Excluding Indian students from visa reform, a self-harming act

The UK government had announced the extension of a programme under which students from certain countries could provide reduced documentation when applying for Tier-4 student visas.   –  GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCK

Britain’s decision to exclude India from a reform of its international student visa application process announced last week has been widely condemned in Britain, including by the Labour Party, with one think-tank describing it as an “act of self harm” that threatened to push even more Indian students away from British universities.

“The Home Office decision to exclude Indian students from the new immigration rules was a missed opportunity,” said James Kirkup, Director of the Social Market Foundation, pointing to the sharp decline in Indian students in the UK from 60,322 in September 2010 to 14,081 seven years later – a period in which the number of Indian students studying in America and Canada had risen.

“Discriminatory towards Indian students,” tweeted Diane Abbott, the Labour Party’s spokesperson on Home Affairs. “Will sour relations with one of world’s fastest-growing major economies.” The controversy comes ahead of a week-long summit India Week, a week of events in London and Buckinghamshire, with senior politicians from both countries – including British Trade Minister Liam Fox, and Indian Minister for Railway Piyush Goyal as well as figures from industry in both countries, including FICCI and the CII.

The summit is meant to be focussed on post-Brexit opportunities to build the bilateral relationship, as Britain prepares to leave the EU customs union and potentially forge its own trade relations with countries across the world.

Relief for doctors, nurses

Earlier in the week, new British Home Minister Sajid Javid announced that doctors and nurses would no longer be included in an annual cap on Tier-2 (general) visas, in what was seen as a positive move for bilateral relations, as many Indian doctors had been previously caught up in visa restrictions. However, on Friday, as that relaxation was formally presented to Parliament, the government also announced the extension of a programme under which students from certain countries could provide reduced documentation when applying for Tier-4 student visas. The list of countries included China, Bahrain, Indonesia, and the Maldives but not India.

“They want to show they are open but not too open,” said Gareth Price of international think-tank Chatham House, who said the Home Office had likely focussed on those countries with the highest rate of students returning to come up with an “eclectic” list of countries to which the relaxation would apply, without wider consideration of the foreign policy implications, or the emphasis that India had placed on easing the visa regime.

“There are some parts of government that want to be outward looking in the Brexit process and there is the Home Office that is discharged with ensuring a restrictive visa regime.”