New UK visa rules discriminatory, to hit trade and ties

New Delhi, June 25 (IANS) The British proposal to collect 3,000 pounds (Rs.2.8 lakh) from Indian citizens for a six-month visa from November is 'discriminatory' and could adversely affect trade, tourism and people-to-people contact between the two countries, say industry associations and others.

"Suggested changes are not only discriminatory, they are against the 'special relationship' publicised by the UK government," the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) said.

The new visa policy could also negatively impact India-EU free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations, it said.

The David Cameron government is preparing to impose the deposit scheme on Indians and five other nationalities who it says may chose to stay on in the country illegally. In April 2011, the government had put a cap on work visas and a year later revised the student visa policy.

"Such blanket rules for visas will negatively affect not only businesses, it will also further bring down the number of students going to UK for higher studies and affect the tourism inflow from India to UK," it added.

Indians constitute the second largest contingent of foreign students, numbering around 34,000.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) said the move would dampen the flourishing relationship between India and Britain.

Naina Lal Kidwai, FICCI president said that while "We are still to fully see the implications of this move by the UK government, if there is any truth to this, it would be a dampener to an otherwise flourishing relationship between india and the UK. We hope that the UK government will have a rethink on the same taking cognisance of the full implications this could have".

Vindi Banga, Chairman of FICCI's UK Advisory Group, said: "A high risk status for visas for Indian visitors to the UK is 180 degrees opposite to Prime Minister David Cameron's emphasis on a special relationship with India. If true, this move will adversely impact students, tourists and business alike."

Britain will also lose out lakhs of Indian tourist and airlines and travel operators' business between the two countries.

Around 500,000 Indians on average visit the UK every year.

"We have formally requested the UK high commission for greater clarity regarding this and are waiting to hear back from them," Mohit Gupta, chief business officer, Holidays, MakeMyTrip, told IANS.

"It is important for the government, the high commission to communicate strongly and clearly on the measures and how these will apply," Gupta said.

Not just tour operators, but the entire airline sector will feel the heat from the impending decision.

"Such norms, though out of our business purview will have a negative impact. Not just tourists, but other travellers on business or personal tours will too be hindered," a senior official with Air India, which is the largest India-UK flight operator, told IANS.

India's national carrier recently announced a new New Delhi-Birmingham flight four times a week, apart from the twice daily connections between New Delhi-London.

The businesses of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, which recently came out with new marketing initiatives to increase their passenger load factors on India-UK routes, will also be hit.

British Airways recently came out with special fares to London and New York for Indian travellers. Virgin Atlantic has announced a scholarship scheme worth Rs.500,000 to attract Indian students flying to the UK and the USA.

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