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India-UK Migration Pact (15 May 2021)

India-UK Migration Pact (15 May 2021)

Context:

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and UK Home Secretary Priti Patel signed the MoU earlier this month during the former’s visit to the country for the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting. The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Modi, has also approved the MoU, which is aimed at liberalising issuance of visas promoting mobility of students, researchers and skilled professionals and also strengthen cooperation on issues related to irregular migration and human trafficking between the two sides.

Background:

  • The UK government said that it has finalised a 1-billion-pound worth of trade and investment deal with India, adding that the Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP) aims to double the value of UK-India trade by 2030 and declare a common intent to commence negotiations on a complete free trade agreement (FTA).

  • S Jaishankar was in London for the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers Meeting on the invitation of host UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

Summary of the Debate

What the migration and mobility partnership is all about that India and the UK have signed?

The mobility and migration pact contain 4 parts:

  • Allowing professionals and students to work for under 2-year visas up to a cap of 3000, but this will only kick in a year from now, not now.

  • It will look at a new agreement to allow visa free entry for certain categories of Indian officials which happens with many EU countries but never happens with Britain.

  • It looks at a social security pact again to be worked out so that Indians who work in Britain for short terms are benefited by the social security deductions and which don't just disappear on their departure. This is the problem with many European countries and slowly it's been worked out.

  • The issue of easier extradition by using the mutual legal assistance treaty provisions much better. There are many Indians who find it very easy to go to Britain and stick around there and the legal system never allows them to come back. So, this is something where India is seeking a political push.

Why is it being hailed as a landmark agreement?

  • It intends to liberalise visa issuance in order to encourage the mobility of the researchers, students, and skilled professionals.

  • By allowing the free flow of talent, this can help both countries' innovation ecosystems.

  • Academics, Indian students and researchers, and migrants will all gain from the pact for economic and professional reasons.

  • There are new opportunities which Britain is trying to offer for school students, for twinning of academic institutions and think tanks for greater exchange of scientific and other researches and more students to go to Britain.

  • This document presents a very good picture of what a people-to-people education and research-based partnership could look like and that needs to be facilitated by a good visa system which this pact provides.

  • This is a very practical step that has been taken when India would also take back illegal immigrants from UK and in response UK has designed this 18 to 30 year old professionals framework where the younger professionals would be given this opportunity to relocate to work in the UK.

What was the barrier that had held back this agreement for the last three years?

  • The issue of migration has been at the heart of a lot of debate and discussion between India and the UK.

  • The issue of illegal immigration visa is part of the problem why Brexit took place because Britain did not want to accept the free migration out of Europe.

  • Over the last few years, Britain making it very difficult for Indians and for others to work in Britain. For example, Indian students used to face a lot of difficulties when they used to study and they did not have the work visa extension that used to be given as part of their student visas for a year or so initially, but then it was taken away from them.

  • There was an earlier attempt being made in 2018 that did not really pass muster that they did not really move forward, where some numbers were given like a hundred, thousand was the number that was given of illegal immigrants of Indian origin living in the UK and that was disputed by India because there were questions about the how verification process happening on the part of the UK.

  • Britain has on its own admission about 1.6 million people of Indian origin, it declares 100,000 of them as illegal. 6 percent of the PIOs (Person of Indian origin) in England are illegal, according to the British.

  • India has questioned the veracity of those numbers in the past because that figure is believed to also cover nationals from other parts of the Indian subcontinent.

  • The numbers that they have said are so huge and this was the reason why in 2018, the initial discussion fell flat because India was not willing to budge on that issue.

  • It was not easy for India to accept them, how do we know they are not Pakistani or Bangladeshi or Lankan. So, there is a process of verification and this process of verification has to be very manual in India.

  • There is a possibility that the person may have been gone so long that nobody or the family is there or maybe the whole family has moved there, then who is going to testify that. This is a very difficult problem and that is why this was not happening.

What has been the driving force behind this mobility partnership which after three years India and the UK have been able to sign?

  • In the past, what had happened is that and there was a unique model of British immigration system that Britain was following, where they started restricting students by trying to show that they can bring in migration down and they curtailed the ability of students to come to Britain and by raising fees for international students and also preventing them or making changes to the post-graduation visa system.

  • Britain raised the fee so much about five years ago and they became more difficult on visas including work visa after graduation that people started going to other EU countries.

  • They are now trying to rectify because they've realized that a quarter of international students are from India and therefore it's a big market and education is a big draw for international students in particular for many in India as far as Britain is concerned and Britain would not like to lose that.

  • Britain realizes it loses out that market for Indian students. So, they want to reopen that.

  • 50 percent of the work visa are being given to Indians, that's a huge number as far as Britain is concerned and that's something that India should leverage as it moves forward in these negotiations.

In terms of effective implementation what are the kind of potential problems in terms of diplomacy that once again could be a stumbling block?

  • In countries Italy and Germany, there are large populations like this many of these people are not interested in going back.

  • It is not that we were gaming the system, it is these guys who have spent a lifetime there and don't want to come back and they are gaming that system and using it much like the economic offenders are using the system. So, this is something Britain needs to sort out.

  • This engagement today talks about proper verification processes and if India is satisfied by the work that British authorities have done in terms of documentation then we will take this forward.

  • The onus is now seems to be on British authorities to prove their case and then India would reciprocate.

  • British government has a very good system as far as their documentation is concerned. So, they can actually work hard and make sure that individuals that are documented in certain ways are either problematic from their point of view or not and then they can convince India and if India is convinced, they can take it forward at Indian end, but if India is not convinced, then we need to have mechanisms of how this needs to be resolved.

Way Forward:

  • This is an important moment because Britain really needs a partnership with India and India also needs to resolve this problem. So, this is a unique opportunity for the two countries to resolve this once and for all.

  • Both the countries can move forward more proactively on the essential question of what they need to do on the legal migration issue, how to expand opportunities for students, for professionals, for youngsters who want to go there, who want to experience, who want to educate themselves or want to have research or work professional experience in the UK and vice versa and that's the area that we really need to focus on and in order to focus on that we need to remove this barrier of the problem of illegal immigration which India has done now.

  • The recognition from Britain that education students, researchers are an important part of the Indo-UK relationship going forward and they are creating these spaces for this group to take advantage of and India is also pushing because India wants the partnership in this area to develop both as far as building capacity within India is concerned as well as the larger trajectory of UK-India ties.

  • This issue being papered over allows to deal with the comprehensive strategy for 2030 which India and the UK both need to expand their space in the world, deal with China, grab new opportunities and open space for the youth.

  • This has the potential to become something more significant in the future because this is the first step towards a larger recognition of a challenge that has been affecting the relationship and now that the two countries are more congruent on strategic matters whether the rise of China in the pacific.

  • The two countries have shown that they are willing to take some risks because clearly, there are going to be costs for both sides and this as we move forward but what the two nations are showing that they are willing to move forward with the aim of designing a partnership for the 21st century which can stand the test of time.

Conclusion:

  • The role of diplomacy is to convert the stumbling blocks into stepping stones and since the larger objective was the comprehensive partnership for 2030, a decade-long partnership which the UK was rather desperately seeking with India after Brexit. This was one of those stumbling blocks which had to be converted to a stepping stone.

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