Boris Johnson’s ‘Desi’ cabinet to be more visa friendly: U.K. envoy

Boris Johnson’s ‘Desi’ cabinet to be more visa friendly: U.K. envoy

Revising immigration rules, including those unpopular in India, would be a “focus” of the government, says British High Commissioner to India, Dominic Asquith.

Describing the new U.K. government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the “most desi Cabinet ever”, the British High Commissioner to India, Dominic Asquith, said that revising immigration rules, including those unpopular in India, would be a “focus” of the government.

At a press conference in Delhi ahead of a meeting in Bangkok on Friday between the new British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, Mr. Asquith pointed to a Parliament speech by Mr. Johnson last week calling for a “radical rewriting” of the immigration system, as well as the public stand of the new Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to suggest that the U.K. will be more welcoming of Indian visa seekers after its exit from the European Union in October.

The safety of Indian sailors in the Gulf region is also expected to be discussed at the Bangkok meeting.

Impact of diaspora

“This is the most desi Cabinet ever seen, which is a testament to just how diverse U.K. is, and also to what an impact the Indian diaspora makes in the U.K.,” said Mr. Asquith, speaking for the first time since Mr. Johnson was sworn in on July 24.

“There are, and it’s a matter of record, a group of Ministers within the Cabinet who are very strong public supporters of revising the immigration system, and I can only assume that that will be a focus,” he added.

The new British finance minister or Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid is the son of Pakistani immigrants. Apart from Ms. Patel, the daughter of Gujarati parents who emigrated to the U.K. from Uganda; Mr. Johnson’s new cabinet includes International Development Secretary Alok Sharma, who was born in Agra before his parents moved to the U.K., and Rishi Sunak — the new chief secretary to the treasury is a third-generation immigrant married to Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy’s daughter.

“Certainly, with more personalities of Indian origin in the Cabinet, we should be better placed to make things easier. Not only for the good of Indians but also for the benefit of British industry and educational institutions which have been facing competition from other countries,” former Indian High Commissioner to the U.K. Navtej Sarna told The Hindu. He said India had “constantly flagged” its concerns with the previous government led by Prime Minister Theresa May.

Indian concerns

Of particular concern were proposals to put India amongst “high-risk” countries for visa violations, cutting down postgraduation work-periods for students, and a contentious MoU on “illegal migrants’ return” with India.

On Tuesday, the French Ambassador to India tweeted that Indian students to France had tripled because of its flexible visa regime, including two-year employment visas and five-year short-stay visas, which came in for praise from the BJP’s Foreign Cell head, Vijay Chauthaiwale.

“This is exemplary. While [the U.K.] is not allowing work visas after completion of degree, France is walking extra mile to attract Indian students,” Mr. Chauthaiwale wrote. Taking exception to the comparison, Mr. Asquith said the U.K. received 21,000 Indian students, about double the number that France does, the number of visas issued in 2018-19 was double that of three years ago.

“I find it peculiar that our stellar performance in terms of the increase in students coming to the UK is ignored,” Mr. Asquith said, adding that the UK issues more business visas to Indians than to the rest of the world put together.

The meeting between External Affairs Minister Jaishankar and his U.K. counterpart Dominic Raab in Bangkok comes in the backdrop of the continued confinement of Indian sailors on board the Stena Impero, the British-flagged oil tanker in Iranian custody and an Iranian oil tanker, Grace 1 in U.K. custody that was seized near Gibraltar last fortnight.

The release of the sailors has not made progress, with neither Iran nor U.K. agreeing to a formula. Mr Asquith said, “There is no question of a swap,” explaining that the Indian sailors of both the ships would not be released in an exchange between Iran and U.K.

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