India counters UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s claim on visa overstayers

In response to a PTI query about Braverman’s interview in ‘The Spectator’ saying that Indians are the “largest group of people who overstay» their visas in the UK, the Indian High Commission has said that India awaits “demonstrable progress» on certain commitments undertaken by the UK government under the MMP that was signed last year.

“As part of our wider discussions under Migration and Mobility, the government of India is committed to working with the government of the UK to facilitate the return of Indian citizens who have overstayed their visa period here in the UK,» the High Commission of India statement said on Thursday.

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“As per the data shared with the Home Office, as of date, action has been initiated on all of the cases referred to the High Commission. Further, the UK has also undertaken to fulfil certain commitments as part of the Migration and Mobility Protocol, on which we await demonstrable progress,» it said.

With reference to Braverman’s controversial comments about having visa-related «reservations» over the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) being negotiated between the two sides, the High Commission noted that any future arrangements would be of mutual benefit.

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“While certain issues pertaining to Mobility and Migration are currently under discussion as part of these negotiations, any comment on these matters may not be appropriate given that the negotiations are underway, and that any arrangement will include issues of interest to both sides,» the High Commission said.

According to Suella Braverman, the Indian-origin minister said, a trade agreement between India and the UK will undermine Brexit objectives and encourage immigration to the UK. The UK Prime Minister Liz Truss recently urged British authorities and negotiators to adhere to the Diwali deadline for finishing the free trade agreement. She suggested that there might be flexibility for students and business owners. But, she harbours some misgivings. The majority of immigrants who overstay their visas in the UK are Indian, she added.

In 2020, 20,706 Indians overstayed their visas, more than any other nationality, according to UK home office records.

In addition, Braverman noted that a deal made with the Indian government in 2021 by her predecessor Priti Patel to promote and enable closer cooperation on visa overstayers had not always been successful

“I have concerns about having an open borders migration policy with India because I don’t think that’s what people voted for with Brexit,» Braverman told the British weekly news magazine.

Braverman’s contention that the MMP has not worked very well is seen as a clear indication that she is likely to withhold Cabinet backing for any visa concessions for India as part of an FTA.

On the Indian side, the ease of mobility for students and professionals has always been a key aspect of any trade agreement.

Earlier, she has also blamed the recent “riots» in Leicester following an India-Pakistan cricket match on uncontrolled migration into the UK and the failure of newcomers to integrate.

In her first speech since being appointed home minister, Braverman said, “The unexamined drive towards multiculturalism as an end in itself combined with the corrosive aspects of identity politics has led us astray.»

“I saw this when I went to Leicester recently. A melting pot of cultures and a beacon of religious harmony. But even there, riots and civil disorder have taken place because of failures to integrate large numbers of newcomers. Such conflict has no place in the UK,» she said.

The daughter of a Tamil mother and Goan-origin father, Braverman insisted it was not “racist» to want to control the UK’s borders as she pledged to cut “low-skilled foreign workers». 

The Brexit-backing barrister and former Attorney General in the UK Cabinet used her family heritage as a reference point to back up her plans to control migration into the country.

“This isn’t just about policy or economics for me. It’s intensely personal. My parents came here in the 1960s from Kenya and Mauritius. They loved Britain from afar, as children of the Commonwealth. It was Britain that offered them security and opportunity as young adults,» she said, amid several interludes of applause.

“It’s not racist for anyone, ethnic minority or otherwise, to want to control our borders. It’s not bigoted to say that we have too many asylum seekers who are abusing the system. It’s not xenophobic to say that mass and rapid migration places pressure on housing, public services and community relations,» she said.

“My parents came here through legal and controlled migration. They spoke the language, threw themselves into the community, they embraced British values. When they arrived, they signed up to be part of our shared project because the United Kingdom meant something distinct. Integration was part of the quid pro quo,» she added.

The minister reiterated that integration did not mean abandoning their Indian heritage but meant adopting British identity. “This is the best place on earth to come and live in, but I fear that we are losing sight of the core values and the culture that made it so,» she warned.

As part of her pledge on migration, the new home minister vowed to control the small boats bringing illegal migrants across the English Channel, leaving a safe country like France and «abusing» the UK’s asylum system. 

Praising the efforts of her predecessor, Priti Patel – also of Indian origin, Braverman committed herself to making the scheme of deporting illegal migrants to Rwanda work, which Patel had launched but is yet to fully take off.

(With inputs from agencies)

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