Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on Tuesday sought to allay concerns that Britain is an unwelcome place for Indian immigrants, emphatically declaring that they are “welcome, welcome, welcome”.
Speaking to journalists in London ahead of his planned visit to India later this summer, the leader of the Liberal Democrats said he would do whatever was necessary during his trip to dispel any lingering doubts that Britain’s doors were anything less than wide open to immigrants from the sub-continent.
“I will be going out of my way during my visit to say very, very clearly, particularly to young, bright, ambitious Indians who are thinking of where they should study around the world, they are welcome, welcome, welcome to Britain.
“There is no numerical limit to Indian students wanting to come to study here. There is a long, long tradition of outstandingly bright young Indians coming to study in our outstanding British universities. We want to see more of that, not less.”
The Deputy Prime Minister’s comments come amidst the ongoing debate about immigrants and immigration to the UK.
A surge in immigration from Eastern Europe has led to a number of often reactionary measures by the coalition government which have targeted immigrants from outside the European Union.
Among the measures have been a proposed “security bond” for visitors from South Asia, a poster campaign calling on illegal immigrants to “go home or face arrest”, a tightening of rules relating to student visas as well as the scrapping of the Post Study Work (PSW) program.
While the security bonds and the poster campaign have been binned amidst widespread criticism, the government has stood firm on student visas.
However, Mr Clegg believes the new visa rules will only make the UK a more attractive place to study and benefit both India and Britain in the long run.
“There is a myth that somehow we have stopped any ability to work after you’ve graduated in the United Kingdom. That’s simply not the case.
“What we have said is as long as you earn a certain graduate salary, a certain minimum, you are welcome to work here after graduating. You could work for three years with the option of working a further three years. That’s considerably longer actually than the previous Post Study Work program.
“So I am very keen to dispel a lot of the misgivings that have arisen in recent years, because I think Britain is enriched, I think India is enriched, I think our relationship is enriched by having talented, bright people going in both directions in order to study in our great universities.”
Mr Clegg’s glowing assessment comes ahead of his trip to India at the helm of what he hopes will be a “powerful” and “focussed” business delegation.
It follows a high-profile visit by former Foreign Secretary William Hague and Chancellor George Osborne earlier this month and will precede Prime Minister David Cameron’s official visit to Delhi in September.
In-between, the government’s Business Secretary Vince Cable – arguably the government’s most vocal supporter of the India-Britain relationship – has reportedly been shuttling back and forth drumming up business.
Intriguingly, the dates for Mr Clegg’s visit – which will take in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore – have been withheld due to apparent “security concerns”.
Mr Clegg will be accompanied by representatives from Britain’s retail, aerospace and education industries, sectors seen as key to the UK’s ambitions to become a major player in India’s growth story.
“India invests more money into the United Kingdom than it does in the rest of the European Union put together. The United Kingdom is a major investor in turn in India”, Mr Clegg continued.
“We have about £16 billion worth of bilateral trade between our two countries taking place per year. I think we could easily increase that to our (2015) target of £22 billion. It’s an invidious choice (to focus on key sectors), but I think it is best sometimes, in these kinds of ventures, to focus on specific sectors to build bridgeheads where they need to be built, to deepen relationships where they need to be deepened and to find new commercial opportunities where those can be found.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s landslide election victory in May has resulted in a flurry of activity from UK officials given Mr Modi’s development-driven agenda.
Hague and Osborne’s 3-day visit resulted in £120 million in trade deals as well as an announcement in Delhi that the UK would build a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in London’s famous Parliament Square: a curious plan, to say the least, given that Mr Modi swept to victory with the promise of ‘liberating’ India from the Gandhi family-dominated Congress Party.
The UK’s cacophonous enthusiasm to engage with one of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies has also helped drown out concerns in some quarters in Westminster about Mr Modi’s human rights record, a record which once led Britain to impose a decade-long diplomatic boycott of the former Chief Minister of Gujarat.
Mr Clegg however, said he was confident that Mr Modi would act in the best interests of all Indians, irrespective of ethnicity or religious belief.
“He has said very clearly that he is governing on behalf of all Indians, and I, in politics just as in life, always take people in what they say at face value until it’s suggested otherwise.
“He’s been very clear that he sees it as part of his mandate – which was a huge democratic mandate – as a mandate for the country as a whole. And given the sheer size and diversity and raucous variation of life in India, it seems to me obvious that India must, and can only, be successfully governed by administrations who want to stand up for the whole country and not only part of it.”