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Posted at: Jun 14, 2018, 11:30 AM; last updated: Jun 14, 2018, 12:36 PM (IST)TRIBUNE EXCLUSIVE

UK upset as India plays hardball on returns Bill

New Delhi wants revised bill similar to MoU with France
UK upset as India plays hardball on returns Bill
Theresa May. File photo

Smita Sharma

New Delhi, June 14

The revised pact on return of illegal immigrants has become a cause of serious friction in the India-UK ties. The Theresa May government in London is upset with New Delhi unwilling to sign the agreement. This even though the draft was initialled by Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju earlier this year and approved by the Indian cabinet prior to PM Modi’s London visit for the Commonwealth Summit.

Indian official sources told The Tribune that the government now wanted the bill to be along the lines of a similar agreement signed with France during President Macron’s visit this year.

“We think it is not a reasonable pact and so we are looking at the French agreement’s terms and conditions,” said an Indian official. The British call it unfair and suggest ‘India is playing hardball to imply No Returns without liberalised visas.’

“It is the fundamental duty of states to take back their citizens. We need effective mechanisms for it,” said a UK official.

Revised Bill

After the existing agreement ended in 2014, the revised MoU seeks to ensure ‘return of persons who have no lawful basis to be in the territory of the other party after verification of nationality to its satisfaction’ and also provides information to police about known criminals, including sex offenders on both sides.

The agreement says if an individual is proved 100 per cent as Indian by authorities on both sides, then deportation must happen within 15 days; and within 70 days for individuals who require local administration ascertaining such cases. The nationals set to return are issued emergency certificates to fly. Validity of emergency travel documents has been increased from three months to six months.

The UK claims that estimated at 70,000-100,000, Indians form the largest component of illegal immigrants with 70 to 75 per cent of these belonging to Punjab. Nigerians and Pakistanis follow at around 30,000-40,000 illegal immigrants and Bangladesh, Ghana, and China follow the list.

Of these, the UK already has a similar pact signed with all-mentioned countries except for India and Bangladesh with which negotiations are in an advanced state.

These illegal immigrants have either entered without official documents or have overstayed their visas or working without legal permits. India refutes these numbers while the UK says it has some 2,000 travel document requests pending each year with the Indian High Commission in London for return of officially identified individuals, of which only half the requests are approved.

India says that in the past 10 years some 5,000 nationals have been deported and objects to return timelines set in the pact. Post-2008 Indian Passport Issuing Authority has captured biometric data of passport applicants while the UK Missions too began collecting biometric information for visa issuance, which makes data easier to be compared by both sides.

Agreement with France

The Migration and Mobility Partnership agreement signed with France focuses on two aspects--mobility between tourists, students and academics on both sides with liberalised visa regime. It seeks to enhance the number of Indian students to France to 10,000 from 6,000 each year and the number of tourists to a million each year by 2020.

The second aspect deals with re-admission procedures, documents required by nationals and how to expedite the process. However, it mentions no specific duration or timeframe for return of illegals unlike in the UK agreement. “There is a commitment to return illegal migrants in a regular manner at the earliest possible. Once nationality is ascertained, it seeks to return nationals immediately since establishing a timeframe might be unrealistic,” said a French diplomat.

UK officials say the number of illegal Indian immigrants in France cannot be compared to that of Britain. They say suggested timelines are reasonable since states like Punjab already respond to identity requests in 17 days. Sources claim domestic reasons, including Punjab politics, is behind the Modi government’s changed stance.

UK officials also underline the need for demonstrable improvement on returns for more liberal visas. “How can you have a liberal visa regime without effective control of abuse? Indian student visas are up by 30%, tourist visas up by 27%. Indian nationals get more than 50% of UK work visas. We are not asking you to take back citizens on a blanket basis,” said a British diplomat.

India-UK logjam over returns Bill

*UK wants Indians, with identity ascertained 100%, returned in 15 days

*Illegals, with no biometric data and required local ascertaining, returned in 70 days

*India wants No Time Frame for Returns; calls such commitment unreasonable

*UK says 70,000-100,000 illegal Indian immigrants; India refutes these numbers as exaggerated

*UK claims 2,000 travel document requests with Indian High Commission every year

*Only 1,000 approved

*India says only 5,000 deportation in 10 years

*UK says demonstrate improvement on Returns for Liberal Visas

*India wants visas liberalised as part of Returns bill like France MoU


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