exclusion from a list of countries offered easier student visa norms.
Cable, a former business minister in the Conservative-led coalition government who has campaigned for students to be left out of the government’s annual migration targets, branded the latest move a “retrograde step” that could damage bilateral relations.
“The government will have to show flexibility on this issue it’s Theresa May’s rigidity which is reflected in this announcement,” Cable said at the opening of a two-day UK-India Leadership Conclave at Latimer in Buckinghamshire.
“It’s a very retrograde step to exclude India from the countries that would benefit from a more liberal visa regime and it demonstrates that government’s continued obsession with immigration as an issue,” he said.
In reference to the government linking the decision to leave India out of a list of 25 countries, including China, from where students can benefit from a more streamlined university application process with the issue of illegal migrants from India, he added: “Allegations that India and visitors have misused the system is an enormous roadblock in the way of having some kind of a special trade relationship.”
“If this remains the dominant theme with Britain’s relationship with India, then chances of getting some kind of special deal are negligible.”
YK Sinha, Indian High Commissioner to the UK, also questioned this link between freer mobility of students and professionals with the UK government’s claim that there are nearly 100,000 illegal migrants currently in the UK.
“I am sure there are many (visa overstayers) but where did this figure 100,000 come from,” he questioned, pointing to the home office’s own analysis from 2016/2017 indicating that 337,180 visas were issued to Indians of which 97 per cent of them went back to India.
“Our cooperation with the UK on this subject is very robust. Obviously once they (overstayers) are established to be Indians, they will be taken back. We have made that abundantly clear. But what is important is that we need to move away from this debate,” he said.
Stressing that it is important not to focus too much on the issue of visas and immigration, he added: “This is an important aspect but it’s certainly not the only defining point in our relationship.
“When we talk about freer movement of people, we are not talking about unrestricted movement of people.”
His comments come in the wake of secretary of state for international trade, Liam Fox, saying that easier student visa norms remain part of ongoing discussions with the Indian government over taking back its illegal migrants. At the heart lies a controversial memorandum of understanding (MoU) on returns, which remains pending between the two countries due to concerns in India over the timelines available to check a migrant’s antecedents.
Manoj Ladwa, Founder & CEO of India Inc. the organiser of the UK-India Leadership Conclave as part of the ongoing UK-India Week said: “UK-India Week is, of course, about celebrating the winning partnership between the UK and India but its certainly not about papering over the cracks in the relationship.
“There should be no misconception that talented young Indians are desperately queueing to cross the seas to come to the UK. We are in a global race for the very best talent from around the world and Britain should be doing everything it can to attract them.”
The UK-India Leadership Conclave, now in its fifth year, is part of a week-long series of events themed around “Global Britain meets Global India”, organised by UK-based media house India Inc. to initiate dialogue and celebrate the bilateral relationship.
The first-ever UK-India Week opened with a launch ceremony in London’s Taj Hotel on Monday and will culminate with the second annual UK-India Awards on Friday.