Ahead of his first official visit to India next week, Boris Johnson, the Tory mayor of London, on Friday called for immigration curbs on Indian students and workers to be relaxed describing some of the stringent visa rules as “counter-productive’’.
His views were echoed by John Cridland, director–general of the Confederation of Business Industry whose members are accompanying Mr. Johnson on his visit. He said that Britain’s multi-billion pound higher education market was suffering as the country was no longer seen as a welcoming destination.
Mr. Johnson, whose own party leads the ruling coalition headed by Prime Minister David Cameron, was concerned that the current immigration policy was undermining his efforts to woo Indian students and businesses to London -- the purpose of his week-long visit that will take him to New Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai.
A policy that prevented businesses from hiring the best global talent and deprived universities of bright international students was bad for the British economy as well for Britain’s image as an open society which welcomed people who decided to come to Britain, Mr. Johnson said speaking to a group of
London-based Indian correspondents. “We’re damaging it. We (London) are a city that benefits from people who come here. Some of the decisions on visas are counter-productive. While we need a tough immigration policy to keep out illegal immigrants what is not comprehensible is excluding people who will contribute to the economy,’’ he said pointing out that foreign students contributed some five billion pounds to the British economy every year in tuition fee alone.
Deterred by Britain’s increasingly tough visa rules, more and more Indian students were going to America for higher education.
“We could be doing so much better than we are in attracting Indian students. I’ve been disapproving of visa measures,’’ he said.
Mr Johnson, whose wife Marina’s mother was a Sikh, is a regular visitor to India but this is his first official visit –and with an eye on a slice of the three trillion dollars India plans to invest in infrastructure over the next five years. He will be accompanied by a heavy weight business delegation or “captains of industry’’, as David Slater of London and Partners , the official body which promotes London, put it.
“London loves India and we want to build a closer partnership with India,’’ he said describing the visit, starting on November 24 , as part of his efforts to focus on global trade and promote London as the hub of world finance and education.
When asked why he was not visiting Gujarat, Mr. Johnson denied there was any “political reason’’ – alluding to the controversy over the British Government’s decision to “re- engage’’ with the Narendra Modi’s BJP Government.