More student visas not part of India FTA, says UK trade secretary Kemi Badenoch

UK has no plans to grant more student visas for Indians than required under the proposed UK-India free trade agreement, Britain’s International Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, who is currently overseeing the deal, has said. Speaking to the UK-based Times newspaper, Badenoch, who was in India in December for the sixth round of FTA talks, reasoned that the trade deal “does not believe in free movement” because UK had left the European Union, adding that it’s not a deal that’s “negotiating some kind of free movement with India.”

In the past, India had pressed for more student visas to UK.

“We left the EU because we didn’t believe in free movement, we didn’t think it was working. This is not a deal, that’s negotiating some kind of free movement with India,” she was quoted as saying.

She further said that UK won’t be able to extend mobility benefits to India as it has done to Australia due to the population size.

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“We have to make sure that each trade agreement we sign is tailored to the specific country. The kind of mobility offer I can do to a country like Australia is not going to be the same kind of mobility offer I can do with a country like India, which has got many times the population. And what people from the UK want to do when they travel to Australia is probably slightly different from what they do when they travel to India, and vice-versa as well,” she said. 

The UK-Australia FTA, which was recently signed, allows an unlimited number of under-35s in Australia to live and work in the UK for three years and vice-versa.

She did, however, say that UK was open to making concessions on issues like business mobility, but remained firm on the student visa issue.

UK is one of the top destinations for Indian students wanting to pursue higher education. In the past decade, UK student visa applications have skyrocketed, with the British High Commission last year revealing that it issued 215 per cent more visas in 2022 compared to 2019.

Badenoch first visited India in December for the sixth round of the UK-India Free Trade Agreement negotiations, where she met India’s commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal.

The seventh round of official-level negotiations is expected to commence shortly.

(With inputs from agencies)

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