UK to offer Indians simpler visa system?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suggested that a more liberal visa regime could be in the offing for Indians wanting to come to the UK to work or study.

21/04/2022. Gujarat, India. Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the Gandhi Ashram on the first day of his official visit to India. Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

Prime Minister Boris Johnson-India Tour Day One 21/04/2022. Gujarat, India. Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the Gandhi Ashram on the first day of his official visit to India. Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

Although the Home Office in London has previously poured cold water on such a concession, Mr Johnson seemed open to the idea as he set off on Thursday for a two-day visit to India to discuss the chances of the two nations reaching a free trade agreement by the end of the year.New Delhi has long sought more visas for Indians to study, work and settle in the UK. On the flight to India, Mr Johnson told reporters, “I have always been in favour of having people coming into this country. We have a massive shortage in the UK, not least in experts in IT and programming. We are short to the tune of hundreds of thousands in our economy."However, a senior Indian official rejected the idea that his country's top demand was for an easier immigration system. The official argued, according to the Financial Times on Thursday, that more important was the removal of barriers that restricted Indian services and manufacturing access to the UK.“Our priority is to have manufacturing in India, have services delivered from India, rather than just people travelling and getting visas, getting permanent residency and settling there,” he said.Both London and New Delhi have expressed their desire to agree an FTA before the end of 2022 and Mr Johnson will attempt to agree a framework for detailed discussions when he meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday.Modelling by the UK government suggests a free trade deal with India could boost UK gross domestic product by between £3.3 billion and £6.2 billion by 2035. Trade between the two nations was worth £21.5 billion last year.The UK hopes that a free trade deal would increase exports of whisky, cars and green tech, and is also pushing for expanded access for financial services firms wanting to operate in India - an issue likely to prove particularly contentious.
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Another contentious issue, which Mr Johnson is expected to downplay during the visit, is India’s relationship with Russia and Mr Modi's refusal so far to criticise the invasion of Ukraine.India abstained last month in the United Nations vote condemning the invasion and India and Russia have now increased trade in goods, including oil.On arrival in India, Mr Johnson announced £1 billion in new UK-India trade and investment deals, which he claimed would create 11,000 jobs in Britain. The investments cover various sectors, including software engineering and health, and a deal for a satellite company rescued from bankruptcy by the government to launch communications satellites in India.Mr Johnson described relations between the two countries as being boosted by the “living bridge” of people of Indian origin living in the UK, and that he himself had relatives by marriage living in India.He said that British politicians had to “respect and understand the sensitivities” of the UK’s history as imperial ruler of India, but added, “The great thing about the relationship today is that it is in a different place and it is less encumbered by that baggage.” 

Read more news and views from David Sapsted in the Spring 2022 issue of Think Global People.

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