The UK government has caused outrage with its decision to exclude Indian students from a new list of countries considered low risk in order to facilitate an easier visa application process to UK universities.
In changes to its immigration policy tabled in Parliament on Friday, the UK Home Office announced a relaxation of the Tier 4 visa category for overseas students from around 25 countries.
On a list already covering countries like the US, Canada and New Zealand, the Home Office has added on the likes of China, Bahrain and Serbia as countries from where students would face reduced checks on educational, financial and English language skill requirements to study at British universities.
The changes, which come into effect on July 6, aim to make it easier for international students to come to study in the UK.
However, India has been left out of this new expanded list, which means Indian students applying for similar courses will continue to face rigorous checks and documentary requirements.
Lord Karan Bilimoria, Indian-origin entrepreneur and President of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), described the move as an insult to India and another example of Britain's economically illiterate and hostile attitude to immigration.
"I consider this another kick in the teeth for India... This sends entirely the wrong message to India, to exclude it from these Tier 4 measures. The government has simply got it wrong," said Bilimoria, while welcoming the overall visa relaxation measures introduced by UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer and founding-chair of UK India Business Council (UKIBC), added, It is completely hypocritical that this is announced at the same time that Britain is talking about doing a post-Brexit free trade agreement (FTA) with India. If this is the way they treat India, they can dream on about an FTA with India".
"India has always been one of Britain's closest allies and an emerging global economic superpower. Excluding India from this list is myopically short-sighted and is damaging what has always been a special relationship between our countries," he said.
The National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK also expressed disappointment at India's exclusion from the list, which it said effectively categorises Indian students as high risk. The representative body for Indian students in the UK said it was unfair that Indian students should be treated differently from Chinese or other nationals on the list.
It is important to note that today's announcement makes no change to the process of application for Indian students, but it is the perception of this message among Indian students that worries us. And, this raises another question will China continue to get even more favourable actions while India gets the rhetoric, questioned Sanam Arora, president of NISAU UK.
According to latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) data, India is among the top three countries from where overseas students come in to study at UK universities, after China and the US. While Indian students registered a hike of 30 per cent to hit 15,171 Tier 4 visas last year, the numbers remain a far cry from around 30,000 six years ago.
The latest development will add to growing concern within Indian government circles, given that ministers and diplomats have repeatedly highlighted the need for a more welcoming immigration regime for Indian students.
Last week, Indian High Commissioner to the UK, Y K Sinha, held a meeting with the UK's minister for universities, Sam Gyimah, during which he once again raised the issue of "smoother and greater student and faculty mobility between the two countries".
It is unfortunate that in the last six years we have seen a steep drop (in Indian student numbers). What should be troubling universities here is that Indian students are now going in much greater numbers to the US, Australia even France and Germany, Sinha has said in the past.
The UK Home Office said in order to make it easier for students to come and study in the UK's world-leading education sector, it has expanded the list of countries from which students will be able to benefit from a streamlined application process.
Students from an additional 11 countries, including China, will be able to provide a reduced level of documentation when applying for their Tier 4 visa, the Home Office statement notes.
On being asked why India had been omitted from this expanded list, a spokesperson said, We welcome Indian students who want to come to the UK to study at our world-leading educational institutions. We issue more visas to students from India than any other country except China and the USA.
The Home Office stressed that 90 per cent of Indian students who apply for a UK visa get one, a figure up from 86 per cent in 2014 and 83 per cent the year before that.
It added, "In addition, the proportion of Indian students coming to study in the UK at a university has increased from around 50 per cent in 2010 to around 90 per cent in 2016. Indian student visa applications are up 30 per cent on last year. We continue to have regular discussions with the Indian government on a range of issues including on visas and UK immigration policy," it said.