Shape Of The Possible India/UK Visa Deal - Impact On Indian Students In The UK
For several months, the UK government has been working to foster greater relations with India, including in the areas of trade and immigration. British PM, Boris Johnson, was due to travel to India in April 2021 to continue talks, however, this has been deferred due to the current COVID-19 crisis developing in the country. The goal is to work towards a full free-trade agreement (FTA) by first developing an Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP). In a join UK-India statement. Liz Truss, Secretary of State for International Trade and Shri Piysuh Goyal, India’s Minister for Commerce and Industry, made their common intentions clear; “Taking forward their commitment from the 14th JETCO on 24th July 2020, India and UK Trade Ministers reviewed the ongoing engagements between the two sides for an ETP, as part of the development of a roadmap that would lead to a potential comprehensive FTA, including considerations on an Interim Agreement on a preferential basis”. In this article, we will take a look at a potential immigration deal between the UK and India which may see more Indian students coming to the UK in return for returning ‘illegal migrants’ to India, and the impact of placing India on the red list on Indian students enrolled in the UK.
What Is The Shape Of The Possible India/UK Visa Deal?
While there is no formal announcement on the shape of a deal between the two countries, there is a suggestion that the UK is likely to agree to a visa which will increase the number of international students coming here in return for sending back migrants living in the UK illegally. The plan is part of a “migration and mobility” partnership, according to the Telegraph. Even despite the current pandemic crisis in India, it is believed that progress on this plan may be made in the coming days when India’s foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar arrives in the UK for G7 talks. Previous attempts to sign such a deal, as in 2018, have been hampered by Indian concerns at the number of its nationals being returned by the UK.
Impact Of COVID-19 On Indian Students In The UK
In recent years, the number of Indian students coming to the UK has risen substantially. Last year (2020), despite the pandemic, it is estimated that around 37,500 Indian students enrolled at a UK educational establishment, compared to nearly half of this in 2018. The problem for many at present is the current addition of the UK to the ‘red list’ requiring students arriving from India to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for ten days on arrival here. The challenge for many is the sheer cost of the accommodation. According to iNews, the Department of Health and Social Care is expected to increase the number of available hotel rooms in expectation of people returning from India. And the longer the crisis continues in the country, the more likely it will be that Indian nationals will need to resign themselves to having to quarantine in the knowledge that India’s red listing may not be lifted anytime soon.
Sanam Arora of the National Indian Students Union explained the sheer scale of the problem; “We do expect the numbers of students [coming to the UK] to be in the thousands. There’s quite a few who are already here, but there’s a significant chunk who are stuck there who were doing their first and second term remotely, and the requirement for them was to be in the country physically for the final semester”. Sanam went on to say, “Students are in a complete panic about this £1,750 charge they will have to pay for mandatory quarantine. If they are not from well off families, they often take very high-interest loans in order to come and study in the UK already”. It is estimated that of the 55,000 Indian students enrolled in UK universities, around 14,000 are unable to leave India and are studying through remote learning.
One Indian student, Jetal Zala, 23, a business and management research masters student at the University of Stirling, spoke to the newspaper to explain the issues she and her fellow students are facing; “Due to the changes in the quarantine rules, I just cancelled my flight because it is £1,750, which is really not affordable to me as a student. I’m hoping the UK government might take steps to provide an exemption for students, or if by any chance they might provide discounts on it. I have no other option at the moment. I need to stay here as I really can’t afford it”. In addition, Jetal explained that paying for the quarantine in instalments is also not an option given the high cost of her fees, housing, and other living costs.
Another major worry for Indian students who are currently unable to return to the UK is qualifying for the new graduate visa. The scheme, which will open for graduates completing their studies this summer, requires them to be in the UK by 21st June 2021. The information available on the scheme states, “Applicants who began their studies in Autumn 2020 will now have until 21st June 2021 to enter the UK (updated from 6th April 2021) in order to be eligible for the Graduate route. Students who began their studies in January or February 2021 will need to be in the UK by 27th September 2021”. As such, many Indian students might find themselves stuck between paying the quarantine hotel costs and losing their right to a two-year visa to find work in the UK once they graduate.
The news that the UK and India are getting closer to a migration and mobility deal will be of little consequence to Indian students already enrolled at a British university and cannot make the journey to the UK. We can only hope that the current crisis will abate later in 2021 and that the proposed visa deal will go ahead, allowing more students to enjoy the benefits of a British education.