Anger at UK's plan to exclude Indians from relaxed visa rules for international students
By Barfi Culture Team
18th June 2018

On Friday the immigration minister Caroline Noakes told MPs the UK would relax visa requirements and rules for international students from certain countries.

Students from 11 countries including the US, Canada, New Zealand, China and even Bahrain would soon have an easier time meeting entry requirements to study at British universities.

But Indian students were not on the list. And that exclusion is attracting growing anger and condemnation from UK.

The number of international students coming to the UK from India has fallen sharply since the Conservative government came to power. In 2010, Britain gave visas to 60,322 students from India. By September 2017, that figure had fallen to 14,081.


A source at the Indian High Commission in London told Barfi Culture: "The message people are getting is the UK is not interested in better relations with India. ... If China is getting it [relaxed visa rules], why not India? Has India done something wrong?"

Asked if the Indian government would raise the issue with UK ministers, the source said: "Its a decision the UK government has taken, we cannot tell them what to do."

Lord Karan Bilimoria, a crossbench peer at the House of Lords, was more scathing in his criticism. "I consider this another kick in the teeth for India. I think the timing of this couldn’t be more astonishing, given that next week is U.K.-India Week."

He added: "It is completely hypocritical that this is announced at the same time that Britain is talking about doing a post-Brexit free trade agreement with India. If this is the way they treat India, they can dream on about an FTA with India."

Sanam Arora, chair of the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU UK), said: "We are concerned about the messaging that is being sent to India — rather than recognising the value that Indian students bring, are we actually reinforcing the message of 'bogus students'?"

She added: "Is it really fair that an Indian student getting into a British university is treated different to a Chinese student getting into the same university? And this raises another question — will China continue to get even more favourable actions while India gets the rhetoric?"

James Kirkup, director of the centrist think-tank the Social Market Foundation, said: "Being seen to discriminate against Indian students is an act of economic and diplomatic self-harm."

He added: "Brexit means it is more important than ever for Britain to demonstrate that it is economically and intellectually open to the world. This decision sends the wrong message to India and its students."

Why this matters

The UK government explicitly singled out India as a closer trading partner after Brexit.

The Trade Secretary Liam Fox today tweeted: "Tonight I’ll be speaking to businesses to mark the start of #UKIndiaWeek2018 - a symbol of friendship between the world’s oldest & largest democracies. Trade between us reached £18bn in 2017 with the potential for further growth."

But the Indian government has long wanted a relaxation of student visa rules as part of that closer relationship.

As Britain has made it harder for Indian students to apply, American, Canadian and Australian universities have attracted them in growing numbers.

As James Kirkup points out, "International students bring funding into Britain’s world-class universities, help build this country’s standing around the world and are welcomed by the majority of British voters."

The new UK rules for international students will come into force in July.

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