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17 May 2021

The new migration and mobility partnership with India - what we know now

5 mins

On 5 May 2021 we commented on the new partnership deal reached between the British and Indian governments. We now look a little more closely at what this means. 

What is the Memorandum of Understanding on the migration and mobility partnership between India and the United Kingdom?

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was hailed by the UK government as a ‘historic agreement [which] is part of the UK government’s commitment to deliver an immigration system that attracts that best and brightest individuals from India and around the world’.

The MoU is, in the most part, light on practical details. 

Instead, it sets out the broad basis on which the Indian and UK governments intend to build on the ‘long-standing and historical bonds of friendship’ between the two nations to facilitate mutually advantageous mobility of professional skilled workers and students. 

What the MoU describes as an encouragement of ‘orderly’ mobility comes alongside a commitment to ease the process of returning unlawfully resident migrants to their country of origin, and to ‘prevent and suppress illegal migration’.

The headlines

The MoU is a document of two halves – the first three chapters are devoted to encouraging mobility, the second two to co-operation between the nations on removals and the prevention of illegal migration.

What is evident from the document as a whole is that the MoU does not intend to encourage long term or permanent migration. Its focus appears to be on streamlining the ways in which highly educated and skilled Indian and UK nationals can move between the two countries for limited periods and to create ‘optimal conditions’ for sharing and building on their skills and experience to the nations’ mutual benefit.

To this end, the MoU focuses on encouraging ‘circulation of persons’, not permanent moves: regular short-stays for UK and Indian nationals in each other’s countries to enhance economic, cultural and scientific relations. 

So, for students, academics or researchers, for skilled workers looking for short term work opportunities or for employers seeking post-graduates or skilled workers for placements or internships this would appear to be good news. The MoU promises a friction free visa application process and the opportunity for Indian and UK businesses and universities to promote themselves in their partner country. The goal is to encourage the ‘mobility of skills and talents’ in a way likely to make a ‘significant contribution to the development of relations’ between the UK and India.  How this will work in practice remains to be seen.

The detail

Where the MoU does give us some practical detail is with regard to the Young Professionals Scheme, see our previous comment on this scheme here.

The aim of this scheme for 18-30 years olds is somewhat reminiscent of the EU Erasmus+ scheme, namely that ‘young professionals [of India and the UK] can experience life in another culture, with the option of taking up employment as an incidental part of their stay’.  

The participation criteria of the scheme are that: 

  • It will be open to up to 3,000 participants a year who will be able to work in a company registered with the scheme for up to two years;
  • the participants must be aged 18-30;
  • potential participants will need to submit an application;
  • participants must have a diploma or a degree and be able to show that they will be financially self-sufficient during their stay;
  • participants will be required to pay their visa fee (and any other fees connected with the scheme);
  • participants cannot be accompanied by a dependent;
  • a participant’s stay cannot exceed 24 months and no participant can take advantage of the scheme more than once;
  • an applicant will be refused if they ‘undesirable’.

The circumstances under which participants in the scheme will be able to continue to live in the host country under the scheme after the two year period expires remain unclear. 

It is explicitly provided for that India and the UK will take active steps to ensure that young professionals under the scheme return to their home country. However, the MoU also says that, although preferential treatment will come to an end, a scheme professional may apply to extend their stay under the immigration rules in the normal way if they secure an employment contract.

Cooperation against illegal migration

Side by side with the commitment to easing mobility, comes a commitment by the UK and India to co-operate in returning migrants who are not lawfully resident to their country of birth.

Again, it is hard to say now how this will work in practice, but the provisions broadly set out an agreement to speed the returns process and to facilitate relevant documents being issued to make forced returns possible, including of minor children born in the UK who do not have Indian identity documents. There is also an agreement to share information and to centralise intelligence in order to target and deter people trafficking organisations and to act ‘against the drivers of immigration crime’.

The MoU promises a ‘dynamic and evolving migration partnership’ between India and the UK. The net effect of how this benefits UK and Indian nationals and businesses, and the extent to which it will result in an increased number of forced returns of migrants who are considered to be unlawfully resident in the partner nations will become evident over time.

For more information about our Immigration, Asylum and Nationality team, please visit our webpage here.

Elisabeth Attwood, Paralegal in our Immigration Law team, contributed to this article.

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