STEVEN DUNN says compromises may be reached on visas allowing the movement of workers
In the perennial Christmas film favourite “It’s a Wonderful Life”, the following advice is offered by Clarence the angel, “Remember, George, no man is a failure who has friends”. Sound advice for the managers of small financial institutions in Upstate New York, but it’s something which applies equally to whole countries.
Since Brexit, the UK government has been looking to establish new trade partnerships to replace the arrangements it had enjoyed through its membership of the EU.
From an early stage, forging a trade deal with India was seen as a key priority. For its part the Indian government was purportedly keen on linking any trade deal to improved rights for Indian nationals to live, work, or study in the UK.
After lengthy discussions the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in May 2021. When the on-again, off-again talks resumed in January 2022 there were suggestions of disagreements within the UK government with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy reportedly keen on agreeing to visa relaxations as the price to pay for a trade deal, and the Home Office firmly opposed.
One compromise solution would have seen India added to the list of countries eligible for visas under the Youth Mobility Scheme. This route allows nationals of certain specified countries to apply for a visa if they are aged 18-30 and wish to live and work in the UK for up to two years.
A breakthrough of sorts was achieved last month, after the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi met at the G20 Summit and agreed to launch the UK-India Young Professionals Scheme from early 2023.
This will be similar to the Youth Mobility Scheme in that it applies to 18–30-year-olds and visas will be valid for up to two years, but there are significant differences. It will only apply to individuals who are degree-educated, they will need to meet specified language proficiency levels and visas will be capped at a maximum of 3,000 each year.
In the event of the scheme being over-subscribed, as seems likely to be the case, a ballot will be held to determine who will receive a visa. (There are similar provisions already in place for a ballot where individuals from Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan apply under the Youth Mobility Scheme). Reciprocal arrangements will apply for young UK professionals looking to work in India.
With its annual limit neither side can really be said to be promising the other the moon. A total of 3,000 visas is likely far less than the Indian government would have hoped for; at the same time such a limited number does little to address the labour shortages and recruitment problems faced by UK employers – about which I’ve spoken before.
However, it’s a start and shows that the UK government is willing to take some steps to help, and other trade deals may be accompanied by similar relaxations in the UK visa regime. At the very least it provides another potential visa option which may be of use to employers who don’t hold a sponsorship licence or are looking for alternatives to the Skilled Worker visa route.
Hopefully, it will ring a bell when their HR teams are recruiting and hopefully for at least 3,000 potential visa applicants there’s a wonderful life waiting for them in the UK.
Legal director Steven Dunn, is head of pensions and immigration law at Vialex