Countries around the world are adapting their immigration regulations to promote international trade and respond to global events. Nowhere is this truer than in the Asia Pacific region.
Following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May has undertaken a series of trade missions to strengthen links with countries beyond Europe.
During Mrs May’s three-day visit to India in November, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, renewed pressure for a more liberal UK visa regime for Indian students and for skilled workers – particularly in the IT sector – who face a higher salary threshold to qualify under the Tier 2 visa system for non-EU workers.
In response, Mrs May announced a speedier system for high-net-worth individuals and visiting businesspeople, but made no concessions on eligibility criteria. However, on the last day of the visit, the UK offered a deal that could see more visas for Indians in return for increased cooperation in taking back migrants who overstayed their permission to remain.
Mrs May said in a statement that both nations agreed to establish a strategic dialogue on home-affairs issues covering visas, returns and organised crime.
"As part of this, the UK will consider further improvements to our visa offer if, at the same time, we can step up the speed and volume of returns of Indians with no right to remain in the UK," she said.
A joint statement from the two leaders said, "Both countries agreed to strengthen cooperation by implementing an expedited process for verifying the nationality and issuing travel documents."
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The statement said that changes to speed up visa applications meant that India would have "one of the best UK visa services of any country in the world, with more application points than anywhere else, and the only place where you can get a same-day visa".
It added, "The two Prime Ministers acknowledged the valuable contributions of the 1.5 million-strong Indian diaspora to British society and their role in furthering bilateral relations.
"To this end, both parties agreed that visa regimes need to be as simple and efficient as possible for students, businesses, professionals, diplomats and officials and other travellers, including facilitating short- term mobility of skilled personnel between the two countries."
Announcing the launch of a biannual UK-India dialogue on home-affairs issues, the statement said, "The Prime Ministers expect this dialogue to make progress on key issues of mutual concern, including opportunities to make the visa system simpler and more efficient, and steps to improve the integrity of border and immigration systems."
A 'raw deal' compared with China
However, Lord Bilimoria, founder of the Cobra beer company, told the BBC that Indians would still be getting a raw deal on visas compared with the one the UK extended to China last year, through which Chinese visitors can now obtain a two-year multiple-entry visa for less than £100.
"This was an ideal opportunity for the Prime Minister to say, 'Here in India, you can have exactly the same as we’re offering China'. Because we know that many Indian visitors we lose out from in the UK, and the UK economy loses out on, because they go as far as Paris and do not come to the UK," he said.
And British entrepreneur Sir James Dyson also called for a liberalisation of visa rules for Indians when he addressed a meeting of business leaders in New Delhi. "We should let more people from India in on visas, and people who study here should be allowed to stay here, and they should be told they can stay before they come," he said.
"The government needs to change its mind on this one, because we are going to be one million engineers short in the coming years. We only have a quarter of the engineers we actually need."
New biometric appointments
Immigration consultancy Pro-Link GLOBAL is reminding companies that biometric appointments are now required for applicants seeking visas for India in the following categories: employment, journalist, research, student, Pakistani visit, project and missionary.
Applicants aged under 12 and over 70 are exempt from the new requirement, which will be rolled out in the 14 VFS Indian Visa Application Centres (IVACs) in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The biometric enrolment will be completed at the time the visa application is submitted at the IVAC, and will involve photographs and fingerprinting. Applicants must therefore submit their applications in person.
Update on spouses’ right to work
Permits Foundation is continuing to campaign for spouses of intra-corporate transferees to have the right to work in India. Meetings with the Ministers of State for Home Affairs and External Affairs in 2015 indicated broad support for a policy change, but no action has yet been taken.
With India opening up to the world under Prime Minister Modi’s global diplomacy and the Make in India initiative, the foundation is arguing that a more family-friendly visa policy would help to make India a preferred destination for global talent.
Permits Foundation reports that 30 countries internationally now grant spouses of intra-corporate transferees and other highly skilled staff the right to work, and that Indian families benefit from these measures when assigned abroad.
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