The UK badly wants a trade deal with India, and in return, it may offer thousands of work visas to Indians who want to come to Britain.
As UK international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan gears up for her Delhi visit this month, making immigration of skilled workers easier is a top agenda item for part, but not all, of the British government. Home secretary Priti Patel, herself of Indian origin, is reported to be against the plans.
One proposal is a program similar to the one agreed with Australia, which would allow young Indians the right to live and work in the UK for up to three years. Additionally, the government could cut visa fees for students, and extend their stay in Britain after graduation. Work and tourism visas—which at present can cost up to £1,400—could also be made more affordable.
Since voting to leave the EU, the UK has struggled to plug the holes in various industries. In the absence of free-moving talent from the bloc and a new points-based immigration system that prioritizes workers based on skill, education level, English proficiency, and salary, looking further out to India may be a win-win for both nations.
Why the UK wants a deal with India
India, with a GDP of $2.6 trillion and the massive potential of its working-age population, is set to be the world’s third largest economy by 2050. At the moment, India does not have bilateral trade deals with either the US or the European Union (EU), presenting post-Brexit Britain with an opportunity to get in there first.
It helps that there is already a large Indian diaspora in the UK, mostly because of historic colonial links between Britain and India. According to the 2011 census, there were more than 1.4 million people of Indian origin in the UK, and although last year’s census data are yet to be published, it’s a safe assumption that the number will have grown.
Indians are keen to come to the UK to work…
For years, Indians have been the largest cohort of non-EU immigrants in the UK.
In 2020, Indians were granted more sponsored skilled-worker visas than any other group; typically, recent migrants occupy highly paid roles in the UK. In the IT sector, nearly three in five visas went to Indians.
Healthcare is another important sector for immigrants. As of September 2021, more than 32,000 Indians were the largest foreign group working in the National Health Services (NHS), second only to Brits themselves. Right now the NHS, once again suffering staff shortages as omicron wreaks havoc, would no doubt welcome more helping hands.
The UK needs workers across a slew of professions—scientists, vets, care workers, architects, artists, dancers, graphic designers, and more—and will even allow employers to pay 20% below the threshold for visa eligibility for these roles.
The UK is already making more room for Indian talent. A migration and mobility partnership introduced last May allows up to 3,000 Indians between the ages of 18 and 30 to live and work in the UK for two years annually. The two governments can choose to raise or lower this limit.
Indian students have also come to the UK in droves.
Between 2019 and 2020, 48% more Indians received Tier 4 student visas to the UK, while those granted to Chinese nationals—the largest international student population in the UK—fell by 56%. Even the pandemic couldn’t completely dampen Indians’ enthusiasm for British campuses. In 2021, 9,930 Indians applied to UK universities—up 30% from 7,640 the previous year.
As the road to immigration after graduation becomes clearer, Indian students could also supply a ready-made workforce for the UK after they receive their degrees.