India will commit itself to a 70-day deadline to verify and confirm the identity of individuals alleged by Britain to be illegal migrants, according to a memorandum of understanding to be signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit here in April. The text of the MoU was finalised and initialled by minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju and UK minister for immigration Caroline Nokes in London last week. The sensitive issue is linked to Britain improving its visa offer for Indian nationals, expected to be announced during Modi’s visit.
The issue of repatriating illegal Indians is one of key elements in the bilateral relationship. The returns have so far been plagued by delays in confirming the Indian nationality of suspects, though the 70-day deadline is expected to speed up the process. As Prime Minister Theresa May said during her November 2016 visit to India: “(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 in the UK.”
The MoU divides Indian citizens without a legal basis to be in the UK into two categories – those whose passports and other details are available from their applications for British visas, and those whose documents are not available but acknowledge being Indians. The verification process of the first group – after Britain submits documents to India – is to be completed within 15 days, while the identity of individuals in the second group – a more complicated process – will need to be confirmed within 70 days.
No figures for suspected illegal Indians are released but the Home Office assesses that Indian citizens are among the top nationalities remaining in the UK Illegally. A Home Office official said: “A major barrier for removal is the current process for obtaining travel documentation for those without a current passport.” In the past, the verification process in India, after documents are sent from London, took months, but Indian officials hope the speedier timeline in the MoU will enable Britain to consider better visa conditions for legal migration.
Since address verification for Indian passports is usually completed in 21 days, officials believe the 70-day deadline will be sufficient for police authorities to complete the process. “Illegal migration should not be a barrier to legal migration,” said India’s deputy high commissioner Dinesh Patnaik. May had unveiled plans to roll out the “registered traveller scheme” for Indian business leaders during her India visit, but it has not been announced so far. It will enable business travellers expedited clearance at Heathrow and other ports.
There is also a demand that Britain extend to India an ongoing pilot scheme in China offering cheaper and longer duration visas, and Indian representatives hope British authorities will have three months to consider such plans before Modi’s visit in April.