Let more Indians into Britain or risk losing out, says one of India's top officials
Ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the UK, Ranjan Mathai - who is now the country's high commissioner to Britain - argued that Indian companies are struggling with a perceived difficulty of getting work visas in the UK.
In an interview with the BBC, he said that allowing skilled workers to come to work for Indian companies in the UK should not be considered an immigration issue. "Mobility for business is a completely separate issue and should not be linked to migration, is the view of all the Indian companies," Mathai said.
"I think in any two countries anywhere in the world, the ease of travelling between business partners is very significant," he added.
Many major Indian companies like carmaker Tata, which owns Jaguar Land Rover, have substantial business operations here in the UK, and Mathai thinks that not allowing Indian workers to come to Britain could lead to businesses withdrawing from the country.
"There are a large number of Indian investors here. According to some figures I have seen, there are 700 Indian companies invested in the UK, which provide around 100,000 jobs in this country. So I believe that if Indian companies face restrictions on their ability to have skilled people come, it could have an effect on the way they do business."
"Some of them have been very specific - particularly in the high technology sector and the information technology sector, which have driven a lot of the growth in our training and investment relationship - that sometimes they are not able to get the kind of skilled people they want, which is why they have to bring in people for short term assignments, and I think that must be taken full note of by the British government."
As well as difficulties in obtaining work visas, there has also been a dispute around student visas. The number of students coming to the UK has declined in recent years. According to statistics from the UKCISA, there were 22,385 Indian students in the UK, but by 2013-2014 the number had fallen to 19,750.
This fall has led to criticism from some, including the founder of Indian beer brand Cobra, Lord Bilmoria, who told the Financial Times, "Indian students are hugely important to the UK and yet we have immigration rules that have led to the number of Indian students halving in the last five years."
Vijay Goel, the chairman of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry's Asian Business Association added that he was worried about the prospect of Indian students going elsewhere to study, telling the FT: "Instead of coming to the UK, highly skilled students are going to Australia and New Zealand and that is a loss to the British economy."
The argument that Britain should allow more Indians to come to Britain for work or to study is one that has been around for a few years. On his last visit to India, David Cameron was asked by the Times of India if Britain was trying to prevent Indians coming to the country.
Cameron told the paper "That's simply not true. Britain is open for business and we want to attract tourist, students, and businessmen."
In his interview with the BBC, Rathai was keen to argue that talks between Modi and Cameron could be vital in increasing trade between Britain and India, which in comparison to investment, is relatively small.
Mathai said "When you talk of trade, we are still stuck at the level of around $18bn (£11.8bn), which is less than 2% for both of us of our global trade. So obviously there is much more that can be done."
He also stressed the value of the Indian community to the UK, saying that whilst Indians make up just 2% of the UK's population, they contribute around 6% of GDP.
"They give a great deal of emphasis to education, therefore their advancement in the economy has been spectacular, and I think they have contributed a very great deal to Britain."
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