“Last year alone, a whopping 14,000 travellers applied for visas to the United Kingdom from Kochi. Nationwide, there’s been an increase of about 10 per cent in the number of Indians travelling to the U.K. for business and as tourists, with a staggering 4 lakh visas issued to Indian nationals in 2013, which is phenomenal,” Bharat Joshi, Deputy High Commissioner of the U.K. in Chennai, said here on Friday before opening the new U.K. visa application centre at Ravipuram.

VFS Global, the UK’s visa outsourcing partner, will operate the centre that sports state of the art facilities.

Mr. Joshi, who earlier in the day opened the Great British Festival in the city, told reporters that the U.K.’s relations with Kerala rose to greater heights ever since the Emerging Kerala meet, which was followed by the visit of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles to the State. He said healthcare, education, electronics, engineering, information and communication technology and green energy were the areas where the U.K. could partner Kerala.

Maintaining that the growth of India would be greater in Tier-II cities, not the three Metros, Mr. Joshi said the very fact that he made 10 visits to Kerala, eight of which were to Kochi, over the past five months demonstrated the import his country attached to developing ties with the State.

“The U.K. has a big ICT footprint in Kerala. British companies in advanced engineering have operations in Kochi. But we are open to fresh sectors, especially green and sustainable industries on which Kerala also places a special emphasis,” he said.

Responding to a query, he said ‘student visas’ was an area facing issue, but that was because of the stringent measures put in place by the British government to ensure that the quality of students seeking admission to institutions in the U.K. and the standard of institutions offering courses.

“We don’t want people to stay back after graduation and do low-paying jobs. There’s no issue if they stay back for a period and do graduate jobs that fetch them at least 20,000 pounds annually,” he said, adding there had been an increase in the number of Indian students visiting Britain for short-term courses.

While inaugurating the festival in the morning, Mr. Joshi said the U.K. exports to India were up 14 per cent last year, while India’s exports to the U.K. were up 2 per cent. Despite the slowdown, bilateral trade between the two countries increased by 3.9 billion pounds between 2010 and 2012, he said.

T.P. Thomas Kutty, executive director of Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation, said the U.K. being an advanced nation with superior technologies could offer quite a lot to Kerala by way of skill sets, technology, green infrastructure and industrial support.

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