Visa regulations curbing Indian students’ interest in UK: Nirmala Sitharaman

Nirmala Sitharaman said a lot of Indian students are preferring now going to other destinations like the US, Australia or New Zealand. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

New Delhi: Raising serious concern over visa issues with the UK, India on Monday said Britain has ceased to be a preferred destination for students wanting to pursue higher studies in British universities.

“I did raise the issue of visa fees, student visa, and how Indian students are no longer wanting to go for UK universities, which was the top priority earlier because of the nature of visa regulations and requirements which Indian students have to go through,” commerce and industry minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters.

She said the UK visa regime “discourages” a lot of Indian students from going to Britain and they are now preferring other destinations like the US, Australia or New Zealand. On issues related to the IT visa fee, she said India raised its concern strongly.

“I did say that… the UK seems to want access to the Indian market, the UK seems to want Indian investments, but the UK does not seem to want Indian talent… This is not an impression or perception that UK can afford to have,” the minister added.

India, she said, would want them to consider Indian professionals who want to go to the UK as part of a company or group which has won a project there and as a professional talented skilled person going there for a certain tenure with valid paperwork done. Those professionals return after the project is completed and that can not be compared with migration of people, she stressed.

Asked about the UK trade minister Liam Fox’s response on India’s concerns, Sitharaman said: “On the fact that Indian students are no longer preferring to go to the UK, I felt he was not in agreement.” The UK minister clearly felt that out of every 10 applications, nine are being accepted and strictly the numbers have not fallen and that is the impression that he has been putting forth, she said. Fox, she said, “conceded that if there has been any crackdown on Indian students, it has been because they probably got enroled into institutions which have turned out to be spurious and which they had to clamp down”. “So, his case was that if there is a decline in numbers, it is because those students who went to less than credible institutions… but we recorded our concerns that the numbers have fallen,” she added.

Further, Sitharaman said that during her bilateral meeting, she raised the issue of the totalization agreement. “Our workers go, work their and pay social services premium, but return without any benefits derived out of it and the amount gets locked up in the UK,” she said further. She also said that raising of charges from Indian professionals who go to the UK only to fund their own skill development is something that “we thought was somewhat like a non-tariff barrier” and it does not encourage competitiveness in the service sector.