A chorus against U.K.’s ‘hostile policy’ on visas for Indian students

A file photo of visa aspirants at a seminar.K. MURALI KUMAR  

Pressure has continued to build on the British government to reassess its approach to Indian students, following a political outcry — both domestically and in India — over their exclusion from a relaxation of visa documentation requirements that was last week extended to those from China, the Maldives and other countries.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Friday night condemned as “deeply offensive” the link made by British Trade Minister Liam Fox between the issue of Indian “overstayers” and the lack of progress on an MoU on the return of illegal migrants, with the decision on student visas. Mr. Khan accused the government of continuing a “hostile” approach towards immigration, despite the change of leadership at the Home Office.

The exclusion of Indian students has been condemned by senior figures in both the Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties, with politicians linking it to wider issues around the treatment of students, including the end of the post-study work visa, and the harsh treatment of students who had been victimised by “bogus” colleges.

“The way students from the subcontinent are being treated is absolutely killing the desire of students and young people who may want to come here,” said Barry Gardiner, the Labour spokesperson on trade matters. “It’s barriers like these that are blocking the way forward for India-U.K. relations, particularly when we look for a free trade agreement after Brexit.”

The past week has seen long-simmering tensions over Britain’s immigration policy and its focus on overstayers ratchet up, over the student visa issue.

While the British High Commission sought to emphasise that the decision to revise the country list was based on risk criteria, which India fell below, India’s High Commissioner to London Y.K. Sinha questioned the British narrative on Indian overstayers. “I am sure there are many [overstayers], but where did this figure of 1,00,000 come from?,” he asked, referring to a figure that has regularly been cited as the British government’s estimates for the number of Indians overstaying their visa in the U.K.

Double standards

“The timing of this is just flabbergasting,” said crossbench peer Lord Karan Bilimoria, who will be raising the exclusion of Indian students in the House of Lords. He pointed to the “hypocrisy” of the positive spin the government sought to give its relations with India with the “discriminatory” treatment meted out to its citizens.

“All of us realise there has to be a change in the visa system,” said Foreign Office Minister Mark Field, acknowledging the strength of feeling on the issue, as the U.K.-India Week concluded. “All I will say to you all is … these things take a little bit of time … there has been progress under the new Home Secretary, which I hope we can build upon.”