Indian visa grants in charts as PM rules out relaxing system further for a deal

Rishi Sunak praises revised economic figures

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has flown to New Delhi with a dual purpose: to attend Friday’s G20 summit, and to meet with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to finalise what could be the UK’s most lucrative post-Brexit trade deal yet.

In the hopes of doubling the current £36billion-worth of commercial ties between the two countries, both leaders are keen to reach an agreement before they face re-election next year.

A conclusion does not appear forthcoming, however, amid friction over potential visa-rule relaxations in return for the signing of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

Net immigration – the number of people who settled in the UK minus those who left – surpassed half a million for the first time on record last year.

In the 12 months to June 2023, entry visa issuances soared 58 per cent, with people from India in first place.

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Then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched trade talks all the way back in January 2022, but his initial October deadline was dropped when he left Number 10.

As it stands, sealing a deal with India would be only the UK’s fourth as an independent trading nation since Brexit, after Australia in 2021, New Zealand in 2022 and its joining of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) this July.

The Government’s assessments suggest a “slimmed-down” version of tariff reductions alone could boost UK GDP by 0.05 per cent by 2035, while an all-inclusive deal could see it grow by 0.22 per cent.

Mr Sunak and Mr Modi are set to meet on Saturday to iron out sticking points such as alcohol duties and generic drug production, but more intricate discussions over short-stay visas are expected to take far longer.

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The Indian premier’s negotiators are understood to have previously been demanding extra visas for nurses and IT professionals. Home Secretary Suella Braverman reportedly raised concerns at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Over the past year, just under 539,000 work visas were granted to foreign nationals by the Home Office. Of these, 158,000 went to people from India – the largest share of all at 29 per cent of the total.

The country also topped sponsored student visa grants, the 186,000 handed out 28 per cent of the 653,000 whole.

Almost all applications received are granted – some 97 per cent of work visas and 98 percent of student study visas.

In terms of visitor visas – allowing people to undertake a range of activities in the UK for up to six months – India is in a league of its own. The 537,000 granted over the year to June is over double the 243,000 from second-placed China.

Plainly, current rules are already very permissive. Government ministers gave ruled out further concessions.

A Number 10 spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister has been clear he believes that the current levels of migration are too high. He and the Home Secretary are united in their commitment to reducing net migration.

“To be crystal clear, there are no plans to change our immigration policy to achieve this free trade agreement. That includes student visas.”

Keen to elevate the significance of Mr Sunak’s first official trip to India, the spokesperson also added: “As the first British Prime Minister of Indian descent, his visit will be an historic moment.”

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