India sends a message – allow talented migrants to come to the UK

Narendra Modi, Indian prime minister Image copyright Getty Images

Today, Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, arrives in the UK. There will be plenty of photo opportunities and discussions about increasing investment and trading links between India and Britain.

One of the highlights will be a 60,000 strong event at Wembley on Friday night, which will be a celebration of the contribution the Indian diaspora has made to the British economy.

Mr Modi will speak at the event, largely in Hindi. He will be welcomed by the Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Ahead of the visit, I spoke to the Indian High Commissioner, Ranjan Mathai, who has been busy organising the trip.

He kicked off by welcoming the investment relationship between Britain and India.

Britain certainly puts a lot of money into India - and vice versa.

But the two countries have relatively low levels of trade - the buying of goods and services which is often more closely related to job creation.

"I think both Britain and India could do more to expand the trading opportunities," Mr Mathai told me.

"If you look at the level of trade, and the level of investment, you see a major contrast.

"We are today the third largest investor in the UK, and the UK is the largest G20 investor in India, so investments have done well.

"When you talk of trade, we are still stuck at the level of around $18bn (£11.8bn), which is less than 2% for both of us of our global trade.

"So obviously there is much more that can be done."

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionIndia's High Commissioner, Ranjan Mathai, talks to the BBC's Kamal Ahmed

'Easier travel'

That issue - with India the world's fastest growing major economy with a population of 1.2bn people - will be at the heart of this trip.

One thing that could be done to increase trade, Mr Mathai suggests, would be allowing "easier" travel between the two countries.

There has long been criticism from India that Britain's immigration rules limiting the number of skilled migrants entering the country to work for specific businesses (using what are called Tier 2 visas) are hampering the expansion of trading links.

In an interview at the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2013, Natarajan Chandrasekaran, the chief executive of the Indian technology firm, Tata Consultancy Services, said expansion plans in the UK were being constrained.

Mr Mathai appears to agree.

"I think in any two countries anywhere in the world, the ease of travelling between business partners is very significant," he said.

"There are a large number of Indian investors here.

"According to some figures I have seen, there are 700 Indian companies invested in the UK, which provide around 100,000 jobs in this country.

"So I believe that if Indian companies face restrictions on their ability to have skilled people come, it could have an effect on the way they do business."

Mr Mathai said that Indian companies had raised the issue with the authorities in the UK.

And he hoped that the British government was listening, saying the issue of economic mobility was not the same as the far more toxic issue of immigration - at least as far as Indian businesses are concerned.

Indian businesses in the UK


people are employed by Indian companies operating in the UK

  • 13 Indian companies each employ more than 1,000 people in the UK

  • 65,000 people work for Tata Group, which owns 5 of those 13 companies

  • 28,000 of those work for Tata Motors, which owns Jaguar Land Rover


"Mobility for business is a completely separate issue and should not be linked to migration, is the view of all the Indian companies," Mr Mathai said.

"Some of them have been very specific - particularly in the high technology sector and the information technology sector, which have driven a lot of the growth in our training and investment relationship - that sometimes they are not able to get the kind of skilled people they want, which is why they have to bring in people for short term assignments, and I think that must be taken full note of by the British government."

The number of Indian students studying in the UK has also been declining, after the government restricted the use of post-work study visas.

Both issues are likely to be high on the agenda when Mr Cameron hosts Mr Modi at Chequers during his three day visit.

The British prime minister has been clear that he believes the UK is very much open for business when it comes to India.

On his last official visit to the country in 2013 he told The Times of India that it was "simply not true" that Britain was "freezing out" Indians.

"We want to attract tourists, students, and businessmen," he said.

"I think our challenge is getting that message through and countering the myth that somehow we've closed our borders to Indians. That's simply not the case."

He will certainly have a chance for a bit "myth-busting" - as he sees it - in his discussions with Mr Modi.