Mayor of London Sadiq Khan today called on the UK government to add India to the list of low-risk countries and offered a more simplified student visa application process, asserting that it is vital the country maintains its reputation for higher education excellence.
In a letter to UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid, the 47-year-old Pakistani-origin mayor expressed his "deep concern" at India being excluded from a recently expanded list of countries from where overseas students can access a more streamlined university application process.
"It is vital the UK maintains its reputation for higher education excellence. The number of Indian students choosing to study in the UK has declined significantly over the last decade," Mr Khan said in a statement.
"I'm urging him [Sajid Javid] to both add India to the scheme and also to review the UK's broader approach to attracting international student talent, including post-study opportunities," he said.
Last month, the UK Home Office had announced that citizens of 11 additional countries - including China, Serbia, Bahrain and Mexico - would be able to access a streamlined process to apply for Tier 4 student visas to study at UK universities.
India was conspicuous by its absence on that list, leading to an outcry among student groups and other senior leaders.
According to the London Mayor's office, the number of Indian students coming to the UK is falling - from a peak of nearly 24,000 a year in 2010-11 to a low of around 9,000 a year in 2015-16.
Mr Khan attributed this decline to wider perception issues related to UK visas in India.
"During my trade mission to India last year, I was told regularly by politicians and business leaders that the UK's approach to immigration was the single biggest barrier to strengthening our economic ties," said Mr Khan, who had led a mayoral delegation to India in December 2017.
"This is not simply a concern in boardrooms: it is widely discussed in the media and the UK is characterised as hostile to Indian nationals in general, and students in particular," he added.
The Mayor pointed to statistics that indicate Indian businesses invest more in the UK than in the rest of Europe combined and employ around 110,000 people in the country.
"With the continuing uncertainty we face around Brexit, the government should be doing everything it can to safeguard businesses' future access to talent," Mr Khan said.
In changes to its immigration policy tabled in Parliament last month, the UK Home Office had announced a relaxation of the Tier 4 visa category for overseas students.
Countries already on the student visa trusted list included Argentina, Australia, Barbados, Botswana, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, the UAE, the US and Taiwan.
The 11 countries added to the list include China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, Bahrain, Serbia, Dominican Republic, Kuwait, Maldives and Macau.
The Home Office said that India did not meet the "required criteria" to be included on this expanded list, referred to as Appendix H.
"However, Indian students will experience no change in the service that they receive when applying for a student visa," a Home Office spokesperson said.
There is no limit on the number of genuine Indian students who can come to study in the UK, and the fact that last year saw a 30 per cent increase in Tier 4 visas issued to Indian students is proof that the current system allows for strong growth in this area, the spokesperson said.
"We are committed to a close relationship with India. This is clearly seen by the fact that Indian nationals make-up around two-thirds of all Tier 2 [work] visas issued by the UK and we issue more skilled worker visas to Indian nationals than to all other nationalities combined.
"India also has the most UK Visa Application Centres of any country in the world and we are determined to continue our work to bring the UK and India closer together," the spokesperson said.
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