POLITICS

Why Modi Should Avoid Asking Theresa May For Student Visa Favours

The only objectionable part of May's visa policy is its favour for the rich in India.

07/11/2016 2:23 PM IST | Updated 07/11/2016 3:16 PM IST
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File photo of Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (L) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets his visiting UK counterpart Theresa May today, one of the key issues that he is likely to raise is the curb on visas to Indian students. Reportedly, the number of Indians going to the UK for studies have fallen by half.

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of student visas to Indians have fallen by six times: from 68,238 to 11,864.

Media reports from London ahead of May's departure for India say that she wouldn't relent. According to her, the visa policy for non-EU countries is working well and there is no need for a change. The UK has been able to attract "the brightest and the best" from outside the EU, she said.

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of student visas to Indians have fallen by six times: from 68,238 to 11,864.

"The figures show that we issue more work visas to India than I think US, Australia and China put together. Nine out of 10 visa applications from India are already accepted. We have, I believe, a good system," she said.

If 90 per cent of the visa applications from India are accepted and there is a steep reduction in the number of UK-bound students, clearly the UK doesn't want as many Indian students as it had been taking in the past. According to the UK Council for International Student Affairs, after the Chinese, Indians account for the second largest number of international students in the country.

"Nine out of 10 visa applications from India are already accepted."Theresa May

Although more student visas are discouraged than in the past, May doesn't have plans to restrict genuine business and work visas and would even facilitate easy access for them through a registered travellers scheme. To facilitate the travel of high net worth individuals and families, there's an exclusive, premium service as well.

When May promises that nine out of ten visa applications are approved and that they don't have a problem with genuine travellers, business-people and professionals, the message is quite clear: like the rest of Europe, the UK is wary of economic migrants. The most common feature in the rise of the right wing politics across Europe is migration. It's a theme that unifies the conservatives in Europe. Obviously, the UK is not an exception.

Should Modi be worried about the denial of visas to students from India?

Students who're really eligible for higher quality education in the UK don't have a problem, and they're not the ones who're complaining.

Frankly not, because those who are really eligible for higher quality education in the UK don't have a problem and they are not the ones who are complaining. The real "victims" of the curb are those who are seeking degrees and diplomas from relatively unknown "universities" and the diploma-degree mills. The real purpose of this sort of education is not skills and knowledge, but a means of migration that these institutions provide for a few thousand pounds.

This year, the UK government took down 32 such fake institutions. A few years ago, about 220 bogus institutions had been identified and many of them are closed now.

Popular TV series UK Border Force (2008) provides an enlightening glimpse into how the student visa system is rigged by prospective migrants. Many of the people that the British immigration officials intercept, and deny entry to, at major airports are fake-students who use their student visas to work as illegal immigrants. Their interviews, examination of documents and follow up with the institutions where they purportedly study show that they are fake students. Unfortunately, many of them are from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Almost all the "students" featured in the series are not genuine and don't even answer the basic questions such as the their elective subjects and the name of their degrees. Preliminary enquiries by the immigration officials with their institutions often show that they hardly attend classes and that they use their legal stay as students in the UK to work as illegal migrants.

This has been a racket that the bogus education industry in the UK has spawned, which incidentally affected the prospects of genuine students. Students from the sub-continent are often viewed with suspicion because the odds of them being bogus are high.

Therefore, Modi should avoid asking May to relax student visa restrictions. Once the bogus students are weeded out, the genuine students and future professionals, have a better chance. There's no need to go to the UK to earn a diploma in business management, computer programming or sociology - there are enough bogus institutions in India to give those qualifications.

The curb on poor quality students will also help India save foreign exchange. In the six months preceding April this year, Indian students had consumed US $1 billion. Students are among the highest remitters of foreign exchange from India, averaging more than US $100 million between July and December in 2015.

By blocking such students and by ensuring that only people with a certain earning (those earning less than 35000 pounds will have to go back now) alone are allowed to work in the UK, May is certainly trying to reach her target of cutting down net immigration to less than 1,00,000 from 3,36,000 last year. She certainly has a right to play her politics.

The only objectionable part of May's visa policy is its favour for the rich in India. The UK government, by promoting privileged lists and premium clubs, only wants the rich to travel to the UK and spend their money there. Here, the ball is in the Indian government's court because it's the Liberalised Remittances Scheme (LRS) that's facilitating the rich splurging India's precious foreign exchange overseas and allowing others look like unwanted migrant-aspirants. Under the LRS, an Indian can take out as high as US $2,50,000 in a year.

The UK government, by promoting privileged lists and premium clubs, only wants the rich to travel to the UK and spend their money there.

In other words, if you have a lot of money back home, you can spend a lot of that in foreign exchange, however hard earned (by the country) it's. According to RBI, the remittances under LRS in 2015-16 rose by 200 per cent. With both India and the UK favouring the rich, the regular Indian citizens are taken out of the equation. They are literally not qualified to travel, which doesn't sound ethical and fair. Probably, this is what Modi needs to tweak. Let May lay in wait for the rich, but our policy should be to let all Indians have equal access.

Meanwhile, government of India should seriously regulate the educational consultancy system in India that mislead Indian students to believing that a study visa to the UK is a short cut to migration. All Indian students, until the UK government, the universities or the private sector want them there, will have to come back. A regular UK degree doesn't even guarantee a good job in India as much as a degree from a good Indian institution does. The racket of overseas education has to end and the effort should be to raise the bar of excellence in Indian education system.

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