The Indian Government has maintained that new rules keeping Indians out of "low risk" visa list "will not have any impact" on the existing application process, or on those who are already pursuing their studies in UK.
In reply to a question, the Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj told Rajya Sabha (the Upper House of Parliament) that India was not part of the expanded list of countries which fell in "low-risk visa" category issued by the UP Government in June this year.
"The announcement will not have any impact on the existing visa application process for Indian students, nor will it impact on Indian students already studying in the UK," the Minister said.
"The UK High Commission in New Delhi in its Note Verbale dated July 9, 2018 to the MEA stated that Indian students will face no difference in procedures compared to the previous years as a result of the announcement," the minister added.
"Issues relating to Indian students have been consistently raised by the Government of India in all bilateral discussions with the UK at various levels. Currently, all consular-related issues are discussed regularly by the two sides at the working level both in New Delhi and London," The minister informed the House.
"There are also two institutional mechanisms at the level of Minister of State for Home Affairs and Secretary (Home Affairs) wherein all Consular and visa matters are discussed once every six months," the minister added.
According to the reply of Swaraj in the Parliament, on June 15, 2018, the UK Government announced the ‘Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules’ affecting a number of visa categories, including student visas.
As per the new rules, the UK side has expanded the list of countries (called Appendix H) whose citizens qualify for a streamlined visa application process for Tier-4 Visa. A total of 26 countries (16 old, and 10 new) will now benefit from the change. India is not part of this list.
These countries are: Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Barbados, Botswana, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, The Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, The Maldives, Mexico, New Zealand, Qatar, Serbia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates, and United States of America
The question was asked by Biju Janata Dal MP Anubhav Mohanty who wanted to know whether UK Government's move would deprive the Indian students the privilege of reduced checks on educational, financial and English language skill requirements to study in British Universities. Mohanty also queries whether Indian Government would take up the matter with the U.K. Government at the appropriate level to ease out the situation as India was one of the top three nations sending students to the United Kingdom.
Curiously, British MP of Indian origin Priti Patel had asked the same question in House of Commons from Caroline Nokes, Minister of State for Immigration on July 2, 2018 but the reply was more explicit, clearly stating "India did not meet the objective criteria" with respect to immigration rules compliance risk.
The reply of Indian minister comes at a time when the standoff between UK and India with respect to illegal students is easing after both sides signed a MoU on deportation of illegal Indian immigrants in the UK, including many students from Punjab
The pact comes after sustained pressure by Theresa May-led Government that India must take back all those immigrants who entered the UK on student visas, mostly from Punjab, and have continued to stay on for years by dodging authorities.
The MoU will ensure the return of persons "who have no lawful basis to be in the territory of the other party after verification of nationality to its satisfaction."
On the other hand, those abiding the law stand to benefit. "The MoU will facilitate liberalisation of UK Visa Regime for those who are travelling to the UK legally, after the conclusion of the MoU," the Indian government said.
"It will help in streamlining the procedure of return of nationals who are caught to be staying illegally, belonging to the other party in a specified time-frame," it added.
Tough-talking British Prime Minister Theresa May had categorically told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that liberalisation of visa regime was tied to Indian government taking back all those who mostly entered on student's visa and now have no business to continue staying there.
"The UK will consider further improvements to our visa offer if, at the same time, we can step up the speed and volume of returns of Indians with no right to remain," May told media persons after her talks with Modi during her visit to India in 2016.
There is no accurate figure of illegal immigrants staying in the UK, but according to Home Office estimates, Indians are a top nationally amongst them and numbers run in tens of thousands, mostly using student visa channel. Many destroy passport to make their deportation difficult after being caught.
MoU puts the onus on confirming the nationality on Indian authorities time-bound within 70-days.
"The agreement on returns paves the way for a quicker and more efficient process for documenting and returning Indian nationals who have no right to be in the UK to India. This has proven difficult in the past due to some Indians not having the required paperwork or travel documentation for them to be accepted back in their home country," UK Home Office said in a statement.
The agreement to this effect was signed by Indian Minister of State for Home Affairs Kirren Rijiju and UK Minister of Immigration Caroline Nokes on January 11 this year.
This agreement commits both countries to taking a more flexible approach to verifying the identity and nationality of individuals, which will help speed up the returns process," the statement added.