May's first official India visit as PM comes days after UK toughened Tier 2 visa rules affecting Indians

Visa talks dominate British PM Theresa May’s India visit

Archana Venkatraman
Theresa May and Narendra Modi shake hands to strengthen ties during May's first bilateral visit to india

British Prime Minister Theresa May is on an official visit in India to strengthen ties between the two countries. But it is visa regimes and Indian immigration that is the most talked about topic.

UK PM May landed in Delhi on November 6th along with a UK delegate of ministers and business people for a three-day official India visit at the invitation of Indian PM Narendra Modi. It marks May’s first bilateral visit outside Europe and comes just days after UK toughened visa rules for Tier 2 applicants - a visa category most popular among Indian businesses to send professionals to the UK.

While May's official India visit was designed to further strengthen the India–UK strategic partnership, what mattered more to Indians and the Indian diaspora in the UK is the sensitive matters around immigration.

May and Modi agreed that UK 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 2 countries.

But May strongly rejected calls to relax the cap on Indian visas or relax the visa rules. She said that the existing visa application rules allow Britain to attract "the brightest and the best" from India already.

May pointed out that nine out of 10 visa applications from India are already approved. She admitted that the UK may consider visa regime improvements if Indians who overstayed their UK visas could be returned home more swiftly.

"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," she told the media while in India.

Modi and May acknowledged the valuable contributions of the 1.5 million strong Indian diaspora to British society and their role in furthering bilateral relations.

New visa services: Registered Traveller Scheme, The Great Club

May pledged that UK will offer new services to improve business travel for Indian visitors to the UK. The new services are mainly aimed at wealthy Indians and high net-worth business executives.

India will become the first visa country to be offered the Registered Traveller Scheme, offering Indians on UK work visas faster and smoother clearance at the UK border.

Another service called the Great Club will be introduced to give wealthy business executives a bespoke visa and immigration experience.

According to May, these changes mean that India will 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.”

The 2 prime ministers agreed that ensuring simple and effective visa systems depended critically on cooperation to protect the integrity of border and immigration systems

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