Author: Vidya Ram
British officials are set to test India’s reaction to proposals for a new post-Brexit immigration system unveiled in December.
Home Office officials are set to meet with counterparts in India next week, as well as others, for discussions on the immigration White Paper unveiled by Home Secretary Sajid Javid last year, said a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) official.
The immigration plans aim to create a level playing field for the European Union (EU) and non-EU workers, basing immigration opportunities on skills rather than on which part of the world that workers have come from.
“It is important to us as we finalise [immigration policy] to get a clear view from the Indian government, Indian students and others,” said the FCO official, adding that they believed that the nature of the discussions that were set to take place were “unique at this stage,” highlighting the importance that the country placed on getting its relationship with India right.
Immigration White Paper
“The White Paper is the most significant look at our migration relationship worldwide for some time and the discussion we will have with India is the type of discussion we would only have with closest partners.”
The government has positioned the new planned immigration system as a positive one for partners such as India, with Javid telling the House of Commons that when it came to doctors seeking to work in the UK (and fill crucial roles in the NHS), for example, “It shouldn’t matter if they are from India or if they are from France.”
Among the changes proposed are the removal of the current annual cap on the number of Tier-2 visas for skilled workers, as well as the requirement that employers attempted to fill the role domestically before bringing in a person from abroad (the resident labour market test).
The government will also allow international students six months after they graduate to find permanent skilled work and work temporarily during that period, while PhD graduates will have a whole year to do so. There will be no post-study visa, however, as many student and university bodies have been lobbying for.
The government has also said it is to consult on the salary threshold for the skilled visas which has been the subject of much debate in the UK.
While the Migration Advisory Committee has recommended setting it at £30,000 a year, business groups and others have warned this will leave businesses unable to access key skills at a time particularly crucial for the country.
The meetings in India are also an acknowledgement of the crucial role that the migration debate plays in the bilateral relationship between the UK and India and the need to strengthen it ahead of Brexit.
Senior figures from India, including the former High Commissioner YK Sinha, have raised concerns about Britain’s immigration approach, including the focus given to those overstaying their visa, which India believes is given attention by the UK beyond levels it should be.
Last year the FCO warned, in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry, that India accounts for the largest number of individuals staying in the UK illegally, and the number of those subjected to forced returns to India has fallen by 50 per cent in three years.
Last year, Britain faced criticism in India for failing to include India in a relaxation of student documentation requirements that were extended to other countries including China.
The discussions next week will focus on the issues in the White Paper, rather than some of these outstanding concerns, which will be the subject of further bilateral discussion in the future.