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More student visas for India not part of the trade deal, U.K. Trade Secretary says

British Secretary of State for International Trade Kemi Badenoch. File.

British Secretary of State for International Trade Kemi Badenoch. File.
| Photo Credit: Reuters

Kemi Badenoch, United Kingdom’s International Trade Secretary, has reiterated that issuance of more student visas for India is not a part of the anticipated Free Trade Agreement (FTA). She reasoned that the FTA is not a deal negotiating free movement with India.

In a recent interview with the U.K.’s The Times, Ms. Badenoch, who was in India last month for the sixth round of discussion on the India-U.K. FTA, said that Britain left the European Union because, “we didn’t believe in free movement,” and added that therefore the FTA is not a deal that’s “negotiating some kind of free movement with India.”

Comparing the India-U.K. FTA to the one England has already signed with Australia, she said that both the countries cannot be offered the same kind of mobility owing to the differences in the population numbers. “We have to make sure that each trade agreement we sign is tailored to the specific country. The kind of mobility offer I can do to a country like Australia is not going to be the same kind of mobility offer I can do with a country like India, which has got many times the population,” Ms. Badenoch said in her interview to The Times.

The International Trade Secretary further elaborated in the interview that though she is prepared to make concessions on issues like business mobility, she will not give Indians the same kind of deal as with Australia, which allows those under the age of 35 to live and work in the U.K. for three years.

“And what people from the U.K. want to do when they travel to Australia is probably slightly different from what they do when they travel to India, and vice versa as well,” she added.

This is not the first time that Ms. Badenoch has spoken on the issue of Indian student visa. Prior to visiting the country in December 2022 to hold talks with Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, she had told U.K.’s The Telegraph that “student visas” are “home office matters” and that FTAs often get dragged into things that aren’t to do with trade.

The issue had also triggered a controversy when Home Secretary Suella Braverman had expressed her concern saying that Indian students often overstay their visa. Later in Novemeber 2022, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had announced the Young Professionals Scheme, which was kicked off on the occasion of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas on January 9, this year. The scheme will permit up to 3,000 of their degree-holding citizens aged between 18 and 30 to live and work in each other’s countries for a period of two years.

Speaking on the timeline of the trade agreement, Ms. Badenoch said that the ‘deal by Diwali’ is something that she changed since assuming the role of International Trade Secretary in September 2022. “I tell people it’s about the deal, not the day. I think that having a fixed day where everything needs to be completed is not helpful in a negotiation because the other party can run down the clock,” she said in her interview.

However, she remains firm on finalising the agreement this year saying, “I do think a deal this year. I don’t know when. But after a while if things don’t conclude then people just move on on both sides. I’m very keen to sign a deal this year.”

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