The UK-India migration deal: details

The UK and India signed a non-binding agreement on migration this week. The basic ingredients are to beef up cooperation on removing unauthorised migrants in exchange for a minor liberalisation on youth mobility-type visas and some warm words on encouraging temporary migration more generally. Such a deal has been on the cards for years and a text was reportedly ready for signature in 2018, but was dropped in light of the Windrush scandal which made removals politically unappealing for a time.

The Young Professionals Scheme

The element of the deal most likely to result in substantive change to the Immigration Rules is the “Young Professionals Scheme”. This will allow Indian nationals aged between 18 and 30 to live and work in the UK for up to two years, and vice versa. There will be a quota, initially 3,000 places a year. The scheme is therefore similar to the existing Youth Mobility Scheme in place for a small number of developed countries.

There are some differences. In particular, that Young Professionals:

must hold a diploma / degree which validates as far as possible at least three years’ higher education corresponding to the qualification required for the employment on offer or have professional experience of comparable level in the sphere of activity concerned and be able to express themselves in the language(s) of the host country.

The Youth Mobility Scheme has no qualification or English language requirements. Nevertheless there will be many millions of Indians who meet these criteria, so the quota is likely to be oversubscribed. Presumably there will be a lottery if that is the case, as for Youth Mobility countries like Taiwan.

Another possible difference: the Young Professional could require employer sponsorship. That would make the scheme quite different to Youth Mobility, which does not tie the person to any one employer (or even require the person to work at all, in theory). The bit about qualifications having to be related to “the employment on offer” sits oddly with an unsponsored route, though, so perhaps the scheme will be much less flexible than Youth Mobility after all.

If the scheme does turn out to be much like Youth Mobility, that would be the first time that it will be opened to visa nationals. But the old Working Holiday Maker visa, abolished in 2008, was open to Indians and many other visa nationals, so in that sense there is nothing new under the sun.

Other migration provisions

Much of the rest is fluff that refers to visas that already exist. For example, “Indian nationals who successfully complete their studies and who wish to supplement their training with professional experience in the UK may apply to remain in the UK on a work-based immigration route”. Similarly, there is nothing of substance in Chapter 2 on visit visas (“The UK will continue to welcome Indian nationals who wish to visit the UK in order to undertake a wide range of activities in accordance with the UK Immigration Rules”).

Removing unauthorised migrants

Then there is the quid pro quo: “Cooperation relating to the prevention and combatting of illegal migration” (Chapter 4 and Annex 2). This includes procedures for verifying the identity of someone being sent back, types of documents that will be accepted for that purpose, and timelines for acknowledging responsibility for the person being removed. If they have a passport, the authorities in the country of return are supposed to respond within 20 days (or failing that, 30 days). If not, the timeline is 60/90 days. Emergency Travel Documents should be issued within five working days.

Also in Chapter 4 is a provision targeting Indian nationals said to be deliberately making their UK-born children stateless in order to secure them permission to remain. This echoes a clampdown on perceived abuse of the statelessness rules in the New Plan for Immigration.

Chapter 5 then discusses information and intelligence sharing on border security, trafficking and forgery.

It is hard to assess the likely impact of this in the abstract. The Home Office is briefing that returns to India could reach “tens of thousands” as a result of the deal. In 2019, total voluntary and enforced returns of Indian citizens from the UK was 2,100 and the average over the past decade was around 6,000 a year. Returns did peak at 10,000 in 2012, so tens of thousands is not necessarily out of reach, although the fact that such a figure was possible back then suggests that the issue is not so much the absence of a deal like this as underperformance by Immigration Enforcement.

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