UK "set to offer easier visas for Indians"

The UK will formally offer this month to relax visa rules to make it easier and cheaper for Indian citizens to come to work and study in Britain.

UK visa application
International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan will make the offer when she travels to Delhi later this month in a bid to secure a free trade agreement (FTA) with India, according to a report in The Times.The Indian government has long demanded a simpler and cheaper UK visa system for its citizens. At present, a visa for an Indian businessman costs up to £1,400 while a visa for a British businessman in India costs £165 a year.Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to be ready to amend the post-Brexit, points-based immigration system for thousands of Indians in a bid to secure an FTA with one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

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According to The Times, among the relaxations on offer would be a scheme similar to the one agreed with Australia which would allow young Indians the right to live and work in the UK for up to three years. Another scheme would cut visa fees for students and allow them to stay in Britain for two years or more after graduation.A senior Indian diplomat in London told the Times of India (ToI) this week that there was "nothing unexpected" in the news of visas relaxations. Another source told the newspaper that an FTA is expected to be announced when Mr Johnson visits India later this year and would be agreed before Delhi reaches a trade deal with the European Union.The ToI commented: "India currently charges huge import tariffs of up to 150 per cent on some of the UK’s most important exports, such as cars and whisky. An FTA that removes or reduces these taxes would make UK goods more competitive in the Indian market. The trade deal would also provide an opportunity to deepen cooperation between the two countries’ respective services sectors."Kevin McCole, managing director of the UK-India Business Council, said it was clear from extensive consultations that businesses across all sectors in both countries had high hopes that an FTA could be concluded."Business want to see a reduction in tariffs, plus greater alignment of standards and of IP and data protection rules so as to realise the full potential of the India-UK partnership, particularly in the innovative, R&D-intensive sectors that will drive the partnership in the years to come. Businesses are also interested in an interim, or early harvest deal," he said.Lord Karan Bilimoria, president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said he was "excited by the prospect of FTA talks with India beginning in earnest this year". Exporting and growing international revenue needed to be a priority for the UK, he added.A spokesman at the Department for International Trade in London said: "India is projected to become the world’s third-largest economy by 2050 and a free trade agreement will open up huge opportunities for UK businesses to trade with India’s £2.25 trillion economy."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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