Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to smooth the path to the U.K. for India’s wealthiest investors as she embarked on a mission to boost links with the sub-continent after Brexit.
Arriving in New Delhi on Sunday, the premier unveiled what her office called a “bespoke” fast-track visa service for “high net-worth” Indians and their families and promised quicker border checks for all business travelers from India to Britain.
May’s trip offers her a chance to recover momentum after a week of setbacks at home, when she lost a court case over parliament’s role in leaving the European Union and one of her lawmakers quit in protest at her Brexit strategy. She will hold talks with Indian premier Narendra Modi on Monday aimed at preparing the ground for a trade deal between the two countries when Britain quits the 28-member bloc.
“As we leave the EU, we want to ensure that the United Kingdom remains one of the most attractive countries in the world to do business and invest,” May said in a statement to journalists traveling with her. “We want to attract more Indian businesses to the U.K., which is why it’s right to offer Indian business executives a world-class visa service tailored to their needs.”
The question of immigration has been a cloud over relations between Britain and India since May tightened the rules during her time as Britain’s home secretary. The changes caused the number of Indians enrolling in British universities to fall by 50 percent and May and Modi are likely to discuss the tensions in two hours of talks scheduled on Monday.
Speaking to reporters on her flight from London, May defended Britain’s record on immigration from India and said, despite Indian concerns, she would not loosen the limit on the number of migrants Britain takes from outside the EU.
“We have a visa system for countries outside the European Union which ensures that the brightest and the best are able to come to the United Kingdom,” she said before touching down in New Delhi on Sunday. “The figures show that we issued more work visas to India than I think the U.S., Australia, Canada and China put together. Nine out of 10 Visa applications from India are accepted.”
Despite refusing to give ground on total numbers of migrants, May’s plans to make Britain a global leader for free trade after Brexit will involve offering a warmer welcome to Indian business travelers, with preferential treatment in the visa system over workers from other countries.
India will be the first government given the power to nominate a group of business executives to take part in a bespoke visa service, called the Great Club. Members will be offered an individual account manager to make the visa service “swift and smooth” as Britain seeks to convince wealthy Indians to travel to the U.K. with their families and invest.
Indian business travelers with biometric passports will also be able to pass through border checks more quickly, under May’s post-Brexit blueprint, and they will no longer be required to complete landing cards on arrival in the U.K.
“Over 800 Indian businesses are already invested in Britain, making India the second-largest creator of jobs here and the third largest inward investor,” May said. “The U.K. and India are natural partners and I want to achieve more together, recognizing the untapped potential of this relationship and building a partnership that works for our shared security and shared prosperity.”
A report this year by Grant Thornton estimated Indian businesses employ almost 110,000 people in the U.K., led by Tata Group, and the fastest growing Indian companies turn over more than 26 billion pounds ($32 billion).
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