May rejects Indian call for easing of visa rules

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has rejected Indian requests for a more lenient visa regime, stating the UK already has a good system for Tier 2 visas.

Theresa May rejects Indian request for more lenient visa system
UK Prime Minister Theresa May offered only minor concessions to India on Monday over the latest restrictions on visas for non-EU workers and students. Mrs May, who is heading a three-day mission to India in a bid to secure a post-Brexit trade deal, insisted that the UK had a "good system" for Tier 2 visas as she rejected the latest calls from India to liberalise the system.

The Great Club and Registered Travellers Scheme

However, the government did announce that high net worth Indians and their families would be offered access to the Great Club – a bespoke visa and immigration service – to make visa applications easier and quicker. And as many as 10,000 Indian business visitors on work visas will benefit from membership of the Registered Travellers Scheme, which removes the requirement for landing cards on arrival in the UK and allows them to use e-passport gates to leave the airport quickly.Mrs May said, “We want to attract more Indian businesses to the UK, which is why it’s right to offer Indian business executives a world-class visa service tailored to their needs." However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it clear at a technology conference he attended in New Delhi with Mrs May that he wanted to see greater relaxation of the UK's visa regime as he called on Britain to support more Indian students wanting to enrol at UK universities.“Education is vital for our students and will define our engagement in a shared future,” he said. “We must therefore encourage greater mobility and participation of young people in education and research opportunities.”

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Earlier, Indian government spokesman Vikas Swarup said, "In the last five years or so, the number of Indian students enrolling in UK universities has gone down by almost 50 per cent – from around 40,000 to about 20,000 now. This has happened because of restrictions on post-study stay in the UK."We will continue to raise our concerns regarding mobility with the UK. Mobility of people is closely linked to free flow of finance, goods and services."

Tier 2 rules on ICTs

There have also been headlines in Indian newspapers this week about new Tier 2 rules on intra-company transfers (ICTs) which, some say, could have a serious effect on the number of workers in the tech sector able to come to the UK.The new rules, first announced by the Home Office in March, raise the salary limit for ICTs eligible for Tier 2 visas from £20,800 to £30,000. Additionally, there will be a healthcare surcharge imposed on each candidate. 

Nasscom – "UK ability to access talent is restricted"

Indian tech sector body Nasscom described the higher salary threshold as "a system that restricts the UK's ability to access talent is also likely to restrict the growth and productivity of the UK economy".

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The Times of India described the new requirements as "a move that could greatly affect Indian IT professionals" although others have questioned if the new salary threshold would have any effect. 

Head Hunters India

Kris Lakshmikanth, chairman of Head Hunters India and a visiting faculty member of the Institute of Management, Ranchi, said, “India’s IT professionals are paid more than the current basic that the UK stipulates. "Who pays such low salaries, anyway? I don't think any Indian IT firm does." Mr Lakshmikanth said the average annual salaries of India IT professionals in sales sent to the UK were in the range of £50,000-60,000 before generous commission rates. “The current raised income slabs by the UK government won’t affect IT workers from India," he said.Mrs May, who is heading a three-day trip that includes business leaders from 33 major UK companies, insisted, "We have a visa system for countries outside the European Union which ensures that the brightest and the best are able to come to the United Kingdom."Nine out of 10 visa applications from India are already accepted. The figures show that we issued more work visas to India than, I think, the US, Australia, Canada and China put together.” 

Indian government increasingly frustrated

The UK first started work on a new trade deal with India under a Labour government nine years ago but there has been little progress in getting greater access to protected Indian markets for the services sector, particularly financial, legal and insurance companies. For their part, the Indian government has become increasingly frustrated by new visa restrictions as the government in London tried to curb net migration to the UK, currently running at more than 300,000 a year when students numbers are included. Plans have been announced for a second London listing of a new wave of Indian rupee-denominated "masala bonds" – a move described by Mrs May as a "vote of confidence" in the UK financial services sector.Last July, the first issue of more than £900 millions-worth of masala bonds was launched in London in the first Indian offshore bond issue. The four new rupee-denominated bonds, worth around £600 million, are expected to be listed in London over the next three months, with the aim of financing investments in India's highway, rail and energy infrastructure. Mrs May said, "This is another vote of confidence in our world-leading financial services and further proof that Britain is open for business. This government will continue to work closely with both India and our financial services sector to ensure our growing rupee bond market continues to help finance India's ambitious infrastructure investment plans."

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