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UK plans cheaper, easier visas for Indians as it eyes trade deal

UK keen to increase business and trade ties with India (Photo: IANS)

The UK is planning to ease immigration rules for Indians by planning cheaper and easier visas for Indian tourists, students and professionals as part of trade talks to be held in New Delhi later this month.

UK International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan will be traveling to Delhi in the coming weeks for formal negotiations on a India-UK free trade agreement (FTA). She is expected to use the visit to open the prospect of relaxing immigration rules for Indian citizens–a key demand from New Delhi, British newspaper The Times reported on Saturday.

She has the backing of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss who wants closer tied with India in a bid to reduce China's influence. The Times report said that Home Secretary Priti Patel is opposed to this move.

A senior government source told The Times that there was an acceptance by ministers that the price of a trade deal with India would be to make a "generous" offer on visas.

"The tech and digital space in India are still hugely protectionist and if we could open up even a slither of access, it would put us ahead in the game," a government official was quoted as saying.

Indian-origin peer, Lord Karan Bilimoria–the president of the Confederation of British Industry, has been rooting for reducing visa fees for Indians.

The UK is reportedly considering a scheme similar to that it signed with Australia which would allow young Indians the chance to come and work in the UK for up to three years.

Another option would be to cut visa fees for students, thereby allowing them to stay in the UK for a period after they graduate, possibly building upon the Graduate Route visa under the points-based immigration rules currently in place, the report said.

There could also be reductions in the fees for work and tourism visas. Currently, Indian citizens pay up to 1,400 pounds for a work visa, students pay 348 pounds and tourists 95 pounds respectively, which are significantly higher as compared to those levied on China and many other countries.

The UK government has repeatedly said it wants a deal that slashes barriers for doing business with India.

Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal had held talks with Trevelyan during the G-20 trade ministers meeting in Sorrento, Italy, in October 2021 to discuss "final preparations" for the launch of India-UK FTA negotiations this year.

"We look forward to launching negotiations early this year. India is projected to become the world's third largest economy by 2050, and a trade deal will open huge opportunities for UK businesses to trade with India's GBP 2 trillion economy," a UK government spokesperson said.