Author: Lucy Fisher
Britain is to allow thousands more Indian students to enrol in UK universities in exchange for India agreeing to take back migrants living in the country illegally, The Telegraph has learned.
London and New Delhi are on the cusp of signing a “migration and mobility partnership”, which is part of a wider move towards bolstering relations that aims at securing a mini trade deal later this year.
Government insiders say the talks are still live and final details are yet to be ironed out, but the deal represents an important step on two key sticking points that have hampered bilateral relations in recent years.
There are hopes that the agreement could be clinched as early as this week, when Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s foreign minister, is in London for multilateral talks with the G7, hosted by Dominic Raab.
India has waged a long campaign pushing Britain for visa liberalisation, particularly for students and professionals, and is also hoping to secure closer investment ties with the UK.
The UK in turn is wrangling to secure greater access for British service providers to India, particularly in the legal sector, and a reduction in 150 per cent tariffs on Scotch whisky.
In 2018, the two nations came close to signing a pact on the return of illegal immigrants from Britain to India, but talks collapsed. India had harboured concerns about a deluge of nationals being returned, amid Britain’s estimate that up to 100,000 Indian migrants were living in the UK illegally.
Narenda Modi’s administration was also said to be alarmed at the prospect of Sikh and Kashmiri separatists returning, and claimed they presented a security risk.
Johnson’s liberal stance on overseas students
Boris Johnson takes a markedly more liberal stance on overseas students than his predecessor Theresa May, who insisted on including them within the UK’s net migration target, which suppressed their numbers.
Under her administration only 20,000 of the 750,000 Indian students studying abroad were enrolled in Britain – less than in New Zealand.
Within months of arriving in No 10, Mr Johnson restored a two year post-study work visa for overseas students, a move that led to a 300 per cent rise in student visa applications from India within six months.
Last year, the Government introduced a new “student” route within the visa system as part of its shift to a post-Brexit, points-based immigration system, which ministers claimed has “streamlined” the application process.
It has scrapped some requirements to show evidence of financial resources, made postgraduate study easier, and introduced new ways of meeting the English-language criteria. Ministers have said they hope to attract more students from India and Nigeria.
This week, Mr Raab, the Foreign Secretary, is hosting G7 foreign and development ministers for the first face-to-face meeting in over two years.
He has also invited Mr Jaishankar and counterparts from Australia, South Korea and South Africa, as well as the chairman of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), to join the G7 talks as guests.
It paves the way for some of these nations to join an expanded alliance of democracies, which Boris Johnson may announce at the G7 summit in Cornwall next month.
Last December, Mr Raab met Mr Jaishankar in New Delhi to discuss deeper cooperation in trade and investment, health, research and innovation, and climate change.
The UK and India are also looking to strengthen cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, as a counterweight to China’s growing alliance with Pakistan.
The Indian navy will carry out engagements with the UK Carrier Strike Group that set sail on Sunday on its first operational deployment, which will take it to the Mediterranean and then to the Indo-Pacific.
The Telegraph contacted the Home Office for comment.